6 Things to Know about Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

April 12, 2017 22 thoughts
1 part Power Ranger 1 part Darth Vader in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

 

After spending a year – collectively – on a motorbike in Thailand I want to help you navigate your way through The Land of Smiles.

 

Literally and figuratively.

 

Motorbiking is an easy, inexpensive way to scoot around Thailand if you care not to haggle with tuk tuk drivers or be at the mercy of songthaew drivers. Uber is still technically illegal but farang regularly use the service. Gaining steam.

 

Things to Know about Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

 

Keep these ideas in mind before motorbiking in Thailand.

 

1: Businesses Will Rent Out to You Even if You Don’t Have a License

 

This one is about 2 c’s: convenience and chedda.

 

Renting out to anybody with a pulse makes it convenient for short term tourists or long term expats to gain access to reliable, easy transportation. Easy enough to see. Renting out to virtually all interested parties puts money in business owner’s pockets. Easy to see.

 

If rental shop owners required customers to flash a license before renting, us tourists would be screwed and rental revenue would plummet horribly.

 

The system works. Really well. We are in Thailand, and this is how it goes. In truth, it’s easy to learn how to ride a bike safely, whether or not you have a license. Seriously.

 

Suggestion

 

Find a quiet spot to practice riding if you are a motorbike virgin. Or rent the bike at the shop’s close – 5 PM or later – and then practice later at night, when traffic subsides.

 

Most of all…drive slowly! Take your time. Pull back on the throttle to give the bike enough gas to move forward straight and true, but take your time. Be confident, but move slowly and patiently.

 

Riding Gear

 

I get it; most tourists ride in shorts, T-shirt and flip flops. I do.

 

Just know that riding in such a fashion (wink wink) means tons of sun/coloring, and if you do wipe out, you will be torn up on the asphalt. After a wicked motorbike accident in Bali in 2012 – hit an oil slick – I was permanently scarred on the shoulder. Never wore a tank top on the bike again, but I do the T-shirt bit.

 

Even if it is 104 degrees, like today in Chiang Mai, Thai ride with jackets, sweat pants, and some even wear cooking mitts to both protect themselves from the sun and the asphalt should they get into an accident.

 

Peep the oven mitts #travel

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2: Cops Will Ticket You for A Few Reasons But Almost Always at Check Points

 

Cops here can/will ticket you for:

 

  • not having a license (not the biz’s responsibility; all on you playa)
  • not wearing a helmet while riding
  • riding without a shirt (for guys….and if this is a common practice among women riders in Thailand, please tell me where this happens)
  • wearing flip flops while riding

 

Bribes?

 

Bribing may occur during a stop.

 

You have 2 options: pay (never more than 300 Baht tops, I was advised by an expat who has lived here for a decade), or demand a ticket. Cops hellbent on making bribe money will angrily wave you on, those who intend to uphold the law will write you a ticket. Payment occurs immediately from my experience, with a cashier’s station set up right at the check point.

 

Phuket checkpoints typically place themselves by a 7-11 with an ATM. Convenient accessing of Baht, of course.

 

Western Buddies

 

Police departments in Chiang Mai and Phuket sometimes partner with police officers from Western countries, to help show ’em the pro policing ropes. If a Western officer – who has no problems reading English – sees your foreign automobile license, you are getting a ticket. If however a Thai officer (with a weak grasp on the English language) reads your automobile licence from the USA, it tends to be deemed as super official (thank you, USA license) and you will be waved through without getting a ticket.

 

The latter scenario happened 3-4 times in Phuket and our 10 year expat buddy confirmed this. Mainly for US automobile license holders though.

 

3: Learn Common Ticketing Areas (Through Experience and the Interwebs)

 

Patong Hill in Phuket.

 

Any corner in the Old City of Chiang Mai.

 

Ride for a few weeks and you will find areas where police set up cones, lights and checkpoints to ticket riders.

 

Since most farang riders – tourists especially – don’t have Thai or international motorbike licenses, being aware of these spots helps you avoid a 500 Baht ticket or a less expensive bribe.

