Motorcycles are a common form of transport in just about every part of Thailand and the apparent Thai disregard for safety may come as a shock to many visitors. It’s not unusual to see entire families on one motorbike; dad driving, junior perched in front holding on to the handlebars and mum sat behind with babe in arms.
There are certainly some unique sights on Thailand’s roads which, after a while, you get used to. Children driving to school on motorbikes bigger than they are; monks in orange robes riding pillion and carrying computer monitors; trios of young girls all clutching mobile phones to their ears whilst simultaneously checking their hair in the mirror. In Ko Samui I once saw a rider carrying the front end of a long piece of bamboo scaffolding whilst his colleague followed on some distance behind holding the rear end of the pole. Distinctly Thai-style and very much a case of T.I.T. (This is Thailand).
There is a serious side to all of this because I’m not exaggerating to say that with such a ubiquitous form of transport, just about every Thai person I know has had a family member or friend involved in a motorbike accident. Some have been minor, some have been fatal.
Wearing a Helmet
Many people elect not to wear a helmet although the law says that they should. Tourists to Thailand may opt to hire a motorbike for a few days or longer and despite what I’ve written above, it can be a great way to get around, particularly on the islands where public transport may be infrequent.
Naturally, it’s up to the individual to decide on personal safety so I’m not going to dish out any pompous advice. If you hire a motorbike and decide not to wear a helmet that’s your choice, but quite apart from the safety aspect you are far more likely to be stopped by the police than your non-helmet wearing Thai counterpart. Expect a fine, which may vary in size depending on how ‘official’ the police officer wants to make things. A Thai person may be charged 200 Baht for not wearing a helmet, but as a foreigner you face a minimum 400 Baht fine for the same offence. You will also be required to show some form of ID (passport or driving licence).
Check your bike carefully before hiring it as you may be held responsible for any damage not previously notified. There are decent shops and their are rogue shops, so if possible try and get personal recommendations from other travellers who have hired a motorbike.
Pattaya has a bit of a reputation for rogue traders hiring out poorly maintained motorbikes. There was also an issue at the beginning of the year with criminal gangs from nearby Sattahip and Rayong stealing parked bikes. Expect to lose your deposit or pay damages (typically around 20,000 Baht) if your hired bike goes missing whilst in your possession.
Not all travel insurance policies will cover you if you have an accident whilst riding a motorbike in Thailand. Check your policy carefully and don’t forget public liability insurance cover.
I haven’t painted a very rosy picture about hiring a motorbike, but I should balance it by saying that plenty of travellers and tourists do hire bikes with no problem whatsoever. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls.