Seeing Thailand on two wheels for me has to be one of the most exciting things to do with your clothes on! It’s great when you get off the tourist trail, head into the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city and pass through small villages or deserted beaches.
Here are some handy tips and hints for hiring a scooter and how to avoid some pitfalls.
Scooters can be hired all over Thailand to every man and his dog will have one to rent. Most tourist places especially in the big cities and around beach locations will have shops where you can hire; your hotel might even be able to rent them to you. For a 125 cc scooter such as the ubiquitous Honda Wave you can expect to pay anywhere from 150 baht to 300 for a 24 hour hire. For a week you will be looking at 1000 baht and around 3000 for a month. You will probably find a 50cc scooter not powerful enough if you are going anywhere where there are hills. A tank of fuel will cost you somewhere in the region of 90-120 baht. It’s worth speaking to your hotel first even if they don’t rent as they can give you great advise on reputable shops they normally send their customers to, what the going rate to rent is and how much petrol costs in the area.
So you are in the shop about to hire, what can you expect? You may have to show a license, but if you don’t have one a bit of sweet talk will get you by, they really aren’t that strict, you will see pre pubescent kids riding scooters in Thailand all the time! Be honest with yourself though if you have never ridden a scooter as its yours and other people’s lives you might be messing with. You will probably be asked to leave your passport as a deposit, this is the norm and some people are reluctant to do this. You might be able to get away with them taking a photocopy if you tell them you need your passport to cash traveller’s cheques. Alternatively you may be able to leave a cash deposit of say 2000 baht. You will most likely be asked to pay for the hire time when you return the scooter, so you could hold onto it for a couple of extra days if you wanted without having to pay a fee for returning it late. You will probably have to leave details of the address you are staying at too. Make sure you check over the scooter you are being offered, point out any damage and take photos of any damage in front of the owner (you don’t want to be paying for someone else’s damage when you return the bike). If bits are hanging off ask for another one. Ask the shop owner for the phone number of the shop in case you break down, so they can come out and help you. It’s unlikely you will be able to take insurance out with the shop, or it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, so it’s worth looking at your travel insurance to see if you are covered to rent scooters and if so up to what cc. Should the worse happen and you are involved in an accident it’s likely that you will pay any damage that needs fixing to the scooter to the shop owner or risk not seeing your passport again. If a third party is involved you may end up paying out damages there and then, cost wise this would be a fraction compared to the UK. It’s unlikely it will ever get to court though unless you decided to peruse it with your travel insurance company if you are covered.
Before you get on, make sure you get a quick lesson from the owner and ask about any quirks of the model. Some scooters use a clutch whilst others are just twist and go. Find out the range of the tank as well and if there is a reserve tank light when does it come on? How many miles can you get from the reserve tank? I would also insist with the shop on hiring a helmet, which will most likely be the open face type. Wearing trainers is also a good idea; it’s far too easy to stub a toe in flip flops!
It’s worth watching the locals on the road before you start riding. See what they do at junctions, how they overtake, does the colour of traffic lights mean anything to them?! In busy areas the horn will undoubtedly be used frequently. It’s also likely they won’t be following the letter of the law like we do in the UK. They do however drive on the left like the UK.
If it is your first time on a scooter make sure you are in the right frame of mind. If your friends are doing it, you may feel pressurised, just go at your own pace it’s not a race. Get them to wait for you now and then. It might sound obvious, but don’t ever drink and ride, this happens far too much with tourists in Asia. Most are lucky and get away with a few scrapes, but it’s just not worth the risk to you or others on the road.
If you are going to carry a pillion (passenger) make sure you instruct them on what to do. So you get on the scooter first, then when settled, your pillion will hop on, remind them to look out for the exhaust, it may be hot. Get them to hold on to the grab rail if the scooter has one, if not they may need to put their arms around your waist, tell them not to give you a bear hug though! If your pillion is inexperienced give them a signal for you to slow down if they get worried, maybe tapping their knees against your thighs. Also tell them not to move around too much when you are moving as this will upset the movement of the scooter. When it’s time to stop, they get off first.
Things to look out for whilst on the road would be potholes, man hole covers, grates and even the odd dog in the middle of the road basking in the sun! Allot of the roads on the small islands aren’t paved so just take it easy until you can feel how the scooter reacts to the loose surface, if you do find the scooter losing traction, try to go with the flow to let the scooter stabilise itself and keep your hands loose on the bars, a death grip on the bars and sudden movements will destabilise the scooter even more. Also remember that where you are looking is where the scooter will go, so detach your eyes from that pothole and look to the side of it and in front of it. Looking far ahead also gives you more time to react to unexpected things and you don’t get that ‘ground rush’ sensation that will make you feel less confident.
If you are going out for a whole day, make sure you fill up before you head out, get a map, be realistic as to how far you can go and find out where you can fill up on your way. It’s also worth wearing sunglasses as a bee hitting your eye when you are doing 30mph is going to hurt! Carry a day sack too; a bottle of water, some sun cream, map and money can all go in it.