Yes, driving a bike in Thailand is fun, cheap, convenient but most travellers underestimate the consequences of events going wrong. All it takes is a second and what was so much fun a minute ago turns out to be the nightmare of a lifetime. This page sums up 22 years of driving a bike safely in Thailand, big and small, and is not meant to scare you, but if you keep in mind the 13 facts below, you will reduce the chances of something gone wrong by a large percentage. So take 5 minutes and read this!
As you can see on this video, cars keep driving through the intersection much after their light has turned red… Different country, different habits so it is to you to adapt to the local way. If you observe drivers around you you will notice that the first bikes crossing always look right and left (yes! Both ways!) before crossing.
One of my favorite topics… Many of us are trained to respect a certain distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Let’s say 50 meters. Try it and observe this: it will not take 5 minutes for a car to seize the opportunity and squeeze itself in that space. So you start complaining and curse that guy, but soon you create a new safety distance, which instantly is filled with another opportunist car. It never fails, it’s hilarious…. Try it!
Ghost riders are incredibly common here, in case you don’t yet know what a ghost rider is, it is a bike driving on the wrong side of the road because it’s a lot faster for them to reach home than going all the way to the next U-Turn
That could apply to anywhere in the world but I find this precaution surprisingly useful here…. Try to make eye contact to make sure that this very old man on a very old bike actually saw you!
Sounds stupid doesn’t it? But try to squeeze with the front break on a sandy spot and you will understand, especially if a car suddenly breaks in front of you (see number 7)
This is Phuket, and temptation is stronger than your good resolutions… The mood is very relaxed and the law enforcement is nowhere near what it is in your country… So everyone tends to drink a little more than they should before driving. Yes, you could make it home alive, most people partying in Patong seem to think so, but 1) you might end up regretting it for the rest of your life, 2) there are frequent police controls at the bottom of Patong hill with an alcohol test. I went through it once and it’s serious enough to end up in jail for the night (plus all the fines that go with on the next day). No need to say that I was sober enough.
Too many fatal accidents occur when bike riders fail to notice a car/truck/bike breaking hard in front of them.
You just rented this shiny Honda Click or for what it matters, any motorbike. It’s pretty, bright red and shiny and stands out nicely by the beach and you feel happy. Great… now it’s 2am in the morning and you had one too many beers and you think you should be aiming to bed… But where is your bike? Suddenly all the bikes parked along the street (and there can be hundreds) are all red shiny Honda Clicks! have fun finding yours…
Yes you can easily rent a big bike in Thailand with your home country driving license, and this appears to be irresistible to a lot of inexperienced drivers. But the consequences of all the risks mentioned above suddenly become much greater. After just a beer (or two) and with the roaring power of a 600 cc engine between their legs, it seems obvious that some guys feel invincible. We saw enough crashes in the news to know that no one is!
The condition of the back roads of Thailand can vary from not so good to disastrous and potholes are frequent, and constructions sites are rarely indicated.
It seems to be obvious but Phuket has been incredibly resistance to the helmet laws. Tropical islands are hot, heads are light and locals don’t seems to give a damn: they carry their helmet in the front basket of their bikes (to the point I wonder if it wasn’t designed solely for this purpose) and rapidly wear their helmet just at the last minute when approaching a police control (which location seems to never change). So wear it; yes it is a bit hot, but the future of your holiday may depend on it.
Even though bike rental shops will accept your home country driving license when renting you a bike, only an international driving license will be working in case of accident.
International insurances always seem to be useless… until the day you actually need it. In the unfortunate case of an accident you will be amazed how fast your hospital bill can grow, to the point where government even considered insurance to be compulsory seeing how many people couldn’t even afford their own medical treatments. In the large majority of the cases, insurance provided with your rented bike is minimal.
Call 1155 the tourist police number and call an ambulance if necessary. For Ambulance call 1554. You might hear all kinds of stories but you will stand better chances with a English speaking police officer, even if just a little.