Responsible Travel: Motorbike Safety In Thailand
One of the most popular ways to get around the Land of Smiles is by driving a motorbike and many of travelers to Thailand rent one once they get out of Bangkok. Most people rent scooters between 100 and 125cc, though it is possible to rent bigger motorcycles. At Off The Path Travel, we love driving motorbikes. From coasting along endless miles of beaches in Southern Thailand to winding through the mountains up North, there are so many great experiences available on the back of a bike. For those of us who live or travel to Thailand extensively, driving a motorbike has become an every day thing for us. But, if it’s your first time traveling to Thailand, there are some things you should know to stay safe on a motorbike.
Wear a helmet: Technically, it’s against the law to not wear a helmet on a motorbike in Thailand, though outside of cities (and sometimes in) it is rarely enforced. Many people simply don’t want to do it. For whatever reason you think you don’t need to wear one, you need to realize that the reason is bad. People say that motorbikes don’t go very fast so there is no need. A motorbike can go over 45mph. 15mph is fast enough to need a helmet.
Ease into it: I’ve met too many travelers to Thailand who arrive and try to drive through a city like Chiang Mai that has a lot of traffic. Before even thinking of doing that, go and learn how to drive in an empty parking lot or on a road outside of town. I lived in Thailand for 3 months before even considering driving in Chiang Mai.
Driving in Thailand is different from back home: Driving in Thailand isn’t like driving out west. On Thai roads, you have to watch out for cars, other motorbikes, bicycles, dogs, food carts, people, huge trucks, tractors, elephants in some places, and sometimes water buffalo. People drive the wrong way down the street sometimes, the biggest vehicle seems to always have the right of way, and traffic lights aren’t always followed. Outside of the cities, the roads aren’t always paved very well. All in all, it’s very important to remain very focused and aware of your surroundings while driving in Thailand.
Road trips are awesome if you are experienced: Some of the best experiences available in Thailand are some of the road trips one can take. There are popular ones like the Mae Hong Son route which can be done in 2 days, but most people break up between 5 and 10. The most popular drive for many travelers to Thailand is from Chiang Mai to Pai, which is part of the loop. It’s scenically beautiful as you drive into the mountains for about 2 to 3 hours, but it’s also very dangerous as almost all of it is single lane and there are over 750 curves. Many first time drivers try to tackle this route and a good amount of people crash. I’ve done both the loop and the drive to Pai alone many times in a car and motorbike and have never not seen the aftermath of a crash on the side of the road. Once again, get a lot of experience driving before trying to tackle more difficult routes.
Check the bike and read the rental contract: 99% of motorbike rental shops are honest and will give you good quality bikes. Usually, on islands like Koh Tao, Koh Pangan, Koh Samui, or Phuket there are more scams involving outfitters renting out shoddy bikes, then blaming the renter for the problem and extorting them for money by withholding their passport. While this isn’t the norm and you’re likely never to see this problem outside of these areas, it’s good to read the contract and take pictures of your bike before taking it out of the shop. Also, most rental shops will ask you to hold your passport. Give them a copy of the passport instead (they might ask you to keep a cash or credit deposit with them instead as well).
As I said before, I love driving motorbikes in Thailand. It’s been my main form of transportation for years and I spend many of my days off exploring the north and going on road trips. I just find it important to be as safe as possible while driving because there is an inherent risk involved in this type of activity. While we don’t offer organized motorbike tours, some of our clients sometimes choose to rent them. We hope this blog can give you insight on how to drive them responsibly.
Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!