Driving a motorbike in Thailand is nothing like back home. There are different rules, road conditions can be bad, it looks chaotic and there are a lot of crazy tourists on the road that think they are TripleX. Be careful, drive safely!
Which license do I need for renting a motorbike in Thailand
Can I drive in Thailand with a US license? I get this question a lot and it does not matter where you are from: officially you need an international drivers license to drive a scooter! But I have never been asked one when I was about to rent a motorbike in Thailand. To be honest I don’t even owe an International Drivers License. If you drive normally, stick to the rules and don’t do anything that draws attention you will be completely fine and there is a very slim change you will be stopped by the police. Unlike Indonesia, Colombia or Vietnam where the police has stopped me simply because they wanted money from a Western, this never happened to me in Thailand, neither did I hear similar stories from other travelers. Check with your travel insurance which license you officially need to stay out of trouble may you run into an accident!
Tips for renting a motorbike in Thailand
Needless to say but of course always inspect your motorbike before driving off. Be smarter than the common Thailand motorbike scams and take a video of your motorbike. Don’t let them fool you, as this is how many scams work. When you return your motorbike they suddenly discover dents and scratches and make you pay heavily for it. One of the best Thailand tips: take a video not just photos. With a video you can prove the damage was there already before you rented the motorbike.
Check the gas level
Most of the times you will get a motorbike with a complete empty tank. Ask for the nearest gas station or stop at a local shop where they sell bottles of gasoline. I have never asked with which type of fuel to fill your tank. The locals know and I have never had any problems filling up my motorbike with one of those bottles from the side of the road. If you get a full tank, make sure to return it with a full tank or expect to pay.
There should always be signed a rental contract if this is not the case you either know it is dodgy or no one really cares about giving you the motorbike. The last case scenario tends to happen more if you go off the beaten path in Thailand. On the tourist trail you will most likely always have to sign a contract, which also states what happens in case of an accident. Always take a photo of the contract or ask for a copy for yourself.
If you look around while traveling through Thailand you will see many young tourists with bandages and they are not from playing soccer. Unfortunately this is a common sight if you travel to Koh Tao, Phuket or go to Koh Samui. Most of the times it is due to their own fault though. Irresponsible behaviour leads to accidents, please drive safely! Whenever you run into an accident and your motorbike has some damage, don’t try to hide it from the rental company. These people are professionals and this is one of the ways they make money. Be honest, face the consequences as stated in the contract and admit what happened. You will probably get away with paying a little less by being nice. If you start arguing I assure you they will make you pay the price stated in the contract and find even more damage.
May you run into a serious accident stay calm and don’t do anything stupid like driving away. Everyone around you speaking Thai might intimidate you, but even in these situations there is always a friendly Thai that will help you.
Type of motorbike
Depending on where you want to go you may want to rent a more powerful motorbike but in most cases a standard automatic is perfectly fine. A dirt bike can be fun on some islands where there is less traffic and where road conditions are bad anyway, but I hope you know what you are doing. In most Western countries you need a proper license for these beasts, but here in Thailand no one will ask you anything. A more powerful bike can also be handy in situations where you need that little bit extra gas, for example when overtaking or on mountainous roads.
How much does it cost to rent a motorbike in Thailand
The costs of renting a motorbike in Thailand vary but in general expect to pay between 150 - 300 THB, that is $5 to $10 per day depending of course how heavy the bike is. The more reliable the shop the more you will pay as well. Hotels sometimes charge much more but at least you know you can trust them, as they are not trying to make money on a couple scratches.
Always make sure you are insured either through your health care or travel insurance. Check your insurance what exactly is covered. Keep in mind that there are 4 things to be aware of:
- Are you covered?
- Is your passenger also insured?
- Your bike?
- A third party?
Some rental companies offer insurance themselves, but this is very rare in Thailand. If they do, check precisely what you are paying for. On Koh Tao I know there is a rental company that has a scratch insurance, click here for more about Koh Tao motorbike rental.
