Driving a motorbike in Thailand is a different experience for travelers from western countries. The rules are different, roads can be in bad shape, it appears chaotic and there’s always crazy drivers weaving through the traffic. The number one rule is to drive safely, wear your helmet, and stay sharp.
Which license do I need for renting a motorbike in Thailand?
Can I drive in Thailand with my national driving license? So let’s get that straight out of the way: The answer is no. Officially you can’t drive a motorbike or a scooter in Thailand without an international driver’s license. This doesn’t mean people don’t drive without a proper license and you can rent a motorbike just fine without one, but the risk is on you.
Motorbikes are perceived as a necessity by the locals, everyone has one and everyone needs to have one. If you drive normally, stick to the rules, and don’t draw too much attention there’s a good chance you’ll never get into any trouble. Wear your helmet and police usually don’t bother stopping you. If you do get pulled over, the fine for not having a proper license is usually 400 baht, but they might confiscate the motorbike from a farang. Learning how to deal with police in Thailand is an important skill that can save you from a ton of trouble.
Tips for renting a motorbike in Thailand
This one should be obvious, but it often isn’t. You’re in a hurry to check-in at the hotel to hit the beach as early as possible, renting a motorbike is just an inconvenience along the way. You should still take your time to properly inspect your motorbike before driving off. Take your phone out and take a video circling the vehicle as evidence so you’ll avoid any possible scams. Make sure the tires have air in them. Give the motorbike a quick spin around the rental place to get a feeling that everything is working as it should. There are always horror stories on how motorbike rental scammers suddenly discover dents and scratches and make you pay heavily for it. With a video of the motorbike, you can prove the damage was there already before you rented it. Outsmart the scammers and avoid the trouble.
- Check the gas level
Empty tank? Don’t know where’s the nearest gas stop, or a local vendor with bottles of gasoline? Make sure to ask where to refuel when you rent the bike. If your motorbike has a full tank, make sure to return it the same way or be ready to get your wallet out.
Not writing your signature on a contract is a big neon sign of a scam. There should always be signed a rental agreement, and without it, there’s something dodgy going on. Always take a photo of the contract, or ask for a copy that you can keep.
Accidents happen. If you spend enough time in Thailand you’re running the risk of getting hurt while driving. I call it the Thai tattoo, a scar from a motorbike accident that almost every local has. These things happen and it’s impossible to avoid them completely. Taking unnecessary risks and behaving irresponsibly does increase your chances, so it’s better to drive safely. If you do run into an accident and your motorbike has sustained some damage, don’t try to hide it from the rental company. These people do this for their living, be honest, and face the consequences. The contracts usually state the fines and responsibilities for possible damages. Explain to them what happened and be nice. It goes a long way in Thailand, and might even end up saving you some money.
- Type of motorbike
The most common motorbikes are standard 125-250cc automatic scooters, and they cost around 150 – 300 Thai baht for a day. Depending on your destination and preference you may want a cooler and more powerful ride, but in most cases, the standard bikes are perfect for the job. They take you from point A to B, and that’s exactly what you need from them. Renting a dirt bike can be a fun experience if the roads are in bad shape and there’s not much traffic, but you should know what you are doing. Don’t experiment with a rental bike that you don’t know how to handle. Be responsible and use common sense. A more powerful bike does have its advantages in longer road trips when that extra mileage really starts to add up.
Get travel insurance or make sure your health care plan covers any motorbike accidents. Read the fine prints in the contracts. If you don’t have the right license, you’ve been drinking, you’re not wearing a helmet or anything else that is not following the regulations you most probably end up paying for the damage yourself.
Most rental companies ask for your passport and/or a cash deposit. It’s always good to keep paper copies of your passport in your bag for this purpose. Give them the copy or let them take a picture of your passport, but never give it away. Your passport is the official travel document that needs to stay with you at all times, and there’s no legal reason for them to keep it. Always negotiate to not give your passport if they are being persistent, or find another rental company. Most accept a cash deposit instead, which usually ranges from 1000 to 2000 baht.
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