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Should I Rent a Motorbike?

motorbike

This is a question that many visitors to Haad Rin ask, especially for those who intend to stay a few days. People on bikes are everywhere and it looks fun. So why not get one?

The cost to rent a basic moped with no gears is between 200 and 300 Thai Baht a day. The cost of a taxi to Thongsala is 100 Thai Baht. Thus a return trip to the principal town is the same as a day’s bike rental. Unlike Koh Samui, Koh Phangan doesn’t have cheap songthaews running back and forth along defined routes, so travel around the island is more expensive.

There is also the pleasure of discovering other places in Koh Phangan on your own rather than on organised boat tours. With a motorbike you can easily get to the beautiful beaches of Thong Nai Pan. You can eat in the night market in Thongsala. You can catch the Jam in Hin Kong. You could enjoy aquatic fun at Wipe Out at Laem Son Lake. Or you could go snorkelling at Koh Ma. Having a bike opens up lots of fun possibilities. For those just staying a few days and wanting to see and do as much as possible renting a motorbike makes a lot of sense.

The problem is that 99% of motorbike rental places insist on holding a passport before they will let you ride off on a bike. If the bike comes back damaged then the passport will only be returned once a large repair bill is paid. They don’t get several quotes from reputable garages; they just demand hundreds of dollars.

There is never any offer of buying insurance with a hired bike. Standard travel insurance you get prior to going abroad won’t reimburse you if you get stung for $1,000 to get your passport back. The police won’t help you. Locals might intercede to reduce the bill slightly, but that is all.

If you hire a motorbike without a driving license and have an accident it is very likely that travel insurance won’t cover any hospital bills.

The dangers are very apparent. Caution is the best protection. Before renting a bike check it over carefully and photo any scratches on the bike so that the vendor is clear that it is damage not done by you. Also check that the back brake is tight. (For some reason the back brakes of rental bikes are often too loose).

The law in Thailand is only as good as its application. The present military government insists tourists have their passports with them at all times. Sometimes a photocopy is acceptable sometimes not. You could offer a photocopy of your passport to a bike vendor in lieu of the real thing but it provides no surety for the vendor.

One alternative is to negotiate a cash deposit prior to taking away a bike. That way you know exactly how much you could lose.

I read on Trip Advisor that one guest at Palita Lodge got a rental bike through the resort without having to hand over his passport. This is a good result. Resorts make money from room rental and selling food and drink. They might organise bike rental without passport deposit to keep their customers happy. Their main business is not to extort money by withholding a passport.

Jet Skis

jetski

The same situation applies to Jet Ski hire. The huge difference is that jet skis aren’t very useful. You zip around the bay for a few minutes and you have your heart in your mouth when you return the Jet Ski just in case a scratch, dent or tear suddenly appears on the vehicle. It is simply not worth the risk.

Will Anything Change?

No. The present government has made the most concerted efforts to ‘clean up’ Thailand. They have tackled late night alcohol sales, beach chair vendors, ‘entertainment zones’, littering in Sukhumvit and so on. None of these campaigns have had much lasting success. After initial purges or clean ups the same minor infractions are allowed to slowly reappear. Allowing these infractions means there is always the chance of police collecting ‘tea money’. Systemically, the cards are stacked against the tourist.