Renting a Scooter in Thailand

Hannah Carrillo

When you’re traveling through Thailand, it seems that everyone knows someone who’s hurt themselves on a Thai scooter. If you walk into a hostel and say “I’m thinking about renting a scooter for the day,” you’ll soon be flocked with backpackers who are trying to one-up each other on who knows of the worst scooter accident with all the gory details. With all the horror stories, you might think twice before you begin traveling via scooter, especially if you’ve never done it before. But, at less than four dollars a day and a sense of independence that can’t be fulfilled by public transportation, renting a scooter is an undoubtedly tempting option.

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After discussing the topic with many a backpacker, my traveling partner and I decided that, as inexperienced motorcyclists, it would be wise to start off in a place that wasn’t bustling with thousands of commuters crossing major intersections without any sign of traffic signals. We decided to get scooters in the rural, northern mountain town of Pai, a couple hours outside of Chiang Mai. You could easily walk across Pai, but there was a loop outside the town where you could venture off on scooters and see everything the area has to offer. We walked from our hostel to the shop and rented a scooter for under four dollars for twenty-four hours. Because we didn’t know how to drive, someone brought us to a field close to the shop to give us a short, five-minute lesson, and then we were off to the races. I felt a bit unprepared at first, and my starting and stopping were jerky, but I left those uncertainties behind as I started to pick up speed on the old, country roads. We got to explore canyons, hot springs, and waterfalls. We got to see the beautiful Thai countryside at sunset, and the best part was that we could do it all at our own pace. After weeks of having been on the schedules of other travelers or tour guides, there was a sense of freedom I had been missing until I got onto that scooter and started riding.

After leaving the canyon we reached a portion of the loop that was partially under construction, and though we approached with caution, we still managed to slip across the gravel. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough to send us to the ground, but it humbled us. An accident can happen to anyone, not just the backpackers in the stories. So, if you’re thinking about getting a scooter in Thailand, here are some tips that will make your adventure safer and worthwhile:

 

  1. Shop around beforehand: We looked up the different rental places online and the reviews were really helpful (some places require you to leave your passport with them while you have their scooter, some places will charge for beginner lessons, etc.) There were also options for renting more expensive, nicer looking scooters. We chose the cheapest option and were satisfied, but then again we weren’t expecting much knowing we would be paying four dollars.
  2. Wear your helmet: Some of the helmets are smelly and may not be the best of quality, but it’s better than nothing! Getting a serious head injury is bad, but getting a serious head injury in a country that speaks a foreign language is worse. According to the World Health Organization, Thailand has been ranked as high as second in the world for rate of road accident deaths, with most of those deaths being motorcyclists. Some of the most gruesome stories we heard involved people not wearing helmets, so protect that noggin! (Fun fact: It's illegal in Thailand to not wear a helmet on a scooter)
  3. If you’re new, start slow: I think one of the best decisions we made was to start off in a place with practically zero traffic. And although it may not always seem like the “cool” thing to do, I’m glad I sucked up my ego and asked for lessons. Even if it only lasted five minutes and I didn’t understand what the instructor was saying to me, I got familiar with the controls and gained a teensy bit of confidence that made me feel more comfortable when I was driving alone.
  4. Be aware of local laws: This is definitely important and expected of you if you are caught breaking the law. You must have a driver’s license to rent a scooter, and if you’re going to be driving something more powerful than 50cc, you should have a motorcycle license. Remember to drive on the left side of the road (I only messed up a couple times), and definitely don’t drive under the influence. Yes, many people pay off officers when they get stopped, but why waste your money and put yourself in danger?

 

Although driving a scooter is somewhat dicey, I think these tips will help to lessen the risk a little bit. We ran into a lot of travelers that wouldn’t go near a scooter, even in the countryside, so in the end, it’s all about where you feel comfortable. I personally loved the experience and would definitely do it again in a rural area. Motorbiking in Bangkok, however, is another story.


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One of the scooters we rented for the day.