Getting around in Chiang Mai is pretty damn easy and you can find that getting across town, up Doi Suthep or even to Mae Ping is a simple affair.
There are endless sonthaews and tuk-tuks available to take you wherever you need for a very reasonable fee. You can even walk all around the old town if you’re feeling particularly fit and most places have bicycles to rent for 50 Baht / £1 per day.
But what if you want to get to places really quickly and have the freedom of going where you want, when you want?
Hire a scooter.
Sure you can hire a car or a big ol’ motorbike if you’re feeling frivolous but if you look around you, there’s a reason everyone else is riding a scooter!
- Cheap to hire
- Fuel efficient
- Weave your way to the front of the queue at traffic lights
- Fun to ride
- If you lose control, get hit or hit something, you can be seriously injured
- No air-con
- Flies, dust and other debris can and will hit your face/mouth/eyes
- Certain death when on the highway…
Still, there’s nothing quite like riding up the long windy road of Doi Suthep with the wind all around you and the smell of fresh air and waterfalls seemingly every couple of kilometres.
So how do you go about experiencing this simple pleasure yourself? Luckily for you, I have some brilliant tips below!
Secure your booking early
Sure you can turn up to most scooter rental shops in town and probably ride out there and then with a perfectly good scooter. However if you want to hire a scooter from a reputable place which comes recommended then you need to book sooner rather than later otherwise you may find that they do not have the bike you want or the dates you want.
Find a place you like the look of. Contact them. Book it in. Then you will have nothing to worry about.
Scooter rental shops in Chiang Mai are quite literally a dime a dozen. There are large, fully dedicated places with a hundred bikes out the front to a small local coffee shop/massage parlour/tourist info/scooter rental place with 1 bike to rent.
Every shop will have their own rates, rules, types of bikes and procedures in place. The best thing to do if you haven’t done too much research beforehand is to just walk around and find a few places, ask them questions, ask their rates, and see what kind of deal you can come up with.
Different places will have very different types of bikes and most certainly different rates. Which brings me on to my next point…
Negotiate rates (longer = cheaper)
One thing we’ve noticed about our time here so far is that whatever you’re renting or buying:
Longer = cheaper
The longer you book accommodation for, the cheaper the nightly rate is. The same is for renting a scooter. The longer you book it for, the cheaper the daily rate is.
We’ve found that you can hire a bike for 1 month and it will be cheaper than 3 weeks but only slightly more expensive than 2 weeks. Not a bad deal if you book in for long term!
As you’re shopping around make sure you look at the rental cost too as these can differ widely between shops.
There probably isn’t much point negotiating a rate for 1 day as someone else will always pay what you won’t pay however if you’re renting for anything longer than a week then it can’t hurt to ask if you can make a deal. Don’t push it though, these guys still have a business to run!
Obviously you already have comprehensive travel insurance which will cover you in the event of bad shit going down but it probably won’t cover your injuries, injuries to a 3rd party, cost of replacing your bike, cost of replacing the 3rd party vehicle AND all the legal costs involved. If you were being a douche and not driving correctly then, good luck. Otherwise your insurance will cover a lot but the rental shop will want their bike back regardless of what’s happened.
When renting your scooter, insist on purchasing additional insurance. If it’s not available then move on to the next guy.
Insurance is one of those things that you hope to never have to use but if you do need it, it’s there to help.
Make sure you’re licensed
I’m not going to pretend I know the rules here. In fact, I have no idea what the rules are for riding a scooter in Thailand. One guy will say that anybody can ride a scooter and no license is required. Another guy will say you need to have a minimum of a full driving license with at least basic compulsory bike training added on. Honestly, I don’t know what the rules are…
I will say however that it’s best to be safe than sorry. For UK citizens, I would recommend that you have:
A full UK driving license with at least a compulsory bike training (CBT) addition up to 125cc or 150cc
There is something called an International Drivers Permit. I don’t really know what this is as again, one guy says get it and another guy says it’s a waste of paper but I’ll leave that to you to research.
Bottom line is, if you’re licensed in the UK and the bike shop is happy with your license then there shouldn’t be an issue.
Stick to the rules
Don’t be a dick. Ride carefully and considerately following the local rules. If you ride illegally and draw attention to yourself then you will be arrested or injured.
If you’re from the UK then driving here will be familiar to you. The Thai’s drive on the left hand side and the steering wheel in a car is on the right… Just like the UK.
