I highly encourage everyone to try riding a motorbike anywhere/everywhere in Asia. It is the most fun I’ve had. The freedom, the exploration, and the exhilaration you get from being on a bike is unmatched! You’ll be able to discover secret places that hardly any tourists travel to. You’ll wind around endless mountain turns. Drive through beautiful forests and deserts.
And it’s ok if you’ve never ridden before. I never had before my first motorbike in Chiang Mai. But I rented a bike in the suburbs just south of the busy Old City. I spent 10-20 minutes going in circles left, then circles right. Then making small turns on a single street. Just making my squares: 1 block, turn, 1 block, turn, 1 block, turn, 1 block, turn. I wanted to feel comfortable before getting on a road with more cars.
If you feel really uncomfortable renting a bike in Chiang Mai (it is a pretty busy city), go to Pai and rent a bike there. Pai is a quiet, small town. It’s a 4 road town with 1 major road in and 1 major road out. And the bike rentals are cheaper there too (100THB/day vs. 150-250THB/day). Pai is a great place to practice before taking off your training wheels 😉
First things first – Do be very careful!!!!
There are so many people walking about Thailand with scraps, burns, bandages, or even crutches. Almost always this is from biking accidents. The US Embassy also states that the number one killer of US tourists in Thailand is motorbike accidents. So please be careful, do not get cocky, and drive with mindfulness/awareness.
- No drinking and driving!
There are so many parties here, it’s easy to drive to a bar or club, have a few drinks, and drive home. A lot of people do it and they’re fine, but you’re adding a lot of risk to your life this way.
- Take it easy, don’t feel pressure to do anything you’re uncomfortable doing. If you feel pressured, you’ll feel nervous, and we do not make the best decisions or movements when in this state of mind. Try your best to feel confident in your personal comfort zone.
- I recommend wearing shoes or well strapped sandals when riding. You’ll be putting your feet down a lot while you ride. Either to back up the bike, catch your balance, making a sharp turn. In a worst case scenario imagine your flip flop getting caught on the rode and flying off. Now your bare foot is grinding on the road trying to make this turn – your foot could be in need of a skin graph :O Ahhhhh! I’m sick already. Fortunately that hasn’t happened to me, but my flip flops have come off while riding (luckily with no injuries).
- Wear Sun Protection! – I always wear long pants and long sleeves when I know I’m riding more than 30 minutes. When you’re on a bike, you’ve got ZERO protection from the sun. If you’re doing something like the Mae Hong Son Loop, you’ll be burnt to a crisp without proper care. Wear super lightweight pants and a super lightweight shirt. You’ll be a little hotter, but so thankful!
- Have an international license. There are police checkpoints sprinkled throughout different cities in Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai and Phuket. If you don’t have an international license you will be fined 500THB.
- Have yourself some health insurance as added precaution.
How to Ride
Check out my other article about how to ride. You’ll see pictures of the dashboard explaining all of the buttons. What you can expect when going to a shop. How to sound competent and what to look for to make sure you aren’t getting an unsafe piece of junk 🙂
But right here I’ll share what to look at when viewing motorbikes in the shop.
- You’ll wanna check the bike over for scratches. Take pictures of anything at all – Every nick and mark and scratch. Some places will try to do-you-over when returning, pretending scratches are new when they aren’t (the places below don’t do this ;).
- Check the Fuel – they will often give you a full tank and you’ll have to return it full. But turn the bike on, check the fuel gage and make sure they know where it’s at before riding off.
- Test Drive the Bike – give it a ride around the block while they hold your passport or your partner is standing there. Make sure it’s running ok, the brakes work, there are no obvious problems. If you notice anything within the first hour, go back and tell them; maybe even exchange it for a new one.
- Wear a helmet! Better yet, get one with a visor (or sunglasses) – there is so much dust (especially during the dryer high season). This will great protect your eyes and mouth from all of that. I’ve been smacked in the eye by a giant bug before going 80km/h – felt like I had been rocked in the face by a muay thai fighter! Since then it’s sunglasses or visors for me!
3 Bike Shops I Trust and Use
When renting a bike you will often be asked for your passport as collateral. Many places will accept 4000 or 5000THB as collateral instead as long as you can hand over cash money. The shops below will allow for cash collateral or even ask for nothing at all.
I’ve also heard a number of stories about tourists getting done over by bike shops.
- Asking for more money when they return the bike before the tourists are able to get their passport back.
- Saying scratches, that already existed, are new and charging a lot of money for repairing.
I’ve had zero issues with the places below. You can trust them with no problem.
What you can expect to pay is anywhere between 150-250THB for 100CC-125CC…maybe 150CC if you’re good at haggling (If you don’t know what these ‘CC’ numbers mean, don’t worry about it, they are how powerful the bike is. If you are newer to riding, the lower CC’s will be easier to learn on, but these are all pretty low numbers. A regular motorcycle would be 250-800CC.)
If you are renting for a longer time like 4 days or a week, then you should definitely ask for a lower price. The longer you rent, the cheaper the cost should be.
I’ve been using this exact shop since my very first time in Chiang Mai. They have been reliable, fairly priced, and honest. This is the biggest shop, a chain even. I’ve only been to the specific one shown in the map, but I’d expect they are all legitimate.
This one is run by a kind woman who is happy to help with any questions I’ve had – whether they are bike related or not (giving me advice about massage schools in Chiang Mai). I’ve left my passport with her while renting and it’s always been returned no problems.
This site is a little more expensive than the other two, but probably a little more reliable on bike quality. This is also the only one in my list that offers bigger bikes.
This is the nicest guy. Him and his wife run the shop. It’s a small shop in South West Old City. He is always smiling and loves talking to tourists. He has solid bikes for getting around and at a fair price. He doesn’t play any games, very fair, and very honest.
This is the cheapest shop and least hassle shop I’ve ever found in Chiang Mai. It’s a little outside of the Old City, but worth going to if you’re renting for many days. For a nice 125CC bike I paid 150THB/day. They only asked to take a picture of my passport – no deposit, no problems with the returns. This is where I will go again to rent a bike.
The owner is a young woman with a cute little 2-3 year old boy. Her English is not great, but more than enough to rent a bike.
Check With Your Hostel
And typically you can trust your hostel if they offer motorbike rentals. They can sometimes be a little more expensive, but nothing is easier than renting from where you stay. You return the bike and head straight to your bed to relax.