One of the things that hit me with the biggest sense of freedom when I stepped into this country is the most popular mode of transportation here—a lifestyle in itself. The motorbikes. While not the rip-roaring hogs you see (and HEAR) in America, there is still something extremely liberating about cruising around everywhere you go on a motorcycle.
Motorcycles are free like no package tour could be, and this form of transportation offers a unique way to see the beautiful country of Thailand. The wind in your hair, coastal palm trees swaying in the breeze, and rice paddies stretching into the distance—no matter what region of the country you are touring, soaking it all up from your motorcycle is breathtaking! Visiting remote villages, especially, without the burn of hiking for days, is life at its best! Motorcycles can truly be the best way to see the seldom touched parts of Thailand.
In most cities, a motorbike runs about 150-250 baht per day or 2000 baht per month. What’s even better is that a license is absolutely unnecessary, especially for a short-term stay. Even if the police catch you with no helmet, no license, and no insurance, they send you to the police station to pay a measly fine of 300 baht and then let you ride off on your bike just as illegal as they found you!
In most cases you can settle it then and there by slipping them about half the fine amount. Sure, it is due to corruption when you get down to the root of it, but it’s a hard temptation to pass up when the alternative is a visit to the police station in a country with languages and customs you don’t understand.
There are a few concerns to keep in mind when you choose motorcycles as your transportation mode of choice. For one, there are many shops who try to extort foreigners out of cash, and most are getting away with it. Many foreigners have found out that their bike was less than well running only to return it and be charged hundreds of US dollars for supposed damage that was already there.
Usually, when you rent a motorbike in Thailand, your passport is your guarantee, but I advise you to find any way around this that you can manage. Sometimes you can say you don’t have your passport for visa purposes or any other reason, and just give them a copy of your passport instead of the real thing. In other cases, I’ve left them 5000 baht.
Now, this isn’t going to save you if you go back and they are trying to charge you something you didn’t pay for—but at least you know they don’t have the fact that they’ve got your treasured passport hanging over your head.
The best thing to do is fully inspect the bike when you go to pick it up. Look for and note any noticeable damages or malfunctioning equipment. Write it on a list and have you and the operator sign it—or even consider taking some photographs. This gives you a lot of leeway if something happens, and you can always contact the authorities if they are obviously in the wrong.
Another way to avoid getting ripped by a motorbike scam is simply to pop into an obvious expat hangout and ask for a referral. The long-term guys keep close tabs on who can be trusted and who can’t—and they love divulging their expat wisdom on naïve travelers.
Use this resource for what its worth, even if it means an hour of listening to different versions of the same stories you heard in the last town you passed through. These guys will have a lot of great advice for you.
Another thing to keep in mind when renting a motorbike in Thailand is your own safety. More visitors die in Thailand on motorcycles than any other cause of death. The roads are dangerous, the traffic is chaos, and the tourists are often drunk. Mix that in with stray dogs like nowhere you’ve ever seen, patches of sand along the coasts, inexperienced riders, and frequent rains—you’ve got a recipe for disaster upon disaster.
I’ve been hit by a vehicle twice on my motorbike in Thailand—one a head-on collision and the other being t-boned by a truck. Don’t ask me how I walked away from those accidents—and I’m still out there driving like an idiot—but I do realize not everyone gets so lucky.
Consider taking a motorcycle safety course before you come to Thailand if you don’t have a lot of experience. Who knows—you might even want to keep riding after you return from vacation. The motorcycle safety courses in the States are typically high quality info that will save your life, and even experience riders who take them for some driving infraction say they learn things in the course they never figured out on their own.
And as tempting as it is—please DO NOT drink and ride a motorcycle. This is obviously far more dangerous than drinking and driving in a car, and it has been proven that your driving suffers far more from even one drink when on a bike.
Thailand is like a modern wild west in some ways, and you get this feeling of freedom here. The cops aren’t even enforcing the drunk driving rules, and everyone seems to be taking their bikes to the bar. A bad habit to get into! Get the tuk tuk and lock your bike up. It’s worth it!
Otherwise you can be one of the hundreds of foreigners who wake up in hospitals or dead. Not a good end to your vacation.
I also recommend spending the extra money for insurance, just in
case anything goes wrong. Traffic accidents are extremely frequent here. You can minimize the risk of injury by driving
slow—traffic is typically slow-paced anyhow—but a solid impact can really wrack up some fees when you bring the bike back.
Also, theft can be a problem, and many bike shops have insurance that covers this as well. It’s only about 50 baht more, and its worth it. I’ve had my motorbike stolen before and had to come up with 30,000 baht to pay for a new one. Not pleasant. At the very least, get a chain and lock your bike up at night when you’re not there to keep an eye on it.
There is so much to do and see all across this beautiful nation, and there is nothing like a motorcycle to set you free to explore. Find out new adventures for yourself from remote villages to Buddhist forest monasteries to beautiful hot springs to out-of-this-world waterfalls. Your adventures are just beginning! Just be sure to always fill your tank, otherwise you can join the many coasters and pushers searching for the local whisky bottle of fuel.
And remember to keep your legs away from the exhaust, but of course this is how you can become more Thai, with a real Thai Tattoo!
Be safe—but let the good times roll!