Should you go for it?
Renting a motorbike is a popular way to get around in Thailand. You don’t have to rely on public transportation or bear with the outrageous fares of the tuk-tuks, and you can go for a ride at your own pace in the countryside or along the coast. The bikes that are for rent are more like scooters (110-135 cc) and easy to drive. The only issues are possible scams and safety, but if you take sensible precautions you should be fine.
How much does it cost?
The prices usually range from 150 to 300 baht per day, 200 being the average, and of course there are discounted prices if you rent a bike for a week or a month. We are talking about basic automatic scooters, like a Honda Click or a Yamaha Nouvo.
The rental bikes are insured with the basic Thai insurance (P.R.B.), presumably, but there is no way for you, especially as a tourist, to check the actual paperwork. The only thing you can do on your end is check with your personal travel insurance whether you are covered or not, and exactly how, if you rent a motorbike.
Leaving your passport
Many rental shops ask that you leave your passport to the shop, as a guarantee (in case of damage, accident or theft). It is up to you to leave it or not, but our advice is: don’t leave it. Technically your passport isn’t even yours, it’s your government property, and you should have it with you all the time. So ask if you can leave a photocopy instead, and if they refuse, just move on to another shop. If all of them ask for your passport, you may not have much of a choice. But if all customers refused to give their passport, the rental shops wouldn’t have any chocie, either! In any case, whetever you’re leaving as a guarantee, ask for a receipt if it is anything valuable.
Unfortunately, there are scams running in some places. The most common scam is to try and charge you with damages on the bike that you didn’t cause and that were here before. To avoid it, have a good look at the bike when you rent it, and take pictures of it. Just show the rental guy that you are aware of these scams, make him understand that you are not a soft target. Another possible scam, less common, is that they come to steal your bike after you rented it, and ask you to pay for it. To prevent this scam, buy a padlock and use it each time you park the bike, especially if you have to park it outside your hotel or guesthouse at night. If you are getting scammed, don’t deal directly with the rental shop and try to get the police involved (don’t expect much though). On the other hand, if you did cause some damage to the bike, be honest and accept the responsibility.
How to ride a scooter
Most scooters that are available for rent are automatic shift, which means you don’t have to manually change gear. So they are pretty straightforward to drive, even if you have never driven a motorbike before. If you’re unsure about how to start it or anything else, just ask the guy to show you. To start the bike you have to turn on the ignition, brake, then push the starter button. Make sure you know the difference between the rear brake and the front brake, because using the front brake in a curve will just throw you right into the ditch.
Other useful tips: all bikes in Thailand have the lights turn on, you can’t switch them off. Just like a car, don’t use high beams if there is incoming traffic. To switch off the indicator (turn signal), just push the indicator button. If the automatic starter doesn’t work (weak battery), there is a manual starter you can use. On some bikes, unfolding the stand will turn off the engine. The fuel door is inside the saddle. Use the key (either at the ignition or along side the saddle) to lift the saddle.
Finding a parking space for a bike is usually not too much trouble, but if you are asked to move your bike or park elsewhere, just do it. There are plenty of unwritten and unofficial rules (like reserved spaces for taxis) and it’s no use arguing about it or getting into trouble. If you park for a long time, use a padlock.
You don’t want to ruin your holidays with an accident on the road, so wear a helmet at all times, don’t drink too much before you drive and pay attention to everything around you. It sounds like obvious advice, but too many people tend to forget about it when they are under the sun. We also don’t recommend that you rent a bike if you have small children, and be careful if you have teenagers. The bikes look like small socooters but they are heavy and powerful. Read as much as you can (this website should be a good start!) about how the Thais drive, and beware of the other foreigners too. Last but not least, even if the sun is hot, wear a proper outfit. Not the whole biker gear, but at least proper shoes and a jean.