With so many things to see and do in Phuket, renting a car seems to be one of the best ways to get around freely at low cost. But it comes with some risks and dangers. Following these basic rules might help avoiding unnecessary trouble.
Best is to rent for a well-known international brand, usually at Phuket Airport or from your hotel, easy, safe and worry free. It might also be a good idea to get the full insurance to cover all possible costs and you can even rent a GPS for 100 baht to find your way around. You’ll need an international driving license, a credit card and of course a passport. If you chose to rent form a private company, only use recommended companies as scams are not unusual. Prices seem to start at 1,000 baht a day for a Jazz size.
You’ll find them everywhere, but none will come with insurance. Expect to pay 150 to 200 baht a day for a Honda Dream or a Honda Click (automatic gear). If you rent it per month, it can go as low as 95 baht a day, but you better practice your bargaining skills! You will need an international driving license and passport: police controls are quite frequent and even though a fine could be considered small, it’s a frustration and a waste of time (you might get away with a bribe, often works). Rent only from your hotel or a recommended rental shop and you will also save yourself possible ‘trouble’ (someone might steal your bike). Large rental shops often rent bikes as well. Until recently you could rent a very big bike as it didn’t require a different driving license than the car license (while Thai use one for the car and one for the bike). This seems to have changed, and remember, with bigger bikes come seriously bigger risks.
Except for the fact that you’ll have to drive on the left side of the road if you are not familiar with it, the rest seems to be quite normal at first, but be ready, you are in for a surprise (or two). Bikes often drive on the wrong side of the road as a shortcut, and take over on the left as much as on the right, especially at traffic lights, so keep an eye on your three mirrors. In western countries, this is not allowed, and you might get a bad surprise when turning left or turning right across a street.
Beware of the slippery roads (water or sand) and never assume than someone will give way, even at a stop sign, until you made some kind of eye contact.
You will try to stop at the orange light, but in Phuket everyone else speeds up! You might even see an eighteen wheels truck crossing an intersection up to 3-4 seconds after the traffic light has turned red! Equally, when your traffic light turns green, do like the locals do: still check on the right if an eighteen wheels truck is not coming through at full speed! I saw it!
A branch of tree on the road means there is a car, a truck or a bus stopped somewhere on the road ahead with some engine trouble (You would normally use a reflecting triangle).
Helmets (and sit belts) are compulsory, but you will only see half of the riders using one, the rest just carry one in the front basket for eventual police controls, in which case they’ll pop the helmet onto their heads for two minutes and drop it back in the basket once… ‘safe’. Back seat passenger is also required to wear a helmet… Phuket has been very resistant to this law, and when you see four riders on the same bike, that would make a lot of helmets to carry anyway! Just remember, even though riding a bike on a tropical island is a lot more fun with your hair flying in the wind, the helmet is for your safety!
Get someone to call 191 or better: 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. Unfortunately, by definition, you are ‘Farang’ (‘foreigner’ or ‘tourist’) and therefore will be considered richer and will have to pay for the damage, even in blatant cases. Other fun rule: In the case of an accident between a car and a bike, the car will most of the time have to pay (car is more expensive than a bike, therefore has more money). If you are a foreigner driving a car and hit a bike, then it’s double trouble. Do not move any vehicle, even if you are causing traffic jam. Call also your insurance, they usually send someone to help with the paperwork or call your rental company.If you drink and drive you are taking a higher chance, police controls are rare, but do exist, so sometimes it’s better take a Tuk Tuk back to your hotel and pick up your bike the next day.
Conclusion, yes it’s fun convenient and cheap, but be always aware and maybe get an insurance before living to put all the chances on your side!