You will have a great time and a safe experience if you stick to the rules by stopping at red lights, not speeding, not driving aggressively and following the lead of others. The traffic may look like chaos but oddly enough it works.
Remember that book with all the words and pictures in? Ummm, the something code? Ah, the Highway Code! Yeah, stick to that and you’ll be good.
Oh and wear a helmet. Just because many of the locals don’t wear one it doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Want to hear a cool (lame) new catchphrase I just thought of?
Don’t be a helmet. Wear a helmet.
Check the bike
If your new best friend at the rental place introduces you to a dirty, beaten up, wobbly hair-dryer on wheels then politely answer the fake call to your mobile and attend to the “emergency” on the line. You don’t want to be riding at 50 or 60 kilometres per hour (if you even get to that speed) and a wheel falls off. That won’t be a good day out. You want to be shown a clean, relatively new (newer than a few years old anyway) and well maintained scooter with no warning lights, no wobbly bits, no funny sounds and decent tyres. Anything less than that is not good enough. You want to feel safe don’t you?
A well maintained bike and a good road manner will keep you safe. Even check the kick stand works as you don’t want the bastard falling over when you’re not looking, hitting other bikes and causing thousands of Baht worth of damage.
Recommended bike and rental shops
In the interest of full disclosure, I have only used one rental place. The other companies I have listed below however come highly recommended from other travel bloggers and have good reviews. Now we’ve got that out the way, here are a list of scooter rental companies that come recommended by us and others:
- Motorbike for rent in Chiang Mai – This is the company we used to rent our scooter. The reason we used this place is because it came very highly recommended by another travel blogger and is the only place we could find at the time that would actually deliver the bike to us! We always dealt with a lovely lady called Maysa who answered all of our questions with a smile and her excellent English skills made it so easy to arrange a booking. These guys should be your first choice for a friendly and honest service. (Note that this is not sponsored in any way. After receiving excellent service, we feel that they deserve the recommendation).
- Vanessa’s Motorbike Hire – We tried to book with these guys but they didn’t have a scooter available when we needed it. They have cheap rates and say they will deliver the bike to you if booking for 2 weeks or more.
- Mr Mechanic – We had no dealings with this company however they are highly recommended by others, they have several branches and the rates are good.
- Mango Bike Rental – As above, this company has excellent reviews. We love that they don’t need to keep hold of your passport which is a real plus – we’d never part with our passports even for cheap rental!!
Want to know what bike we got and how much we paid? Of course you do!
As I’m not licensed to ride big bikes we had to go for a scooter and the largest size engine we could get was a 125cc. So we went for a “trendy and popular” Honda Click 125cc injection.
Surprisingly for a small bike it’s got a lot of power. It reaches 60kph in no time and overtaking is a breeze thanks to the fuel injection, and that’s with two people on the back. I highly recommend this bike! Now, let’s get down to costs.
We paid 350 Baht per day for this bike. You can get it for 1 month for 4000 Baht. It’s slightly more expensive than other places but I was happy to pay it because the bike was clearly fairly new with about 10,000 kilometres on the clock, the tyres looked new, the bike was very clean and it was well maintained. Not only that the fee came with delivery and collection, 2 helmets, 3rd party insurance and a full tank of fuel.
Fuel here is cheap by the way, we were pretty much running on fumes at one point and filled up the tank for 110 Baht… That’s about £2.20. When I filled up my Ford Focus back in the UK it cost me about £60 from empty!
Passports and Deposits
OK so I added this bit on as an afterthought as before I rented a scooter I was unsure about what to do about my passport. I had read that you have to leave your passport with the rental place for the duration of the time you have the scooter. In fact some places insist on it.
That doesn’t fly with me.
Not only is my passport probably the most valuable thing I own as a citizen of the United Kingdom, it’s also technically the property of Her Majesty’s Government in the UK. How would Her Majesty the Queen feel about you giving her passport out willy-nilly?
When we rented our scooter, I said up front that I would not offer my passport as a deposit. Alternatively I was asked to provide a photocopy of my passport and a deposit of 3,000 Baht / £60. Keep in mind that you will be asked to leave your passport but know that they can use it as leverage if anything goes wrong. I would happily lose 3,000 Baht over my passport any day.
Remember to drive carefully, check the bike, negotiate your rates and keep hold of your passport. You will have a blast!
Do you have any other tips or stories from renting a scooter? Had any mishaps or found a brilliant route to ride on? Share the goods in the comments!