Here at Orange Umbrella we put a high premium on freedom of movement. We like to be able to go wherever we want to go, whenever we want to go. If you’ve traveled in South East Asia before you know the best way to get around is by renting a motorbike. They’re cheap, effective, and relatively easy to operate. Of course, they aren’t without their pitfalls. It’s quite common to see tourists rolling around with nasty looking burns and scrapes on their skin from motorbike mishaps. In this article we’ll tell you where you can rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai, as well as give you some tips to help you avoid getting road rash or worse.
Where to rent
There are a plethora of scooter rental options in Chiang Mai. Our recommendation is Mango Bikes rentals. Mango is in the parking garage of the Srithana Condo 2 building, right off Huay Kaew road (google maps link). They’re not the absolute cheapest, but they are efficient and friendly. Prices are around 400 Thai Baht per day or about 2,500 – 4,500 Thai Baht per month, depending on which bike you rent. Bring your passport along with you because they’ll need to make a photo copy of it. You’ll also be expected to make a 2,000 Baht deposit. They’ll include a helmet (sans visor) with your rental.
If you want cheaper than Mango, or if they’re sold out, try any number of the shops on Huay Kaew road. There are a handful of them on the south side of this road between the Old City and the Highway 11 on-ramp.
Hazards and pitfalls of driving in Thailand
The average monthly salary of a Police officer in Thailand is not much at all and they would love to supplement it with a bribe from you because you got caught driving without your international driver’s license. We’ve read some people claiming you don’t need this to drive in SE Asia but from our experience you’re asking for a lot of trouble if you do. The police have regular checkpoints set up to ding tourists for not wearing a helmet or not having their international license. We get stopped about five times a week but because we have our license it’s as simple as showing it to the police before being waved on. Others who are not prepared can expect to wait in line and haggle with an officer about the size of the bribe they’re going to pay.
You can get your international driver’s license from your local AAA before you arrive. Just bring in your current license, $20, and a couple of passport photos.
Traffic, potholes, dogs
Remember you’re no longer in Kansas so don’t expect the degree of infrastructure and maintenance found in first world countries. While better than other Asian countries we’ve driven in (we’re looking at you Indonesia), the roads in Thailand are still full of plenty of hazards. Expect potholes, loose gravel, sand, stray dogs, and other miscellaneous hazards. The key is to always be alert and drive defensively.
As far as traffic is concerned it flows a little differently than you may be accustomed to. Don’t expect anyone to stop for you so you can make that turn–just get in where you fit in. It takes a little getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it after a few days.
We highly recommend getting a phone holder like this one for your scooter before you come so you can use your smart phone as a GPS navigator. Just use any number of navigation apps like Google Maps, Apple’s Maps app, or Waze to find that hole in the wall Thai barbecue or Muy Thai gym. As long as your smart phone is unlocked you can get a Thai sim card and have data with better reliability and speed than you’re accustomed to back home. This is a game changer and actually makes driving in a foreign place a lot safer as it radically reduces the amount of time you have to stop on the side of the road to look at your phone because you’re lost.
We also recommend you have traveler’s insurance just in case something goes sideways. We like World Nomad’s Explorer package, but there are other options out there.
Beyond that just drive slowly and remain aware of your surroundings. You’ll probably never get 100% comfortable riding a bike here and that’s a good thing because it’s probably the single most dangerous thing you’ll do on your trip.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to treat this activity with the proper amount of caution and respect. We say this after having crashed our scooter in Indonesia causing us to miss a two week surf trip–major bummer! Heed our warnings of caution however and you’ve got a cheap and efficient way of getting around town.