Riding a motorbike in Thailand

There are a lot of motorbikes in Thailand, it’s one of the most popular way to go around especially in places like Phuket where there is a lot of traffic. A lot of people who come to Phuket wonder if they can rent a bike and use it to visit. Sure you can but there are a lot of things to consider first.

Worth noting too that most of the following actually applies anywhere else in the world.

Do you have a driving license?

Although a rental shop won’t ask you for your driving license, you need one. Police controls are common here and they take a lot of pleasure in fining foreigners who drive without a license. They won’t ask you for an international driving license but you will see later that it is also more or less mandatory.

Do you have a helmet?

Yes, even if you see a lot of people driving without one, helmets are mandatory. The police will fine you too if you don’t have a helmet, and this is much more visible than you not having your license. Besides, your brain is at the same time the most precious and the most delicate part of your body, so just think about that. The rental shop will usually give you one, if they don’t, ask for one or change shop.

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Are you insured?

Be very careful with your insurance. Even if you have an insurance at home there are good chances it won’t cover you abroad. Also, most “travel insurances”, provided by your credit card company for example, won’t cover medical expenses due to a motorbike accident. If you want to ride a motorbike take a real insurance and read the fine prints. Be also aware that insurances won’t cover you (and your passenger) in most of the following cases:

  • if you drive without an international driving license (it’s important there to check the power of the engine you rent against your license)
  • if you don’t wear a helmet
  • if you’re drunk (that one is a classic here)
  • if you’re a reckless driver (again, read the fine prints as to what can be considered “reckless driving”)

Those two had probably everything checked on the list. And the case of this 27 years old New Zealander who discovered after a crash he was not covered by his insurance is not exceptional either.

If you are looking for a real travel insurance I recommend you check out AVI International, they offer a lot of attractive packages.

Are you used to drive a motorbike?

Better already be a good driver here, this is no place to learn. Even if you have a driving license (and European countries usually allow car drivers to drive motorbikes up to 125cc), if you never drove a bike before or the last time was years ago then I recommend you train first at home, this is most certainly a safer environment than here.

Also remember that when you drive without proper training you don’t put your life alone at risk. You also endanger your passengers’ life and the life of anyone crossing your way.

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What kind of bike to choose?

Here, what we call “scooters” or “mopeds” in Europe go from 100cc up to 150cc, they are called “motorcycles”. However, remember that the limit for someone who only has a car license in Europe is 125cc, which means if you take a more powerful bike you won’t be covered by your insurance.

Then, of course, there are “Big Bikes” (and anything beyond 125cc) for which you would need special training and license in Europe.


A different lever system

Most motorcycles have automatic gear systems (Big Bikes are all manual except for the 500cc scooters like the Yamaha T-MAX) and most rental shop will have only automatics but if you are thinking about renting a manual just think about the fact that you will wear flip-flops most of the time (and actually the lever system is a bit different from what we have in Europe).

It’s the paradise, everybody must be “sabai sabai”, no?

Not really. Driving here is a dangerous activity, just to give you an idea of the problem here is a Google search looking for motorbike accidents on one of Phuket online newspaper you will notice that most of those people died. And here is an incomplete list of Phuket expats and tourists who died between January and June 2012, 6 died in a motorbike crash, 1 in a car crash. And it’s dangerous even when you are a local, traffic statistics here are grim.

There’s no question why, Thailand has a pretty good and extensive set of traffic laws which is on par with industrialized countries. However, enforcement is lacking, to say the best, and people are reckless.

That being said, you’re in holidays so have fun and be safe.

This post is part of the second “Back to Blogging” challenge initiated by Stephanie Booth.

18 thoughts on “Riding a motorbike in Thailand

  1. Pingback: Riding a motorbike in Thailand (continued) | vedovini.net

  2. Magnus fonn lie

    Hi, I am going to drive a motorbike (250cc-500cc) around Thailand to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and maybe Burma. I have a driving license for van and minibus. Can I drive a big bike with that ??? And is it ok to buy 1 bike I can drive in all those countries??
    Thanks :)

    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Hi Magnus,

      I don’t know where you are coming from but in European countries, if you only have a “B” license (which allows you to drive cars and buses under 3.5 tons) you can only drive a motorbike up to 125cc. For bigger bikes you will need an “A” license. Check your driving license to see if you have an “A” license, if you don’t have one then you are not authorized to drive a 250cc bike here in Thailand. I don’t know about the other countries you’re planning to go to but I bet the situation is the same. If you do drive one anyway, be aware that you may get arrested and that, if you have an accident, any insurance you may have will be void.

