Riding a scooter in Thailand is basically a traveler rite of passage.
They’re cheap, they’re fun, and they’re SUPER handy.
But they’re also dangerous.
I feel like everyone already low-key knows this. They just pretend to ignore it because, like I said…cheap, fun, and convenient.
Today I’m not here to tell you NOT to rent a scooter in Thailand…
I just want to give you tips for staying safe on the road—tips that, as you’ll see in the video below, I learned the hard way.
Before we get into what I call the “10 Commandments of Thailand Scooter Safety”, here’s a video of what could happen if you break said commandments.
And my Thailand scooter accident isn’t unique. Travelers get into trip-ending accidents EVERY DAY. In fact, another traveler in our apartment building in Bangkok crashed two weeks after me and broke his wrist in the exact same way I did.
We became the Bangkok broken bone buddies.
So, if you’re heart is set on renting a scooter in Thailand and you don’t wanna end up like us, here are the 10 Thailand scooter safety rules you MUST follow:
#1.) Forget the thrills
If you’re thinking about renting a scooter in Thailand, odds are you’re an adrenaline junkie like me. When you rent it, you’re going to be tempted to get your adrenaline fix.
Don’t give in to the temptation! Seriously, this is the key to staying safe…
If you use the motorbike simply as a means to get from Point A to Point B as safely as possible (with no thrills), you’re much less likely to get into trouble.
But if you let temptation get the best of you and start pushing things to the limits, that’s how bad endings happen. (This is exactly what happened on my Chiang Mai to Pai motorbike adventure).
#2.) Leave a frick-ton of space between you and the car in front of you
You’re going to see other drivers tailgating the F out of each other. That doesn’t make it safe for YOU to do it.
Thai roads can be unpredictable. If you don’t give space, a huge pothole could sneak up on you.
Or you could be like me and take a spill because the truck in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes, screeching to a halt because a stray dog ran out in front of him…
As a rule of thumb, imagine how much space your grandma leaves in front of her when driving…and then double it.
#3.) Never make assumptions
Assumptions are dangerous on the roads of Thailand. When someone puts on their right turn signal, don’t assume they’re turning right. Don’t ask me why, but some Thais do the opposite…
Don’t forget that there are also tons of noob tourist drivers that have no clue wtf they’re doing – you never know when some first-timer is going to mix up the gas and the brake.
#4.) Don’t ride in the rain
JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.
In many parts of Southeast Asia, scooters are the main form of transportation. In the US (and other developed countries), motorcycles are usually seen as “toys”. They’re extra vehicles to take out when the weather is nice. When it rains, we jump in the car (I know that makes me sound privileged, but am I wrong?)
That means most Westerners are not trained to handle the rain.
On the day of my accident, they wheeled me into the Pai hospital and parked me next to an older American guy who broke his leg making the same trip. He’s been a biker in the US for over 20 years.
If he wiped out in the rain, what makes you think you won’t?
#5.) Wear a bleeping helmet
I would not be here today if it weren’t for my helmet.
When I crashed, I smacked my head on a root HARD and saw a bright flash of light. Without my helmet, my head would’ve split in two.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going on a Chiang Mai to Pai scooter adventure or just zipping around the corner to 7-Eleven—protect your dome.
#6.) Cover your skin
This one’s hard to follow when you’re beach hopping on an island, but if you fall, your skin will thank you for it. It won’t save you from serious injuries, just uncomfortable road rash. If you’re willing to risk it for convenience sake, that’s understandable.
Keep in mind it doesn’t necessarily have to be thick clothing. I had on lightweight stretchy hiking pants and a raincoat and got away with barely a scratch. (oh, and WEAR SHOES!)
#7.) Don’t come here to learn
One of the biggest Thailand travel mistakes people make is trying to learn to ride a scooter for the first time while they’re here. If you do this, you’re asking for trouble (especially in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or other cities).
If you’re on an island or remote village, your odds of getting seriously injured are much lower, but injury isn’t the only risk…
Depending on where you rent your bike, be prepared to pay a pretty penny if you take a spill and scratch it up. That’s how some of these shops make their money. They KNOW people are going to fall, and they make you sign a contract with absurd repair rates.
If possible, it’s better to practice on an old junky bike than a one that’s in pristine condition.
#8.) ALWAYS have an escape plan
When driving a scooter in Thailand, it’s tempting to relax your mind and enjoy the scenery. But riding here requires A LOT of focus. You can’t let your guard down.
If you’re smart, you’ll constantly be creating “escape plans” in your head.
If a dog runs out in front of me right now, where will I go?
If this truck in front of me slams on the breaks, what’s my plan?
If a car is coming at me in the wrong direction after this curve, what will I do?
This might seem a bit overboard…but it could save your life.
#9.) Look ALL ways
In the US, we take a quick look right and left, then go. It’s pretty safe to assume people aren’t driving in the wrong directions, on sidewalks, in reverse, etc.
In Thailand, it’s not safe to make that assumption. You’d be wise to look left, right, up, down, forward, backward, and sideways before turning
#10.) Don’t disappear without telling anyone
Let people know where you’re going.
Whether that be a travel buddy, texting a family member, or telling the staff at your accommodation. Then check in with them once you arrive at your destination.
The last thing you want is to get into an accident, get carted off to a Thai hospital in critical condition, and nobody knows where you are.
BONUS: How to Protect Your Wallet When Renting Scooters in Thailand
Here are 4 bonus tips for saving money when renting a motorbike in Thailand:
#1.) Choose your bike based on where parts come from. If you crash, you’ll want to have picked a bike whose parts are manufactured in Thailand. If you take a foreign motorcycle, they’ll have to ship replacement parts from across the world, and you’ll pay 10x more.
#2.) Always take a thorough video of the condition of the bike before driving away.
#3.) If you’re on an island and they ask where you’re staying, I’d be hesitant to tell the truth. I’ve heard horror stories of rental companies stealing or damaging their own bikes in the middle of the night, then forcing the renter to pay.
#4.) Contact your travel insurance directly and ask if motorcycles are covered (and record the convo!)
Speaking of travel insurance, get you a$$ covered! At SafetyWing, it only costs $37/month (and has reimbursed me over $15,000 in expenses so far). There’s no excuse not to have it. If you’re traveling uninsured, get on this ASAP!
And there ya have it, my fellow adrenaline junkies.
You might think I’m a crazy worry-wart, but I wouldn’t have taken the time to write this big ole post if I didn’t think it was important.
Crashing a scooter in Thailand is not fun. My accident not only screwed my travel plans, but it appears to have permanently damaged my wrist (and that’s nothing compared to other people).
I don’t want that to happen to you.
Riding a motorbike in Thailand is a blast. And if you follow these 10 commandments, you’re more likely to stay safe.
You’re not invincible!
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.