Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide – Getting Around Within Cities Part II

In continuing with my theme of transportation within cities, for today’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide post I’ve decided to type a bit about renting motorbikes/motor-scooters!

I love renting motor-scooters – they’re pretty cheap (you can easily find a basic 125cc scooter for less than USD $10 per day), they’re super fun, they’re zippy, and they’re great for taking day trips out to waterfalls, temples, and mountains outside the cities. You don’t have to have a Thai or International Driver’s License to rent and use one, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of riding them for most people.

If you decide to rent a motorbike or motor-scooter, do an online search for motorbike rental shops in your city to get an idea of what’s available, what kind of prices to expect, and which shops are reputable and which should be avoided (I had a particularly unpleasant experience with Mr. Mechanic in Chiang Mai). Also, ask your guesthouse staff for recommendations as they sometimes offer discounted rates through particular rental shops – some will even bring the motorbikes to your hostel for you, allowing you to check-out and return the motorbike right there where you’re staying.

There are several different types of motorbikes available at a range of different prices. I typically go with the 125cc scooters because I’m a jobless vagabond, and those are the cheapest to rent. However, you can rent anything from your basic in-town scooter to things that look like they came out of Tron – expect to pay significantly more for those, though, sometimes up to USD $40 per day or more. If a rental shop has a website, they often display a list of the types of motorbikes they have available as well as prices, so you should be able to get an idea of what you want before you even venture into a shop.

The Little Green motorbike I rode around Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

The little teal motorbike I rode around on in Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

When you go to rent your motor-scooter, bring a camera with you and a good set of eyes, as well as a copy of your passport. The companies will want to hold your passport there in case you either wreck the bike or run off with it/have it stolen. NEVER LEAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH ANYBODY! This is why you bring a photo-copy of the main page of your passport – most companies will allow you to leave this with a deposit of 3000 baht (about USD $100). If the company insists on keeping your passport, walk thirty feet down the sidewalk to another rental company. As for the camera and good set of eyes, do a thorough check of all parts of the bike before signing anything, including the mirrors, handlebar end-caps, rims, tires, shocks, seat, plastic paneling, everything! And take photos of each part of the bike. This is for your protection so the company doesn’t try to charge you extraordinary fees for cosmetic repairs upon returning it. While not common, some companies will pull this on you and charge you the full repair amount for something as little as a scratch… which leads me to an important point about operating the motorbikes.

Be extremely cautious when riding on any sand, gravel, or on roadways that aren’t clean pavement, and only use your back brake when driving on these kinds of surfaces. The tires are often pretty slick and can easily slip out from under you if you’re not cautious on corners or if you’re relying too heavily on your front brake. I witnessed a minor accident when a person in front of me hit a small gravel patch while they were going fairly slowly around a corner. It was enough to cause the bike to skid out, resulting in quite a few scrapes and bruises for the driver and a few scratches on the plastic paneling of the scooter. That brings me to my next point – always purchase the additional insurance from the rental company for the scooter. In this case, the driver purchased extra insurance, which brought the “damage” charges down to a more manageable level (like USD $100, rather than the cost of an entire new bike). Still extraordinary for a few cosmetic scratches that were barely noticeable, but better than having to pay USD $1200, or whatever they felt like charging that day.

Another tip is to always lock the back wheel of the bike with the provided lock. While this won’t guarantee that your bike won’t be stolen, it will at least decrease the chance that a thief will pick your bike out of a line where others aren’t locked. Also, wear your helmet. While the law is rather lax around this point, if a police officer decides to stop you without your helmet, it’s an automatic fine. Also, it’s just far safer – the accident I saw may have been a bit worse if the rider hadn’t had their helmet on.

Regarding gasoline, the bikes will have none in them when you rent them, but filling up is cheap and the gas mileage is amazing. The stations have attendants that will help you fill up, and it shouldn’t cost more than a few US dollars to completely fill the tank on a small scooter. I filled up the tiny tank for about $4, which was more than enough to get me from Chiang Mai to Pai (about 85 miles). Also, driving is in the left lane in Thailand, but I think it’s easier to adjust to than one would expect. And lastly, road rules are more suggestions than anything, so stay aware of what’s going on around you and try not to let yourself become overwhelmed by the craziness that is Thai traffic.

Well, there’s a little info on renting motorbikes in Thailand. I hope it helps! Feel free to message me if you have questions I didn’t address, or if you have your own stories, advice, warnings, or amazing experiences. Also, keep checking back as I’ll be posting a part three soon with info on taxis, tuk-tuks, and songthaews!