The adventure, the freedom, the landscapes; we love riding a scooter in Thailand. A scooter, called ‘motorbike’ in Thailand, is great for discovering places you normally wouldn’t get to. But before you head off, there are a few things you should know about renting a motorbike in Thailand. Like traffic safety, insurance, and scams. In this article, we’ll answer all questions you might have!
No matter where in Thailand we find ourselves, we always rent a motorbike. OK; except for Bangkok, where the traffic situation is downright nuts. For us, it’s the best way to explore Thailand as it gets you to places you usually wouldn’t go to. Not to mention the sense of freedom, which feels incredible.
But there are also a few potential risks you should know about.
Risk #1: More powerful engines
Generally speaking, Thai motorbikes are more powerful than the one you drive back at home.
For example, we live in The Netherlands, where we’re allowed to ride motorbikes of up to 50cc with our regular driver’s license. Whereas in Thailand most motorbikes are at least 100cc, which in the Netherlands would require a motorcycle license.
In short, Thai motorbikes aren’t just any motorbikes; they’re proper motorcycles. The extra engine power is pretty essential in Thailand because of the height differences.
So if you’re not used to riding (powerful) motorbikes, renting one in Thailand might not be the smartest thing to do.
Risk #2: Traffic in Thailand
Thai traffic is chaotic.
Left. Right. In between. Dogs. Sand. Holes. Traffic signs. Rain. Slippery. Right of way. Wrong-way drivers. You name it.
Sadly, Thailand is in the world’s top 10 of most traffic fatalities in the world.
So again: if you’re not used to riding a motorbike (or actually: motorcycle), then Thai roads are not the best place to start.
Risk #3: Vehicular damage is not covered by insurance
If you get an accident and cause vehicular damage in Thailand, neither your health insurance nor your travel insurance will cover you.
Whether you have a valid drivers’ license or not is irrelevant in this case.
You are always liable for damage to your own or someone else’s vehicle unless you have an insurance contract with the Thai rental company.
However, nine times out of ten this service isn’t provided by the rental company.
Risk #4: Is emergency care covered?
This is the most important, yet most the difficult question to answer.
The coverage depends on the terms of either your health insurance or your travel insurance.
If you have a motorcycle license, chances are your medical costs will be covered up to a certain amount. Make sure you contact your insurance company before leaving for Thailand, just to be sure. Better safe than sorry!
In case you do have an accident in Thailand, contact your health insurance company as quickly as possible. Your health insurance card will have an emergency number on it which you should be able to reach 24/7. So make sure you always have your insurance card, a phone and a Thai SIM-card with credit on you.
Important: if you don’t wear a helmet or drive while intoxicated, you definitely will not be compensated. So always wear a helmet and stay away from alcohol when riding a motorbike.
Risk #5: Emergency care to third parties
What happens when you hit or crash into someone, and that person breaks a leg or has to go to the hospital? Will your health or travel insurance cover you?
The answer is no.
However, it will be covered by the motorbike rental company, as they’re legally obliged to take out third-party liability insurance for each one of their vehicles.
So if you cause injury to a third party, you will be covered up to a certain amount. We can’t say how much exactly; make sure to inquire at the rental company. Sometimes it’s specified in the lease.
Risk #6: Handing over your passport
Another important issue is handing over your passport.
Of course, it’s reasonable that the rental company wants some safeguard against damage.
Motorbikes in Thailand aren’t exactly cheap. A brand new motorbike easily cost 50,000 baht, which amounts to about 1,000 US dollars. To put that into perspective: Thailand’s minimum wage is 300 baht per day.
Does that mean you should hand over your passport as a deposit?
Thai law actually prohibits the use of passports as a deposit.
Tell them you’d be willing to give them a copy of your passport, along with a financial deposit (from 1,000 to 1,500 baht per motorbike).
Not all rental companies will agree to this, so take your time and visit several.
Your passport is your most valuable possession while traveling; why give it away?!
Risk #7: Handling insurance claims
We’ve been riding around on motorbikes in Thailand for four years now. We visited pretty much every corner of the country.
One thing we learned to be most important, is to be 100% honest. It is the best policy after all.
We’ve had damage three times in total. Oddly enough, twice it happened while we were in the process of parking and someone else crashed into our motorbike.
One time we were the ones liable and had to pay 1,600 baht. The other two times we were able to settle it with a sincere apology and a smile.
There is one golden rule you should always apply. Before hitting the road, take some pictures (or make a video) of the motorbike, with the owner standing near, while still at the rental company.
This will provide with proof showing which damage was and which wasn’t caused by you.
The more up-market motorbike rentals will provide a lease (in English). Don’t sign anything that you can’t understand.
This form stipulates what the possible repair costs and other conditions are. It will also have the company’s contact information in case of damage or a breakdown.
Extra tips for renting a motorbike in Thailand
After delving into some of the risks involved in renting a motorbike, we’d like give you a few extra tips.
In Thailand, you can rent a motorbike virtually anywhere.
Often you can do it through your hotel or a street side rental company. The selection is extensive, so finding one won’t take long.
Prices are between 150 and 350 baht per day for a motorbike, excluding the gasoline.
The rental company will always give you instructions on what kind of fuel the motorbike needs and where to fill her up. Small villages often won’t have gas stations. But it will be possible to buy cans of petrol in any of the small shops, which is slightly more expensive than fuel at the gas station.
You pay around 100 baht for a full gas tank – which will easily keep you on the road for 100 kilometers.
Wearing a helmet is compulsory in Thailand. The rental company has to provide you with one. After an accident, the police might have to become involved. In that case, we advise calling the tourist police on 1155 as they speak English.
Regular police barely speak English and will always side with the Thai.
International drivers’ license
These days, police fiercely check for international drivers’ licenses. So if you want to ride a motorbike in Thailand, make sure to apply for one at home.
Curiously, you don’t need an (international) drivers’ license to rent a motorbike. But if you get stopped by a Thai police officer, and you don’t have an international driving permit for driving a motorcycle, you will be fined about 500 baht.
Thai traffic rules
Here are some more important Thai traffic rules:
- People drive on the left side of the road and overtake on the right.
- When overtaking you’re allowed to honk your horn.
- On mountain roads honking your horn before turning a blind turn is mandatory.
- Overtaking on the left is allowed on roads with two or more lanes in each direction.
- Drivers on the main road have the right of way.
- You have the right of way at a roundabout.
- Drivers from the left always have the right of way.
- If a driver behind you signals they would like to overtake you, and it’s possible to do it safely, you have to confirm this with the left indicator.
The best place to ride a motorbike
No article on motorbikes in Thailand is complete without a mention of Pai. Pai is the most beautiful place to ride a motorbike. The road between Pai and Mae Hong Son, Road 1095, is an absolute must.
The main roads here are well-maintained, and there is not a lot of traffic. But the landscape is quite hilly, and the roads are (nicely!) curved. So you will need some prior experience.
For those willing to risk it, it’s a fantastic experience!
One conclusion is that renting a motorbike in Thailand is something you do at your own risk. Under no circumstances are we liable for any damage/injury caused by you.
Be conscious of the fact that in most cases you’re not (fully) insured.
We highly recommend contacting your health and/or travel insurance company for information on rules and conditions. Be informed and consult multiple sources.
But despite all of the risks, for us, the motorbike is still the #1 way to explore Thailand!