riding motorcycle in thailand
Nick’s Motorcycle in Thailand

Riding a motorcycle or scooter in Thailand comes with a different set of responsibilities and dangers than it does at home. I love motorcycles and scooters. They make traffic a joke. I enjoyed slicing through peak hour traffic and finding gaps in stopped and slow traffic. If you plan to walk, bicycle, use public transport or drive a car, you don’t need my advice. But if you might drive a motorcycle or scooter in Thailand then please read on.

Here there are no cops who will chase you if you do something stupid or dangerous. Chasing people is not cool in Thailand so you can simply ride away from the scene and unless you’ve broken more than traffic laws, nobody will come looking for you.

Sounds as though Thailand is motorcycle heaven, doesn’t it? Well…not so fast. I rented a 125cc Honda automatic scooter like most Thais. I found that motorcycles and scooters are wonderful – but they have 4 drawbacks:

1. Road maintenance creates more danger:

Thai roads are not as well designed as they are where we come from. Lethal obstacles are often built into freeways, for example. My favorite? Wherever a freeway passes over an overpass, the engineers build these footpaths out into the motorcycle lane – with no warning to the bikes and scooters using that lane!! And although they painted black and white stripes on its curb, they haven’t repainted those stripes since they built the freeway – so the curb is invisible! I faced two or three of those deathtraps every time I took the freeway. They freaked me out.

A Thai friend was killed riding her motorcycle home in the rain when she hit an unmarked pothole at 70Kph. I slid off on a curve because someone spilled cooking oil from an unsecured container as they went around the curve ahead of me. So you really need to understand the physical situation here and be far more vigilant than at home

2. No matter what or who you hit, you lose:

You already know that you’re much more vulnerable on two wheels so I won’t belabor that point. But driving anything in Thailand carries an additional responsibility: you pay all costs for the accident – his and yours. Because you’re a farang you are rich. And the rule here is that the person involved in an accident who has the more money pays for the other person’s costs, too. Especially if you’re a farang.

If there’s been no serious injury, the best advice is to leave the scene asap. When an old Thai gent on a motorcycle drove straight through a stoplight in town, along the curb and past stopped traffic, he hit me hard. The bystanders wanted to call the cops so I would be forced to pay for the accident. To his credit, the old gent waved them off, but that is the only case I’ve heard of where a Thai did not blame the other person (face-saving) and demand money.

3. They’re a bitch in the rain:

You already know that, of course. But wait till you spend a rainy season here.  Thailand’s downpours make motorcycling a watersport.

4. If you’re older, they suggest that you can’t afford a car:

Sad but true. Especially amongst your expat friends. Just grin and bear it.

Here’s a video that has some good advice (if you turn up the volume and listen hard) and also gives you an idea of how motorcycle traffic moves in Thailand:

More reading on Motorcycling in Thailand: