How to hire a scooter "Safely" in South East Asia

* Its never 100% risk free to hire a scooter in thailand, nor might your insurer cover you when riding on a motorbike.  Hiring a scooter here is at your risk, and I accept no responsibility if you wrap yourself around a taxi, tree or end up off a cliff, or short a few thousand baht when returning it! 

If you are on certain islands in Thailand, Malaysia or elsewhere in South East asia for more than a day or two its almost an absolute necessity to have access to a scooter.  If done right scooter hire is cheap, reasonable safe and fun.  If done wrong, well, it can end up with a very expensive hospital visit, or a depleted bank account from “damage” that may or may not have been caused by you.

Scooter Langkawi

The first bike I hired, a Honda rented in Langkawi Island

Scooter hire places are all over the islands, my advice is ask local expats where the best place is to hire from.  Every island has its horror stories from those who have taken advantage of fresh tourists to make some extra money.  Tripadvisor is handy for reviews of rental companies around S.E Asia, but even better is local advice.

Normally in Thailand scooters can be rented for 100-200 baht per day, more for a motorbike, 4 wheel ATV or a Jeep. Technically you need to be licensed to ride a vehicle, though the laws are enforced very loosely depending on where you are.  You can usually get a better deal for longer term rental.

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A scooter/motorbike I bought (without papers) in Koh Tao, Thailand.  This one was fun!

Most places require some form of deposit (as tourists often do not know how to ride scooters, ride while drunk, or leave their brains at home when on holiday) – cash or a passport.  I strongly advise to use cash (I usually offer 4000 baht, a second hand bomb of a scooter can be purchased for 10-15,000 baht – which will be my next purchase) rather than your passport, as you can always get new cash, but without a passport you are stuck.   Many places however will not rent without a passport, so there is some risk involved with this.

You will be given a choice of bikes, and given the opportunity to inspect a bike with the rental agency, for any scratches or preexisting damage.  This is VERY important, take out your phone camera and make a point of taking pictures from all angles of the bike, noting any pre existing damage to the bike (including the bottom, mirrors, brake handles etc) and note it on the rental form.  Personally I never rent from a place that only has brand new bikes, and prefer the old clunkers, which have already been damaged by hundreds before me.

Scooter 1

A clunker I hired in Koh Tao, and no, I didn’t give them my passport.

 

Make sure you get a receipt  and business card.  Take a note of how many keys you are given and note this on the form.  You will be charged (and charged a very high amount) for any damage done to the bike, and it is very easy for an inexperienced rider to damage them. Get a helmet while you are at it, the last thing you want is a head injury overseas.

Scooter Crash

An Israeli tourist in a head on collission due to driving on the wrong side of the road in Koh Phangan, Thailand.

You may be offered insurance from the rental places, I’ve never actually heard of anywhere that the insurance is worth the paper its written on, so avoid it.  Do make sure your travel insurer covers you for bikes – many do not. You’ll usually need to have a motorbike licence in your home country for this coverage to apply.  I’ve had a friend who crashed a bike in Indonesia and did around $30,000 worth of damage to his leg, so it’s important to either know what you are doing, ensure you are covered or preferably both.  That said, I never had  a licence and never had coverage, yet I’m still alive (though my shoulder occasionally clicks due to a drunken crash in Koh Tao!)

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Yamaha Manual bike I rented for 1000THB a month from a friend while living in Koh Phangan.

If you are new to riding, get yourself an electric start, automatic scooter – Honda clicks are the most common, or if you plan on doing a lot of hills, carrying a passenger get a clutch less geared bike such as a wave. Personally I preferred a manual bike which gave me more control, but these are harder to rent.  Larger dirt bikes such as Honda 250s and Yamaha/Kawasaki 140s are also available for more experienced riders.  Avoid the large road bikes as they are hard to steer.

Do not – I repeat do not get a 4 wheeled bike.  There is nothing that scares me more than young females riding these things, they are heavy, prone to slipping and less maneuverable in emergencies, these are the most dangerous things on the island and scream fresh tourist! You will notice how many tourists on the Koh San road in Bangkok are sporting “Phangan Tattoos” (Bike related injuries) due to personal idiocy.  Avoid driving when its raining/after rain..

Make sure you wear shoes as you will often need to use your feet, Jandals are dangerous and can result in grazed/stubbed toes and feet. Be aware that the roads are shit, often full of potholes and sand, max speed limits are around 40km, but you dont’ need to drive anywhere that fast – you are on holiday so slow down.  Drive on the left hand side and toot if you plan to overtake.

Have fun, use your common sense and explore.

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