 

If you are new to riding, peep the Thai Visa Forum or other expat meeting spots to either find or ask questions about ticketing spots in tourist areas.

 

Note; in more remote outposts like Koh Lanta and Pak Nam Pran, I never saw a cop. Let alone a checkpoint.

 

4: Motorbiking in Thailand Is Quite Safe

 

If you don’t ride like an asshole, motorbiking here is safe.

 

I ride between 20 and 40 kilometers per hour, riding the shoulder or outside lane when no shoulder exists.

 

Most accident and fatality statistics involve reckless/dangerous/death wish driving. Β Spend a few months motorbiking around Phuket. You will see a few instances of guys who believe they are on the Grand Prix with their BMW super bike.

 

Don’t be these morons. Respect the bike. Respect the road. Respect that nothing exists between you and the road.

 

5: Expect to Pay Between $80 and $100 USD for a Month

 

Rates vary and of course, I quote in USD instead of Baht, but expect to pay between $80 and $100 USD a month for rent.

 

KC #travelphotos

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Daily rates may be $5 and up.

 

If you go with the old school manual bike, those rates drop. I’d rather have real tires on a Scoopy versus donuts on a dinosaur.

 

6: Traffic Laws Are….Selectively Enforced

 

Just because it’s fairly safe to ride a motorbike in Thailand – with the Non-Asshole Clause in effect – does not mean traffic laws are regularly enforced. Because motorbike riders sometimes run red lights, cut folks off and drive a bit aggressively, at times.

 

Riding safely and conservatively helps you avoid 99% of the riding riff raff out there. As for the 1%, be alert, ride with your head on a swivel, ride slowly and hug the shoulder or outside lane. Virtually all motorbike, motorcycle and automobile drivers respect those farang and cautious Thai who ride like grannies on the shoulder.

 

Bonus Tip: Learn New Driving Skills to Get Around

 

The other day I waited for 5 cars to make a left hand turn while I was intending to ride on a straightaway on the motorbike. I eased in to move forward. 2 more cars aggressively cut me off in dangerous fashion.

 

As the 3rd car cut to make a turn I turned the front wheel and drove *directly* toward the car, head on, slowly, as he slowly approached me. He got the message, stopped, and I gently turned left to head on my way, on the straightaway.

 

I only did the weak version of Driving Chicken (head on) because we both moved at literally 2 MPH, and it was entirely safe. But I did pick up a new Thai driving skill to help me break up a chain of autos that simply refuse to let the motorbike through.

 

Again, both parties basically need to be rolling for this to work. Anything more and it becomes dangerous.

 

Your Turn

 

Have you ridden a motorbike in Thailand?

 

What tips can you add to this list?

 

Suggested Resources

 

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Ryan Biddulph

Ryan Biddulph is a blogger, author and world traveler who's been featured on Richard Branson's Virgin Blog, Forbes, Fox News, Entrepreneur, Positively Positive, Life Hack, John Chow Dot Com and Neil Patel Dot Com. He has written and self-published 126 bite-sized eBooks on Amazon. Ryan can help you build a successful blog with the 11 Fundamentals of Successful Blogging Audio Course.
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22 Comments

  1. Awesome Abhinayak. Do enjoy it when you visit. We are heading back soon.

  2. will travel to Thailand one day for sure. thanks to you now

  3. Good advice Dileep. Big fan of getting your skills down cold on a quiet street with nobody around. Like I did in Phuket. Then after a bit you can easily ride on the busy streets with other riders around.

  4. Dileep Says:

    Hi Ryan,
    The bike is so dangerous for the ride and first, follow the rules and regulation than you should ride a bike.

  5. Cool Aqib! Oh hell yeah LOL. I am careful buddy. Really careful. I ride like an 80 year old πŸ˜‰ Side of the rode, 30 KPH, really calm.

  6. aqib iqbal Says:

    Hi Ryan,
    This is awesome post and helpful for me.
    Bike is so dangerous for ride and first follow the rules and regulation than you should ride a bike.

  7. Gagan Kamboj Says:

    will travel to Thailand one day for sure.

