Renting a motorcycle in Thailand is very easy, and a great way to see the country. Prices can vary from region to region, but is usually not much more than $10 a day, and can be as little as $3 a day. The thrill of riding through the countryside of Thailand is exhilarating, especially if you’ve never been on the back of a motorcycle before. Yet there are a few reasons why you should refrain from indulging in this potentially dangerous activity.
I’m not writing this blog post to promote how dangerous the country is or make you afraid of riding a motorcycle. I’ve been riding them myself since I was 15. I’m writing this to raise awareness and responsibility of those looking to rent a motorcycle in Thailand.
Thailand has the second-highest number of vehicle accidents in the world
Second only to Libya, an estimated 24,000 people are killed annually on the roads in Thailand, averaging 66 a day. Nearly 75% of them are motorcycle related. Pai, the hippie village in the mountains to the north of Chiang Mai, has the highest number of accidents per capita of any Thai city or town.
The required license is in question
Per Section 42-2 of the 1979 Thai Motor Vehicle Act and Article 24 of the 1949 Geneva Convention of Road Traffic, citizens from most countries are only required to have a valid drivers license from their country if they are on a visitor visa or visa-exempt entry to Thailand. Despite these laws, most police checkpoints will insist that you have an International Driving Permit (IDP), and some will also want to see a Thai License. However, no motorcycle agency will check for a license, or sometimes even your age. All you need to show is your money.
The laws are unclear
I went to the police and asked them to show or tell me the laws related to motorcycles. They couldn’t. I then went to the official Honda motorcycle rental shop and asked the same. They couldn’t either. Another motorcycle shop had nothing in writing, but was able to tell me that only a Thai motorcycle license comes with insurance. I had no way to verify if that was true. Laws are also continually being passed, and then there are rumors that the laws are suspended.
Locals and tourists don’t follow the laws
It’s almost impossible to not see locals and foreigners breaking the laws. At any one moment, you can see people riding without a helmet, riding three or more to a bike, driving too fast, young kids driving, driving on the sidewalk or in oncoming traffic lanes, etc. all of which are illegal. There just aren’t enough police in the country to fine every violation, even with the daily volunteers which are hired to do so.
Rental companies sometimes take your passport
A passport is the property of your government. You have no right to leave it in anyone’s possession. Motorcycle rentals and hotels which demand you leave it are simply breaking the law and must be avoided. Also, you legally have to have photo ID on you at all times in Thailand, but that law isn’t seriously enforced either.
Motorcycles are not repaired between rentals
Hundreds of motorcycle accidents happen everyday in Thailand, many of which are with rentals. Often, the rental company will not repair the motorcycle before renting it out to the next customer. Sometimes the damage is only cosmetic, but there’s a chance the wheels, brakes, suspension or other parts of the bike will be damaged.
Many motorcycle dealerships have scams
Thailand is rife with reports of passports being stolen at motorcycle rentals, customers being charged for damages from a previous customer, etc. Always take copious photos of your bike before renting, and try to steer towards busier establishments with good reviews.
The roads in Thailand are dangerous
Per the data I have, most of the roads in Thailand have been built in the past half a century. Not all the roads are paved, and many that are are in need of some repairs. In the mountains and on the islands, the road follows the contour of the land, which includes blind curves, steep hills and drops, slops to the side, or a combination of all three. Even with expert riding skills, the roads are a true challenge. A bike that isn’t in perfect condition makes them all the more dangerous.
Cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai have horrible traffic
It’s not uncommon to be stuck in traffic in Bangkok for a couple hours just to get a couple miles. I’ve personally walked to a destination faster than my friends made it in a taxi. At night, traffic on Nimman Road in Chiang Mai is horrendous. You can circumvent this a little on a motorcycle, but more vehicles leads to more accidents, especially with all the above factors considered.
Many drivers are drunk
Obviously it’s against the law to drink and drive in Thailand. Even if you don’t drink, others around you might. It’s just one more threat you’ll have to take into consideration.
Do’s and Don’t if you Rent a Motorcycle in Thailand
I don’t want to say you should never rent a motorcycle in Thailand, and I certainly don’t want to put you off from visiting this amazing country. After all, it’s one of my favorite in the world, and I plan to spend every winter here. Hopefully what you took away from this article is that it can be dangerous to ride motorcycles in Thailand, especially if you have no prior experience, don’t know what the laws are and don’t heed the above points.
If you do decide to rent a motorcycle in Thailand, follow these guidelines.
- Have the proper license.
- Rent from reputable dealers.
- Don’t leave your passport.
- Get to know the current motorcycle laws of Thailand
4a. Don’t drink and drive.
4b. Don’t speed.
4c. Always wear your helmet.
4d. Always carry your license.
4e. Don’t ride more than two to a motorcycle.
- Ride with a friend if you can.
- Take photos and/or a video before you rent.
- Learn how to ride before Thailand.
- Have fun.