Regarded by many travellers as the most dangerous vehicle on the road, scooters, if treated with respect, can also be the most fun! (Don’t tell your mum we said that!) There is nothing better than riding in the beautiful Thai countryside, with the wind on your face and the sun shining, free to go wherever the road takes you… It is without doubt one of the best ways to get off the beaten track and away from other tourists as fast as possible!
You can hire a scooter in almost any town and village in Thailand and set off on your own tailor-made adventure. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your experience and most of all stay safe and in one piece…
1. How & where to hire a scooter?
Most towns, villages and islands in Thailand offer the facility to hire a scooter and you will see many travel agencies / hotels / grocers with scooters lined up outside. The company will usually charges per 24 hours. You will need to pay in advance and leave your passport as a deposit. If you don’t want to leave your passport you can also leave a deposit of around 5,000 baht. We have had no bad experience with companies failing to return passports so don’t worry too much about this, just make sure that you are hiring from a reputable place and take a business card with the company name address and phone number on.
Motorbike adventures on the windy, mountainous roads of Northern Thailand
2. Types of scooters
There are three types of scooters available for hire at most motorcycle rental places in Thailand; the automatic (with no gears) and semi automatic (with 5 gears but no clutch.) If you are an advanced rider you can also plump for an off-road motorbike also known as a ‘crosser’ (5 gears and clutch.) The automatic is the easiest bike to ride for beginners, yet with a little effort most people can master the semi-automatic in less than a day which offers the rider much more control especially riding mountainous, windy roads.
3. Average costs
Costs are per 24 hours, however it is usually possible to barter if you want the motorbike for a longer trip, for example one week, where your daily rate can be reduced.
- Automatic motorbike – (120 baht – 250 baht / day)
- Semi-automatic motorbike – (120 baht – 250 baht / day)
- Off-road motorbike – (600-1000 baht / day)
Insurance will often set you back an extra 20 or 40 baht when hiring your scooter and it is always worth paying the extra minimal fee. You don’t want to be faced with a huge bill if someone crashes into your bike or heaven forbid it gets stolen. Insurance covers all of this and the bike shop will often be able to pick you up and deliver the bike to a mechanics. Scrimping backpackers, this is one time you need to pay the extra 40p for God’s sake!
For personal injury you should always get yourself a good travel insurance before you leave! We recommend World Nomads for the adventurous backpacker.
It goes without saying, always wear a helmet on South East Asian roads. The rental of a helmet should definitely be free with bike rental so always ask for it before you ride off…
Not Cool: Don’t forget your helmet like this stupid backpacker!
6. Checking the motorbike before you depart
Before you set off, make sure you give a thorough check of the motorbike. That paper that you just signed says that you hired the bike in pristine condition. If there was a scratch or a dent in the vehicle before you set off, you will end up paying for it upon your return, despite it not being your fault. Beware, some motorbike companies are sticklers for this so make sure you don’t get bitten!
7. What to do if you break down / fall off / lose your helmet
Don’t panic! This is South East Asia. There will no doubt be a friendly mechanic / grocers / hairdressers down the road who will help you get back on track in no time! Pumping tyres up is often free of charge / changing the oil around 20 baht and fixing a light around 200 baht. If you lose your helmet expect to pay around 200 baht for a new one and the same price for a motorbike key. Don’t let the company tell you that it is 1,000′s of baht to fix!
8. Motorbike burns (Farang Tattoos)
Perhaps the most common injury in Thailand, Farang Tattoos are no joke! When you get off the motorbike, be sure to set off the left side to avoid brushing your leg against the boiling hot exhaust pipe on the right hand side leaving a nasty burn on your inside calf. In the heat and humidity of Asia, the wounds take forever to heal and can cause scarring if not treated properly. If you’re unfortunate enough to get burnt, get to the chemist immediately and use antiseptic cream / bandage / iodine daily. Also avoid getting the wound wet as in many places the tap water contains bacteria that could cause infection.
9. In rainy conditions
Drive slow and use your back brake on wet surfaces, Most accidents are caused by people braking with their front hand brake causing the bike to flip out and slide across the gravel.
There are thousands of stray dogs in Thailand and chances are that many will wander out as you are driving along the road. It sounds cruel, but if you see a dog crossing the road, don’t panic and swerve to avoid it. Beep your horn, gradually brake and the dog will see you coming and slowly move (hopefully) people have died swerving to avoid frogs… And we know which creature your mum and dad think is more important!
Fantastic places to hire a scooter in Thailand:
- KOH PHANGAN: Get away from the Full Moon Party enclave of touristy Haad Rin and explore the beautiful, natural island of Koh Phangan. Take the west coast road and head up north past Sri Thanu, Haad Yao and Haad Salad, ending in the fisherman’s village of Chaloklum… it is a stunning drive with sea-views all the way.
The beautiful scenery motorbiking in Koh Phangan, Thailand
- KOH LANTA: This chilled-out island is great to explore by motorbike as you curve along roads with views of deserted beaches and coves. Head to the National Park in the south for beautiful island scenery.
- KANCHANABURI: The countryside of Kanchanaburi is a dream for motorbike riders… long roads open up into valleys of farmland intertwined with jutting limestone karsts. You’ll feel like you’re a lone explorer as Thai families wave and point at the brave foreigner who dared venture off the beaten track!
- PAI & MAE HONG SON: The mountainous windy roads of Pai and Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand have been dubbed by experts as some of the best motorcycling countryside in the world! Grab a map and set off on the famous Mae Hong Son Loop which offers spectacular mountain scenery on this week-long journey. Stop off at hot springs, waterfalls, hill tribe villages and don’t forget to sample some of the locally grown organic Arabica coffee…
Views from the motorbike on a journey in Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
- AROUND CHIANG MAI: Would you believe that just half an hour outside of the city of Chiang Mai and you can find yourself in beautiful rolling countryside. Not far from Chiang Mai, you can take the Mae Rim road north out of the city and complete the Samueng loop, which takes 3-4 hours… or head further north towards Chiang Dao, Fang or Waeng Haeng, there are many routes… or just head off in any which way the wind blows!
- DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK: The highest point in Thailand, Doi (Mount) Inthanon located in the north of Thailand, is a feat for motorcyclists. Be sure to take some warm clothes up here as temperatures can plummet during November / December time when there has even been known to be frost on the peak! Coming from Chiang Mai, the ride up to the summit isn’t that spectacular, but the way back down is totally worth the trip… The scenery is more Tuscan than Thai as you pass by farmland with smiling workers in the fields wearing cowboy hats!
The gorgeous scenery of Doi Inthanon National Park, Northern Thailand
So there you have it! Better than a bus, faster than a bicycle and more fun than walking, the motorbike could become your new favorite way to travel!