Be aware that in case you don’t have the right license, you have been drinking, not wearing a helmet or anything else that is not according to the regulations of your insurance you most probably end up paying for the damage yourself. Again, be responsible and travel safe!
In most touristy places in Thailand rental companies ask for your passport as a deposit. Although this is technically not allowed, handing over your passport is often the only way to get a motorbike in most places. It feels very tricky to give your passport to a stranger, but so far so good, I never had problems. Hopefully it makes you extra careful handling the bike. Always try to negotiate to not give your passport. Some rental companies accept a bunch of cash as a deposit, I once gave 4,000 THB ($140 USD) or give your drivers license as a deposit, keep a copy on you! ;)
Safety issues while renting a motorbike in Thailand
I know you are on a holiday and you feel like you don’t need to wear a helmet in this tropical climate, but yes wearing a helmet is mandatory when you rent a motorbike in Thailand. Depending on where you go you will see a lot of tourists without helmets but I think it is stupid! Not only will you be an easy victim for police to stop you but what about your safety?
Wear appropriate clothes
I admit I do it a lot as well: I mostly jump on my motorbike wearing flipflops, a t-shirt and a board shorts so who am I to tell you that this is actually very dangerous. Wear appropriate clothes or at least try to wear shoes instead of flipflops. If you are driving in Thailand tips like this can save your holiday! When you have scratches everywhere I can tell you it is no fun jumping into the ocean! ;)
Hot topic! Because although I would never do this back home, here in Thailand I have jumped on a scooter a bunch of times with too much alcohol in my blood. Obviously this can lead to very dangerous situations. Be extra alert when you are driving around on your motorbike in the evening. May be you are not drunk, but surely a bunch of other drivers will be. Be extra careful on small islands, where the summer vibes make a lot of people do crazy things.
You will probably see it a lot while traveling in Thailand: tourists that have a mark on their calf. In Thailand they call this a farang tattoo and it will happen to you too if you get off on the wrong side of the motorbike and your leg touches the steaming hot exhaust. Always get off on the opposite side! ;)
Where to rent a motorbike in Thailand
Try asking your hostel or hotel if they know of any reliable scooter rental companies rather than picking a random one on the side of the street. Hotels mostly advice you the best they can and are trustworthy.
What do you need to rent a motorbike in Thailand
When renting a motorbike in Thailand you will have to pay cash, bank cards are hardly ever accepted. Always bring:
- your passport
- your drivers license (not that anyone will ask you, but just in case! ;)
Popular places to rent a scooter
Some islands in Thailand are the perfect places to rent a scooter. Islands like Koh Lanta and Koh Samui are super easy to navigate, roads are not too busy and mostly in a good condition. Are these islands on your Thailand itinerary already? Although they are the best islands in Thailand to drive a scooter they are not my favorite. Read in the link, which ones are! I have rented a bike in nearly every place around Thailand, but never in Bangkok. A great alternative is one of the famous bike tours in Bangkok, but then on a bicycle. This way a guide takes you around and shows you the best places to see in Bangkok.
Trip to Thailand
I hope these driving in Thailand tips helped you to give you a little inside in what it is like to rent a scooter in Thailand. If you are on a holiday don’t let it be ruined by a bike accident. If you need any tips for traveling in Thailand just leave me a comment. I have been in Thailand 17 times in 7 years and know where to go. If you are looking for the best islands to go in Thailand or for island hopping Thailand routes click on the links. You may have heard about tourist getting murdered in Koh Tao and you are questioning yourself ‘is it safe to travel to Koh Tao?’ I have lived there, let me tell you how safe is Thailand.
Need more help planning your trip to Thailand then let me know! Also read about my Bali Motorbike Rental article, different country, different rules. Same, same but different! ;)
If you would like to do something in return for giving you all these free tips, would you mind sharing this article in a Facebook Group or put the link on Google+? That would mean a lot for me and I will be forever thankful.
Keep up with the weekly adventures of Traveltomtom and safe travel!