Why and how to rent a motorbike in Thailand and southeast Asia

One of the first persons I met on my way told me this little anecdote :

I know someone who rented a motorbike in Thailand, he got into an accident and died.

It got me thinking, and it is true that I didn’t think I was going to rent a motorbike before I got here. I mean, I am far from home, and what if something happens to me ? how am I going to do ? besides, I’m alone etc etc.

The thing is, I thought there would always be some kind of alternative to visit and enjoy the places, but the truth is that I had no objective idea of how things would really happen in reality and since I didn’t plan much in advance, I couldn’t know how such or such place would be like.

After 15 days of traveling, I met this american guy on the way to Pai. As we arrived, we decided to rent a couple of motorbikes despite my lack of experience with these machines. When I look back now I realize it would have been difficult to fully enjoy this little town lost in the mountain without something to wander around.

"Cruising in Pai" à moto, Pai, Thailande

“Cruising in Pai”, Thailande

So with our bikes, we left for cruising at sunset pretty much right after we arrived, and as I was driving I was like “jesus, why didn’t I do that before ?!”. I had a big smile, and we were just wandering with our bikes, going where we thought was nice to go to. By doing so, we could actually meet the “true” Thailand, far from the crowds from downtown. The landscapes were just beautiful, and this little bike gives me such a feeling of freedom! it is awesome, and I had never enjoyed my journey as much as here.

Before renting

In theory, you are supposed to have some motorbike driving licence. But in the facts, the rental agencies just don’t give a damn and will rent you anything as long as you give them money.

Besides, it is rare to get pulled over. In those areas, the life is so simple and if you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. It is even possible to drive without a helmet in front of the police.

The rental agreement

Most of the time, you will have to sign a rental agreement. Read carefully the contract and check for insurance, because sometimes, it is not included and if anything happens to you or your bike, you’re screwed.

I also happened to rent a scooter with no contract. Just some oral contract. I have to admit that it wasn’t so smart but the place was so “motorbike friendly” that I couldn’t do otherwise or I just would have got bored.

Be careful though, in some islands from down south, there would be scams from the rental agencies. They basically would charge you for damages on the bike that you didn’t do. If there are scratches for example they could say to you “hey, you damaged my bike, you gotta pay this much”. Clearly, they are trying to screw you, so before renting anything, take note of all the existing damages on the bike.

A thing you should know
When you are renting a motorbike, the tank will be empty 99% of the time. So it is smart to give it back empty as well so you don’t waste your money because if you don’t, they will empty the tank and put the bike back for rental like that. Well, they usually leave a couple of onces to allow the next renter to fill up the tank at the closest gas station.

You have also a good chance that your instant speed gauge does not work. It is kind of annoying because you don’t know how much you’re doing while driving. It really feels like they do that on purpose, which is probably the case.

Automatic vs Manual

Most of the time you will get to choose between renting a manual bike or an automatic. The manual are actually semi auto.

I started on an automatic to get to know how to drive these things, and it didn’t take long before I got attracted by the manual ones. I thought it would be more fun to drive and I like to have “full control”. Besides, the wheels are bigger which is more comfortable to drive, more safe, and on top of it, it has a better gas mileage.

Actually there are 4 gears, triggered by the left foot, but there is no clutch unlike the regular motorbikes. You just push forward to gear up, and backward to gear down. The rear brake is under the right feet, like a regular bike. Overall, it is very easy to handle.

Since I don’t have a motorbike licence, I just learned by using it, and I literately fell in love with those machines. It is a really exciting way of traveling.

The “manual bikes” are usually cheaper than the automatics and have better gas mileage.

Cost of a rental

In average, and depending on where you are, it will cost you from 140 to 200 bahts for a 24 hours rental, or $6 to $7

In Cambodia the prices are quiet similar whereas in Laos it is a bit more expensive (about $8-10 per day)

The prices do not include – of course – the gasoline.

The gasoline is about $1.30 per liter

A manual bike (like a Honda Wave) is doing 156 to 118 MPG, and less for the automatic ones.

 A tank of 0.95 gallons lets you drive a distance of 95 to 125 miles 

Why is a motorbike awesome to travel with ?

When you drive a motorbike, you have this amazing feeling of freedom. You can go absolutely everywhere and  discover unsuspected places .

I was with my german travelmate and we were driving to empty the tank. After a while, we came on this road because it looked nice and eventually arrived at this place with a giant buddha, we chatted for a couple of minutes with a couple of rock carvers that were making a buddha statue out of a raw rock. Further away, we landed in that little remote village on the border of the Mekong. We stopped and interacted with the kids that were playing soccer. And as we were driving through the village we could hear “Sabaideeee” by dozens (it means “Hello”).

Buddha géant découvert par hasard en roulant à moto, Pakse, Laos

Buddha géant découvert par hasard en roulant à moto, Pakse, Laos

You are just free, not depending on some third party entity, and somehow, renting a semi auto is doing like the local people, it’s living local.

The automatic scooter is left for the lazy tourist who doesn’t know how to drive a manual one and that you can see coming from far away ;-)

In some places, the agencies don’t even rent manuals because there would have been too many accident by tourists with manual bikes before.

Pretty much everyone here is using one of these machines, and it is a very good way to discover the surroundings of a place because you cannot see everything within walking distance.

Non Mandatory helmet wearing

You will see a lot of local people driving without a helmet. I don’t even know if it is mandatory actually. Let’s say it is highly recommended. The life here is simplified at its maximum, and it really is rock’n'roll on the roads.

The cops don’t even bother you when you drive passed them without a helmet (tested and approved).

Casque de tatou, Shérif fais moi peur

Casque de tatou, Shérif fais moi peur

You should wear a helmet though, it is for your own safety, but frankly, the broken plastic toy-like helmets that are lent to us for our “safety” are most of the time a real pain to wear,they hardly fit our head and it really feels like we’re wearing some armadillo helmet.

And when it doesn’t fit well, it is really annoying to feel it pull your face backwards because the helmets is being blown by the air due to the driving speed.

And eventually, you are just sick of this materialized joke and you end up driving the wind in the hair.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear a helmet, because I did wear one most of the time, but it’s just so you know.

A few anecdotes with motorbikes

The first bike I rented, I went down into the mud with it because I was being a smart ass on the muddy trails. The scooter got a few scratches, and so did my knee, nothing really bad though. Besides I had insurance and they barely checked the scooter when I gave it back.

I really scared myself two times : once on a strong breaking as I was going downhill and my brakes were already washed out (the back-wheel kinda drifted). The second time was because two students on a motorbike were turning right and I was starting to pass them because they were very slow (one more big screechy braking).

Despite all that, I always wanted to drive these amazing machines :-)

It is cool to cross a river with a motorbike and park in the jungle.

Off road river crossing, Pai, Thailande

Off road river crossing, Pai, Thailande

There is no need to use a safety locker and you will let your helmet hanging on the handle or in the basket. Nobody will steal from you.

I ran a flat tire as I was going downhill from the top of a mountain. I drove 10 miles like this at low speed because nobody could help me out. At the bottom of the mountain I found some “garage” where I could get my tube fixed for just $0.6.

Réparation de ma moto Honda Wave, Kampot, Cambodge

Réparation de ma moto Honda Wave, Kampot, Cambodge

Anyways, the motorbike is a really good way to discover the countryside. It is so exciting to drive and you can pass pretty much everywhere with it, they are so lightweight and easy to handle.

In conclusion, motorbikes are good, use them.

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