Renting a motorbike in Thailand is one of the best ways to get around wherever you are. You get the freedom of movement that allows you to control your own experiences. Also, when you rent a motorbike you can do what you want to do when you want to do it. But before you commit, there are many things you should know to make sure all is as great as promised. We do not want to be all doom and gloom, but things are different in Thailand and awareness is key. We want to help you with what to watch out for and what to do to make sure you have a safe good time.
Renting a Motorbike in Thailand
Renting a motorbike in Thailand is easy, cheap, and rental places are everywhere. The best way to get around in any local area of Thailand is likely to be on a motorbike. Most rentals are only 200-300 Baht, they use very little gas, and as many as 3 adults can climb on. There are many honest rental shops that provide a good service, however, there are also entirely too many disreputable renters. Tourist scams are common, and your price could go way up if you are not careful. You do need a license to rent a motorbike in Thailand, but this is not always enforced in tourist areas. We must also emphasize that experience riding a motorbike is essential no matter how easy it looks. Thailand has an astonishing road death rate, and motorbike accidents are the number one cause of tourist deaths in Thailand.
What are motorcycles like in Thailand?
As the term implies, motorbikes in Thailand are just that: bikes with motors. Most motorbikes are from 100-250 cc, and the majority are in the 125cc class. These are not what Europeans and Americans call motorcycles, they are actually called motor scooters there. There is a class called “Big Bikes” in Thailand, for motorbikes over 501cc, but these are far less common. The reason is simple, roads in Thailand outside of the major cities are very rough, and city traffic is terrible. So, a light nimble machine makes the most sense. The most important difference for experienced MC riders to know is that motorbikes don’t turn the same way. On a “normal” motorcycle you lean the bike over into the turns. On a Thai motorbike, you actually need to turn the handlebar to a varying degree in accordance with speed. And the turns on Thai roads are easy to misjudge.
The Top 5 Motorbike / Scooter Rental Scams in Thailand
Rightly or wrongly, Thailand is notoriously known for scams involving tourists renting motorbikes. These are logically concentrated in the tourist areas, and they take advantage of foreigners’ excitement to get out and ride. Here are the top five ways scammers can get you if you are not careful.
1 – The passport Scam
Many rental places want you to leave your passport with them as “security” for the rental. This is illegal and you don’t have to give it to them, have them make a copy instead, and watch them when they do. You are required by Thai law to have your passport with you at all times. if you leave it with the rental people then get stopped by police, you will get in more trouble. The other thing that can happen is you can get set up to have your passport held for ransom. All of a sudden, mysterious damages can pop up and they won’t give it back until you pay.
2 – The Fake damage scam
This is by far the most common, and you might think it is easy to prevent by taking some pictures. That does help, but it is not something to be so sure of. Many times, a sticker is somehow peeled, or scratches on the bottom are discovered that you didn’t have in the pictures. This gets worse if only the renter took the pictures with their phone instead of you using yours too. If the renter is going to be insistent with this scam, you will have to take things to the authorities. Just the threat of that will often diffuse the situation.
3 – The Deposit Scam
It often seems logical that the renter will want some kind of security deposit on a motorbike rental. What you need to watch out for is how much. For instance, A 10,000 Baht deposit is ridiculous when the most damage you can do without killing yourself is only a couple thousand. This is especially true with the older bikes most places have for rent. And the deposit is also a perfect set up for the fake damage scam.
4 – The Tire Scam
This one is particularly hard to catch and is disturbingly common. What happens is a tire will be defective and you can’t tell until you get out on the road far from the rental shop. You call with a problem, or you bring it back with a flat, and you get all kinds of charges. Even good pictures will not help avoid this one. You can ask for a tire gauge and tell them you will check it on the road. Or, just say that if the tire goes flat through no fault of yours you are not paying. Again, the threat of action has a good chance of preventing the scam.
5- The Repair Shop Scam
This is a set up that is only easy to recognize when it is too late. What happens is you get sent to a certain repair shop if there are any damages, real or fake. This repair shop is in collusion with the renter and gets money kicked-back by charging you more for repairs. The only recourse you have is to get other estimates, but in a small place that might not even help.
Extreme Motorcycle / Motor Scooter Rental Scams
There are two things that can happen in cases where somebody has really made you out to be a target. These things are a bit extreme, but they are reported because they actually happen. One is that you get set up to have your rental bike stolen by somebody with a second key. This is the opening for the scammers to really jack up the charges. They will want you to replace the bike- with a new one! Worse, since the rental scammers know you are out of your hotel room for the day or longer, they take the opportunity to rob your hotel room. They might not actually do this themselves, but the set up is there. These are just cases to be aware of, they are not common because of the heightened danger to the scammers.
Tips for Renting a Motorbike / Motor Scooter in Thailand
- Try your best to not leave the motorbike Unattended. At the very least try and leave it in full public view.
- Rent from a reputable place. The best, but also the most expensive, are the big names like Avis or Hertz. It is likely worth the extra cost.
- Use a helmet, even if you see no one else using one. It is the law, but that is often ignored everywhere in Thailand.
- Don’t speed. Speed kills. This is absolutely true; you don’t need the law to tell you.
- Use normal MC caution. Be careful of gravel and wet roads. Be especially careful on sandy spots, these can throw you even worse than water. Also, stay out of hard braking situations.
- Don’t leave valuables in the bike, even in the storage areas on the bike.
The Best Things You Can Do If Renting a Motorbike
The old saying is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (do the metric conversion if you have to). Having good travel insurance is the best interpretation of this. Make sure to get a policy that covers rentals like motorbikes and passport problems as well. Also, take a test ride on any bike you rent, check the tires, and make sure it starts over and over. Make sure you understand with the renter how long you are renting for. They don’t always assume 24 hours like in other places and that is the opening for extra charges.
Just as important as all this is another old saying that is particularly true in Thailand. “Don’t lose your cool!” Stay calm and try to work things out. If authorities need to be involved, call the Tourist police first. They are more in tune to foreigners and more likely to understand your side and not immediately take sides with the Thais involved.