      Also, make sure to request an international driving license in your home country. It’s a paper that translates your country’s driving license format into an internationally recognized format and it is mandatory if you want to be covered by your insurance. It will also certainly be required by the rental agency.

      As a tourist, you cannot legally buy a bike here in Thailand. So forget about it. If you want to rent one then use a well-known international company and check with them that you can cross the borders. You can also try to rent from an individual but unless you know the person that’s risky business and you won’t get any form of assistance.

      The most important thing is to make sure you are covered by your travel insurance. Carefully read the fine prints. Believe me when I tell you you don’t want to get stuck in Burma or Laos with a broken leg and no insurance to cover your medical expenses.

      Have a good trip, be safe and always wear a helmet (which not only is mandatory in Thailand but will probably be required by your travel insurance too).

  3. Magnus Fonn Lie

    Iam from norway. So i do not think I have the AA. I have been drivin a motorbike tru India. So helment I deffently will juce. Ok So I can not by a bike in Thailand, :( How is it to thake the motorbike driving licens there?? Can I do it in a fwe days. And when I rent a big bike. Can I take it tru, Laos, Cambodia, burma Vietnam and malaisia. Iam very happy to do this. And Thanks for all good infomasion :) Keep in touch

    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      You cannot get a driving license in Thailand unless you live here. And granted you find a company to rent you a bike through the borders (which is unlikely considering insurance and theft issues) they will ask you for an international driving license.

      The only legal solution I can think of is that you rent a 125cc in each country or you get an “A” license in Norway then ship your bike here (if you do that, make sure your bike’s insurance is covering you abroad and your travel insurance is covering injuries in case of of a bike accident).

  4. deen

    Insurance is important for drivers as there’s a lot of curves from beach to beach. It will be slippery when raining.

    (edited for wording)

  5. Pingback: Never, ever, leave your passport as a guaranty... | vedovini.net

  6. Hob

    Hi Claude,

    Thanks for the information. It’s very handy indeed. :)

    I’m licensed to drive a car in Singapore, and have a IDL that states that I could operate a car only.

    Would like to know if it’s okay for me to ride a small scooter in Thailand, in the event I get pulled over or something.


    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Hi Hob,

      If you show your IDL and it doesn’t specify that you can ride a bike then you will get fined. However, if your SG driving license says you can ride a bike and you show that one, they will leave you alone. Most people don’t have an IDL so the police here is used to other countries’ driving licenses.

      However, in case of an accident, it’s probable that only the IDL will be valid for your insurance.

  7. Gianmarco

    hello claude. I will go soon in kanchanaburi and I would rent a bike. I will go the erawan waterfalls and tiger temple (65km from kanchanaburi to erawan and 65km from erawan to tiger temple). what is your advice on the type of bike that i can use? which displacement ?. Thanks a lot regards.

    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Hi Gianmarco,

      I don’t know this region at all but if you’re on your own a 125cc should be good enough. Since you’re asking I guess you don’t have a motorbike driving license in Europe – otherwise you’d be like any biker and would take the biggest engine you can find no matter what – so legally speaking the maximum you can ride is a 125cc.

      Anyway, make sure you have a proper insurance, wear a helmet and drive safely.

      Have fun,

  8. Chris

    I wouldn’t hire a bike in Phuket the road are very dangerous it’s a death trap

  9. Robert

    I also noticed when I was in Thailand that they have red, octagonal signs that look just like the stop signs in the U.S.

    I couldn’t read the writing on them, but apparently it says “Put on your highbeams, then speed up and go through the intersection without stopping.”

  10. Gene

    hi all.
    is it possible to rent a 250cc motorcycle in phuket?
    i have a proper license. do not need license or insurance advice.

    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      yes, you can pretty much rent anything here, if you’re in Patong just go on the beach road there’s a number of Thais renting big bikes along the beach :)

  11. James Nardell

    For what it’s worth, I think that you have to be suicidal to ride a motorcycle in Thailand. [Even if you wear a proper helmet, which most don’t]. A number of Thai friends and acquaintances have been killed [over the 18 years that I have lived in Thailand] on motorcycles — in most cases, not their fault.

    I suggest people who plan to ride motorcycles in Thailand watch the video below. It will hopefully make them think twice…

    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      I agree to some extent but like the guy says in the video the problem comes mainly from people with no training. If you’re an experienced and responsible rider you marginally increase your chance of an accident because of the environment but if you wouldn’t ride in your home country then riding here is just asking for it.


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