Riding motorbikes in Thailand

Over the past five years or so, I’ve been getting over to Thailand as often as I can. And when I’m there, you’ll almost always find me riding something or other (and I don’t mean Thai girls either, you dirty-minded buggers). If you’ve ever thought yourself that you’d like to ride motorbikes in Thailand, I’m going to share some thoughts with you that might make your experience easier and more enjoyable. First, you don’t need any special licence to ride a motorbike in Thailand, but there are big risks if you don’t have one. The people who rent the bikes will only ask for your passport (which they will want to keep until you return the bike, unless you negotiate a bond of about $500 instead). But if you’re in an accident or get pulled up by the Thai police, you will find yourself in big trouble unless you have a valid international driving licence endorsed for motorbikes. In Australia you can get these from RACQ, NRMA, etc. They last forever (at least mine has no expiry date). riding a motorbike in bangkok traffic Second, you need to think about where you’re planning to ride. Bangkok and Phuket are pretty much suicidal for riders who have not grown up there. The traffic is absolutely wall-to-wall and chaotic, plus you have pedestrians all over the road and you don’t know where the hell you’re going. We usually only ride motorbikes in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand and in the smaller beach resorts like Krabi/Ao Nang and Ko Samui. Even Chiang Mai can be challenging at first due to the circular one way roads in the centre of the city. Third, you need to think about what you will ride. Although you can hire big bikes in Thailand, the roads aren’t very well suited to riding big bikes so we generally won’t hire anything over 450cc (even though at home I ride a 1300 sports tourer). The big bikes are generally not well maintained and may be copies made in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia. They are really targeted at brainless backpackers who want to show off. For example, I hired a Honda 400 Shadow in Chiang Mai and got third degree burns to my leg from an unprotected exhaust pipe, plus it had no brakes! The best ride I’ve had in Thailand was on a 350cc scooter! Most places only hire Honda Dreams and Yamaha Waves, but they’re very cheap and more fun than you’d think. Fourthly, you need to think about helmets. Most hire places have them but they are a scattered assortment of smaller sizes, mostly with the linings missing, broken or no visor and dodgy chin straps. Most of the helmets I’ve worn in Thailand give me a blinding headache across my forehead (I have a size 68 head) so I generally just go for the lightest one I can find. You’ll see lots of kids tearing around the beach resorts in Thailand without helmets, but if you get caught you will be in for a stiff fine … and if you’re in an accident your travel insurer may not cover you. Finally, you need to understand that traffic in Thailand doesn’t behave like traffic at home, where ever home is. People turn without warning, stop without reason, swerve all over the road, don’t look where they’re going and generally behave very badly. But it’s an organic system and once you become a good fish, swimming with the school, it all seems to be quite reasonable. If you’d like to know more about riding motorbikes in Thailand, I’ve written a great article called 10 tips for riding motorbikes in Thailand¬†over at Asian Travel¬†Tips.

One Comment

  • Merlene Zieske Reply

    Thanks, it was a good read.

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