  8. That is sound advice Wai πŸ˜‰

    Ryan

  9. Wai Says:

    Get a bike license before you go to Thailand! Not only does it gives you the skills to ride safely, but if you don’t have a bike license odds are your travel insurance will not cover medical bills if you crash.

  10. Yep John the bike is safe to ride if you follow a few simple tips. Slow and easy does it πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  11. Sampa John Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    This is awesome post and helpful for me.
    Bike is so dangerous for ride and first follow the rules and regulation than you should ride a bike.
    your post perfectly gives information to drive a bike in Thailand and I think it is the best way to look around in Thailand.
    I hope i will go to thailand and will use bikes to travel.

  12. Hi Lisa,

    Wow, intense!

    I never knew of this story. Crazy stuff. I give you props for even taking a class. Because facing death over that floored throttle and diving in to a motorcycle course takes real courage.

    20 – 40 KPH is about 12 MPH – 24 MPH….not fast at all πŸ˜‰

    How does it feel to ride on the back? I have no idea. Always wheeling Kelli around so I wonder how sweet a ride it would be if I just held on and let her whisk me around.

    Way cool….those bugs are a fixture but you get used to them. I even picked up a dead cockroach with my bare hands today LOL. Crazy how my perspective on that has changed over the years.

    Thanks for commenting Lisa πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  13. Lisa Sicard Says:

    Hi Ryan I am so jealous. I took a motorcycle class last summer but was scared of the throttle. I had a bad snow mobile accident a few years back – I hit the throttle all the way and went airborne! I hit a tree and went down 30 ft into a ravin, broke 10 ribs, arm, wrist, shoulder and almost died.
    So I took this motorcycle class to get over my fear, but it didn’t work. I have a little one to practice on. I really o want to know how to as I sit on the back of my husbands and love it!
    How fast is 20-40 kilometers compared to mph?
    Now you got me interested in being a blogger in paradise! Just have to put up with the bugs…

  14. Hi Amar,

    Gotta have that helmet for sure. Safety first.

    I mind not wearing one. Some hate it, wanting air to flow freely through their hair, like Thor…LOL. But donning the helmet is worth it just in case you hit the pavement.

    Fabulous price too. Under 100 USD for a month’s transport is sweet.

    Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  15. Hi Deepak,

    Most definitely πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  16. seems like you had a lot fun

  17. Amar kumar Says:

    Hey Ryan,

    First of all thanks for sharing your wonderful experience of Thailand. I also like too to ride motorbike but in Thailand sounds great. Halmet and license are mandatory when you are going to ride motor car or motor bike in any country. From you experience its absolutely sound safe driving of motorbike in Thailand. And most important is that, sounds very cheap in Thailand to own rental bike. Thanks for sharing.

    With best wishes,

    Amar kumar

  18. Hi Jake,

    I do not know how to respond to that LOL.

    Ryan

  19. Jake Long Says:

    Next month I travel to Thailand certain to try a motorcycle here. But do not know the cars here are able to withstand my weight do not know. : D

  20. Hi Elizabeth,

    Yes they never seem to pull over car folks save if they are checking for drunk drivers, which may occur more now as we enter the Songkran State πŸ˜‰ But I know your Thai definitely got the situation moving along.

    Likewise on those military checkpoints in Southern Thailand. We have seen a bunch while doing the Phuket to Ranong visa runs. I recall one soldier not being more than 16. Or at least he looked 14 years old. Seriously. Holding a sub machine gun and smiling like the Cheshire Cat, he had me wondering if he was in fact qualified to hold such weaponry LOL.

    Also recall many Burmese being searched for paperwork on buses during runs from Chiang Mai to the border. Some unfortunate Burmese were pulled off the bus for further questioning or perhaps for deportation to Myanmar.

    Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  21. Elizabeth Says:

    So glad you wrote a post on this!!! We’re glad we have a car so we avoid those checkpoints hehehe. We were stopped once on the way back from seeing a movie in town ( which ended at around midnight) and I think they were checking for drunk drivers, but I told him I study here and spoke in Thai and they let us go. We’ve gone through many military police checkpoints in Southern Thailand, on the way to Ranong ( where people do visa runs).

  22. I left a thought.

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