Renting a scooter or motorbike in Thailand seems to be a pretty done thing. You jump off the pier onto Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, or any of the other islands, and almost immediately you’ll see westerners zipping around, weaving between people, cars, and other scooters, jacked up on adrenaline steering a glorified bicycle. It is terrifying, for both pedestrians, and them. Those that aren’t wearing helmets clearly have a death wish, whilst I imagine the faces of those that are wearing helmets are eyes wide with screams masked by the 125cc engine revving under their arse.
But that paints are very bad picture, I’m sure some of them have ridden scooters before, they may even have their own back home, and I’m sure they are confident riders that pose no risk to themselves or others. I was hesitant to get a scooter, even though I have ridden motorbikes before, simply because the number of travellers you see bandaged up from road accidents here in Thailand is an absurd amount. But I bit the bullet, and got one whilst in Koh Tao and Pai, and I’m now going to go through the reasons why you should get a scooter in Thailand, and why you shouldn’t – I’ll leave it up to you to make your decision.
Why you shouldn’t – scooters are dangerous af
Trust me on this one. Renting a scooter will be the most dangerous thing you do in Thailand. You only need to spend a day in Thailand to either see, or hear about, one westerner with their arm bandaged up or legs in crutches after coming off their bike. There was even a very tragic accident recently where a young mother was hit off her bike in Thailand by a bus, killing her instantly. The risk doesn’t end at other drivers either, you can just as easily injure yourself by crashing into a kerb, wall, or having your bike come out from under you because you were going too fast over sand, dirt, and all the other stuff on the roads…
Why you should – taxis are expensive on the islands
When I got my first taxi from the pier in Koh Tao to my hostel for 300 baht (£7), I was pretty shocked. The journey was less that 10 minutes and it cost me over 3 times the amount that journey would cost in Bangkok. But I thought, “hey, that’s fine, it was from the pier so you likely pay a premium” – then when I wanted to catch a taxi from my hostel to meet some friends in the north of the island, I was pretty pissed when they quoted another 300 baht, for another less than 10 minute journey.
These seems pretty synonymous with the other islands. Obviously if you travel in a group the cost will be split between you, but as a solo traveller this sucks. For going to meet my friends for drinks one evening it cost me ~300 baht on 3 beers and then double that at 600 baht on taxis getting me there and back. Not cool taxis, not cool. On the other hand, a scooter will set you back 200-450 baht a day, a considerable saving there on transport.
Why you shouldn’t – some / many are scams
There are two main ways that you can rent scooters in Thailand, either you put down your passport, or a deposit. The amount of people I spoke to that just handed their passport over to some sketchy guy in a shack with 4 scooters is crazy. Never hand over your passport, as soon as they have your passport they have the power to charge you as much as they like.
The scam goes a little something like this:
- Scooters for rent: 150 baht / day – you think this is a great deal
- You hand over 150 baht to rent the scooter for 24 hours, and you passport for them to keep
- You’re given a 125cc Honda Wave with a couple dents and scratches
- You hop on and wiz off to have a great day exploring the island on 2 wheels, driving safe and not damaging yourself, or the bike, in any way
- The next day you return to the shop to drop your scooter off
- They inspect the bike and say that the scratches on the left side where not there before, and that you caused them.
- They charge you 2,000 baht (~£50) for the damages.
- You protest.
- They have your passport, you can’t leave without it, and they know it.
- You pay 2,000 baht and leave with your passport – even if you did leave you dignity.
This sounds dramatised but I know people who it’s happened to, and it really sucks. One way to evade the scam is to take photos of the bike before you hand over any money, and make it clear to them that you’re taking photos, even bullshit that you’ve rented one before. If they only accept passports as a deposit, straight up say no and head somewhere else where you can put down cash.
I rented mine from a great place in Koh Tao called Oli’s Motorbikes, and it was a bit pricier than most places, 250 baht / day, but you could also buy insurance for an extra 100 or 200 baht depending on what cover you wanted. I paid 100 extra to cover any scratches or dents I may accidentally give the bike, in addition to a 2,000 baht deposit. Once I returned the bike they gave it a super quick once over, and straight away handed me back my 2,000 baht.
Why you should – scooters are super convenient
We’ve already touched upon how expensive taxis are, and unless you want to walk everywhere and drown in sweat, your only option is renting a scooter. Scooters are the easiest way to get around the islands, all you have to do is add fuel. It’s just like having your car at home. You’re not waiting on buses, you’re not waiting for a Grab (Thailand’s Uber), you’re not waiting for anyone – just get on your bike and go explore. Also, because you’re driving, if you want to go for a detour, go for a detour. If you want to stop off at this cool looking shop, temple, or even just a 7 Eleven for water, you can do that.
Why you shouldn’t – if you have no experience
You should only be considering getting a scooter if you’ve ridden one before, if you haven’t, please, just don’t rent one. Scooters are tricky enough to get a hang of, let alone getting a hang of them on the busy streets of Thailand. If you’ve never ridden before then just ride pillion (on the back) on someone else. Yes you just ‘twist and go’ but there is a lot more to it than that. There are no real speed limits on the islands, and if you’re keeping up with traffic you might not realise how fast you’re going, and how long it takes to break. You might not be aware of blind spots and doing lifesaver checks when you turn or pull out into traffic. You simply do not know how to ride a scooter, so for your own safety, and the safety of everyone else, don’t.
Why you should – they are the most fun you will ever have
Oh my god these little speed machines are fun, like, so much fun. If you enjoy driving, or riding bikes, then rent a scooter and just spend the day riding it – that’s what I did! If you appreciate long, winding roads, inclines and helix slopes then boy are you in for one hell of a good time. Snorkelling, that’s fun. Diving, that’s fun. Lounging by the beach, that’s fun. Riding a scooter, that’s the best…