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Motorbikes in Thailand- To Rent or not to Rent??

Updated: Apr 26

Before traveling to Thailand, I only knew one person in Phuket named Captain Mike, an expatriate residing in Nai Harn. Mike is a retired science teacher who sailed solo across the Pacific Ocean when he moved to Thailand.

Mike's advice to me was to practice riding a motorbike in Idaho before my trip. I told him that I didn't have access to a motorbike, so he asked if I had a bicycle. I replied, "Yes, of course, but the last time I rode it, I tipped over and hit my head on a rock." He said, "Perfect, just start with your bicycle."

Mike sent me messages every few days reminding me to practice, which I, of course, was not doing. I had already researched renting a motorbike in Thailand and read numerous horror stories about people breaking their hips, ending up in a full-body cast, or getting in trouble with the police for not having an international driver's license or insurance. I was completely sure that this 49-year-old woman was not going to take that risk.

When I visited my friend Mike in Nai Harn, he convinced me to ride on the back of his motorbike. Despite being a careful driver, I was hesitant about riding solo.

Two days later, tired of walking and spending money on taxis, I decided to rent my own motorbike for about $6 a day. When I picked it up, the lady who rented it to me looked concerned as I had no idea how to start it and ended up hitting the throttle and ignition button at the same time.

I rode the mile to Mike's house at just 20km/hour, got off the bike, threw my helmet down in frustration, and declared, "This thing is a death trap!" Mike helped me calm down and then challenged me to "man up," which annoyed me enough to get back on the bike and learn to ride.

Driving on the left-hand side of the road in Thailand and the lack of adherence to stop signs made me nervous, so I took it slow that first day. Nonetheless, I was proud to have faced my fears and learned a new skill. Mike praised my progress but asked, "Can you please try to go a little faster tomorrow?" Within two days, I was riding all around Phuket and even made it up and down to the Big Buddha in one piece.

Now, my first task when visiting a new place in Thailand (after securing my accommodation, of course) is to rent a motorbike. I always wear a helmet and never ride if I am planning to drink or party. I still go slow-ish and am mindful of the animals on the road, but I love it! I prefer the smaller, simple bikes...the Honda Scoopy I or Click.

Fortunately, I have only had two semi-nerve-wracking experiences on my motorbike. The first was when I got stopped at my first police checkpoint. I was wearing my helmet, smiled at the policeman, and said, "Hello." He took one look at me with my blonde hair and American accent and said, "Madam, you may go." I was relieved to have avoided a potential police bribe.

The other experience was in Koh Phangan as I rode to a beach on the other side of the island. I had just rented the bike the day before and was not familiar with the fancy computer system, I assumed that the gas tank was full.

Unfortunately, it was not. I was in the middle of the jungle on a 25% grade slope when the last drop of gas in my tank expired. It was the worst place to run out of gas! Despite the situation, I refused to panic. I turned around and cruised back down the hill as far as I could. I left the bike on the side of the road, grabbed my water bottle, and walked 2 km until I found a roadside gas vending machine. I filled my water bottle with 50 cents worth of gas and walked back to my bike to fill it up. Although I was hot, tired, and sweaty, I was grateful for being able to handle the situation on my own. The rest of the day was fantastic!

So should you rent a motorbike in Thailand? If you have a driver's license and know how to ride a bike, I say yes… or at least try it! If this clumsy gal can do it, anyone can. You can also get motorbike driving lessons in Thailand. That was a game-changer for my friend Charlotte.

If you decide to go for it, remember to wear a helmet, stay left, don’t drive impaired, and be mindful of all of the animals here (ie- street dogs, big lizards, squirrels, cats, ducks, geese, monkeys, etc.). And of course, always be sure you have enough gas in your tank!

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