How to Rent a Motorcycle in Thailand
One of the best ways to make your way around the Thai countryside is to rent a motorcycle or scooter. The process is quick and easy, and even if you’ve never been on a motorbike before, you can pick up the skill in no time. Upon your arrival at any town you’ll see several places advertising motorbike rentals. Your hotel or hostel can even arrange one for you. Any of these options are fine but follow this guide to know what to expect so you can have a worry-free trip.
What to expect
Motorcycle rentals in Thailand are cheap. You can rent a scooter for as a little as $5 a day and even negotiate a better deal if you decide to rent one for a week or longer. The majority of these companies will stock automatic motorbikes which will be much easier to pick up for a novice. If you like manual transmission you should also be able to find one of those quite easily too.
One of the most popular rentals is the Honda Scoopy, a fun little 50cc automatic scooter. They have a central compartment under the seat where you can store your helmet and chain lock, dashboard pockets where you can keep your camera and water bottle, and typically have a top speed of 43 mph (70 kph). Depending on the location you can also rent large touring motorcycles or choppers but that’s not really practical if you’re just planning to cruise around a lazy little beach town.
Rentals should include half-helmets (including one for your passenger) and a motorcycle chain lock to keep it secure overnight. A reputable location will also offer insurance and give you a written copy of your contract (in English too).
… Pre-inspect the motorbike: The owner will typically show you any scuffs and dents that the bike already has and mark it on the contract. Even if they do this you should still take pictures of the scooter from every angle in the owner’s shop just to have as proof. A common scam is to claim that you scratched the bike and then force you to pay thousands of baht to get it fixed.
… Spring for the insurance: Insurance will generally be an extra dollar or two a day and it is absolutely worth it. This will usually cover everything from minor dents to a total loss of the vehicle.
… Ask for a helmet: We get it. The weather is hot and the feeling of a breeze in your wild hair is fantastic. It doesn’t matter. Thailand is notorious for having dangerous roads and drivers aren’t very considerate of motorcycles. Despite half-helmets not providing the best protection, it’s a good compromise for the hot weather. Added bonus if you can score a helmet with a clean face shield, otherwise wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from debris.
… Gas up immediately after getting the motorcycle: Rental companies will almost always give you the bike with the tank on empty. As you drive out, they’ll usually tell you where the closest gas station is. Go there!
… Ride on the left (and on the shoulder): Thailand is one of those countries where you “drive on the other side” so if you find yourself in a lane with oncoming traffic, it might be you who’s wrong. If you’re riding a scooter on a national road you’re going to want to ride on the shoulder, outside of the car lanes. As surprising as it may seem, the shoulder is more often used as a motorbike lane than an emergency stop area.
… Drink lots of water: You’ve probably heard me say this one on other posts, but don’t underestimate the importance of proper hydration, especially in hot and humid places like Southeast Asia.
…Wear sunscreen: There’s a reason you don’t see many locals riding motorcycles in t-shirts and flip-flops. The sun is strong. Thai motorcycle taxi drivers usually cover up all of their bodies, including arms, hands, and face. If you’re not doing the same, you should be wearing lots of sunscreen.
… Ever leave your passport as collateral: While I’ve never had an issue with rental agencies on this matter, I have heard horror stories from other travelers where their passports were essentially held hostage. Even if the company seems trustworthy, keep in mind that it is illegal for you to travel around without your passport. It is always best to either leave a cash deposit or a photocopy of your passport if they’ll accept that. If not, move on to the next company.
… Get burned on the exhaust pipe: On some of the more basic motorcycles you might not have an outer guard on the exhaust pipe which means you’ll have to watch out not to burn your leg while riding or dismounting. These types of burns are comically referred to by locals as Farang Tattoos (Foreigner Tattoos).
… Rent a motorcycle in Bangkok: Bangkok is a massive city and it has a fantastic public transportation system. It’s cheap, safe, and fast. One day in Bangkok should be enough to tell you why it’s a bad idea to ride a motorcycle in this city. Traffic is horrendous and even riding a little scooter doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to breeze past. It’s simply not worth it.
Have any motorcycle tales from the Land of Smiles? Please share your stories in the comments along with any other tips for renting bikes in Thailand.