8 tips for renting a scooter in Thailand

After exhausting all the apartment rental options within the city center, it was time to take our search further afield and to do that we needed some wheels.  Like most Asian cities, scooters are more common than cars here in Chiang Mai, and it’s no surprise when you consider how cheap they are.  A brand new scooter goes for about $1200 CAD, but a one day rental is a mere 200 BAHT (about $6 CAD).   And it’s cheap to run when gasoline costs just over a buck a litre (CAD) and you get about 40 km per litre.

We are scooter newbies – we’ve never even sat on a scooter let alone driven one.   Neither of us are big fans of motorcycles, mainly because we just can’t imagine feeling safe with nothing between us and the road should things go wrong.  But when everyone is driving a scooter, from young kids to grandmothers, we figured we should at least give it a try.  Besides, we needed some mobility to look at apartments within a few kilometre radius of the Old City.
After spending a day on a scooter – Chris drove and I navigated from behind – and surviving to tell the tale, we have a few tips to share in case anyone is thinking about doing the same.

  1. Don’t surrender your passport when you sign the rental contract.  We have heard stories of unscrupulous people who refuse to return your  passport because they have fabricated bogus problems with the scooter and they want you to pay up to fix them.  Even worse, some go so far as to steal the bike while it’s in your possession and then insist you replace it before returning your passport.   It’s better to leave a deposit (3,000 BAHT in our case) which is a lot easier to walk away from should you find yourself in such a situation.
  2. Do wear your helmet even if it looks like it would give you less protection than your bike helmet back home. It’s the law to wear a helmet in Thailand, and I saw more than one ticket being issued to helmet-less people.  Besides, even a lousy helmet is better than no helmet if you have a mishap. Of course, you could carry your helmet in your front basket like most of the locals do if you really want to.
  3. Do take a few spins around the block on quiet streets before venturing out into a busy thoroughfare just to get the feel of the scooter.  It’s a lot harder to balance when you have a passenger on the back, so be sure to practice a bit with your passenger on board too.
  4. Don’t fill the tank.  You receive the scooter with an almost empty tank and you can return it empty as well.  It’s not like a car rental where you’re expected to return the vehicle with a full tank.  Even though the tank only holds a couple of  litres, chances are you won’t be driving that many kilometres especially if you’re staying close to town.
  5. Do follow the crowd.  This is no time to assert your leadership abilities.  The roads in Chiang Mai are chaotic and traffic rules appear to be optional, even red lights.  To make matters worse, they drive on the “wrong” side of the road (from a Canadian perspective that is), so remember to drive on the left hand side.  Things get tricky when you find yourself in a turning lane but you’re going straight.  Where exactly do you need to be to avoid getting crushed by bigger vehicles around you?  We found it helpful to pick a bike ahead of us, and just follow behind them. Chances are the guy in front knows how to navigate better than you do.
  6. Don’t use your horn unless absolutely necessary.  Unlike other countries like Egypt where the horn is used incessantly, drivers in Thailand are far less aggressive and much more yielding to those around them on the road.  Just remember you’re the smallest guy on the road, and quite likely the slowest if you’re a newbie like us, so keep to the side and stay out of harm’s way.
  7. Do drive defensively like your life depends on it, because frankly, it probably does.  Watch the drivers ahead of you, beside you, behind you and don’t forget to watch the road for speed bumps and potholes.  This is no time for speed, besides you probably won’t top 60 km/h on your little bike anyways.  We putted about at an easy 40 km/h most of the day.  I know, we’re not exactly speed demons but we would rather be safe and alive than have a thrill with a mishap.
  8. Do relax and have fun.  Really.  It is possible.  We had a great day touring around and discovering new areas impossible to reach on foot.

We enjoyed our day on the scooter so much that we’ve decide to rent a scooter on a monthly basis once we’ve found an apartment.  Imagine, our own set of wheels for less than $100 CAD per month!  It’s just one of the many bargains here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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One Response
  1. Angus says:

    I was expecting pictures of the two of you dressed to the nines in leather motorcycle jackets and leggings and maybe boots to boot. Oh well.

    I couldn’t get over the scooters in Beijing and Taipei, especially the way they parked them on the sidewalk all packed together so close I can’t imagine how you get your bike out without scratching the hell out of the ones beside you.

    Well it looks like fun.