Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Motorcycles in Thailand

One of my favourite things about living in Thailand is the popularity of the motorcycle. Motorcycles are the primary mode of transport for a large percentage of the population and they are such fun and great value!

Should I get a Motorcycle?

'I'm in Bangkok' - no
'I'm in the provinces' - yes

I would recommend that anyone who lives in the built up areas of Bangkok should avoid riding a motorcycle unless they are an experienced rider. The sheer number of vehicles on the road in Bangkok combined with the erratic driving style seen in Thailand make it a far too dangerous proposition. The public transport system in Bangkok is developed that I would just stick to this really.

If you live in the provinces however riding a motorcycle is a completely different proposition. Once you leave Bangkok you'll find that not only does the population decrease dramatically but you'll find that there are less cars and more motorcycles. This means that the risk of an accident involving another person is far less then in the city and that most accidents are either a fault on the riders part or from bad road conditions. Transport links in the provinces are not very developed and you may find that a motorcycle is your only way of conveniently getting out the town in which you live. 

(Honda Wave)

Why not buy a car?

'Its too expensive & I don't know how long I'm staying for' 

Cars in Thailand are expensive and I mean really expensive. The price of a new car in Thailand can be double what you would pay for the same car in Europe. The used car market is even worse. Thai people typically do not like to buy used things so the used car market isn't as developed at what you would find for example in the UK. If I wanted to buy a 10 year old runaround in the UK I would look on auto trader or check out Ebay and be able to find a car for around £400 - £800. I have seen absolute wrecks advertised in Thailand for four times this amount. In a country with no reliable MOT like testing procedures I would stay well clear!. I also imagine that selling the car at short notice would be very difficult if you had to leave the country for whatever reason. Selling motorcycles is far easier.

If you have the money and plan to stay in Thailand for the long term then purchasing a new car might be a decent investment because they do hold there value fairly well. The other alternative is of course a motorcycle. 

Do I need an international motorcycle licence?

'yes and no'

Officially you should be in possession of a valid motorcycle licence to drive a motorcycle in Thailand. You can use your international driving licence or you can take a motorbike test in Thailand and obtain a Thai drivers licence. In reality though I don't know anybody who actually has a valid motorcycle licence. The vast majority of people including myself had never ridden motorcycles before they came to Thailand. 

I have never once been asked to produce licence documentation when renting a motorcycle either short term or long term. I do have a valid UK car licence which I will produce if requested by a policeman and this has always been sufficient for them. I would imagine that in the highly populated expat areas of Bangkok & Phuket they might be a little more switched on to the different categories of licences and possibly inclined to use this information to make a little extra money on the side. In the provinces however they're very unlikely to stop foreigners, even if they are clearly breaking traffic laws. 

Should I buy or rent?

'If you are staying for more than six months' - yes
'If you are unsure of your short term plans' - no

There is an old saying that renting is just throwing money onto the fire and this is also the case with motorcycles. I rented an automatic Honda click for about 18 months for 2000 baht per month. This works out at a total of 36,000 which is almost the price of a brand new bike! The reason I was hesitant to take the plunge and purchase my own bike was the convenience that renting gave me. 

The standard price of renting a motorcycle is around 2000 baht per month for automatics and between 1500 - 1800 for manuals. This includes insurance and often doesn't require a deposit either. The main advantage to renting the bike is the flexibility you have to change the bike or leave at short notice without having to deal with the headache of selling your bike beforehand. 

The sensible option for anybody who is planning to stay in Thailand for the medium or long term is to buy a motorcycle. The price of new motorcycles is significantly cheaper than in the west and can be seen as a real bargain. You can get a decent spec automatic Honda Click for around the 50,000 baht and a manual bike for even cheaper than this. The used bike market, unlike its car equivalent is plentiful and extremely good value. I've noticed that manuals bikes tend to dominate the used bike market and are often the preferred choice of the Thais due to their reliability and economical running costs. 

The main problem with purchasing a motorcycle seems to be the paperwork which goes with transferring the bike into your name. The general requirement appears to be a non immigrant visa and proof of your address. I have heard conflicting reports about whether or not a work permit is required but I'm sure there are ways around these requirements if needed. I was lucky enough to have a coordinator from my agency to help me with the motorcycle registration process and I would recommend that everyone uses a Thai native to help them with the documents as this will make the whole process much easier. 

The other main problem with buying a motorcycle is that if you need to leave you are left with the burden of selling this bike. Most things in Thailand are sold through word of mouth and unless you can sell it to one of your farang buddies generating leads for your bike can be tough. If you sell to a Thai they are likely to try and play on your ignorance and get a lower price especially if they think you are a 'rich' farang who doesn't need the money anyway. I know a number of people who had to sell their bikes at well below their intended sale price due to time constraints and a lack of buyers. 

(Honda Click)

Automatic vs. Manual 

'if you're only going to drive in town' - automatic
'If you're planning on doing long trips' - manual 

If you've decided to buy a light motorcycle your first decision will be whether to get an automatic or a manual bike. Automatic bikes are very easy to ride and all the rider has to do is regulate speed with the throttle and break accordingly. Automatic bikes are highly recommended for new riders. My first ever bike was a automatic Honda click and despite having three minor scrapes it was the safest option for me in the beginning. The automatic bikes are fun to drive around town but are not as ideal for long distance riding. They drink petrol far quicker than their manual counterparts and the parts for them are generally more expensive. 

The manual motorcycles you commonly see in Thailand, such as the Honda waves aren't really manual bikes at all. They are actually semi automatics as there is no clutch to control. These bikes are sometimes referred to as 'four steps' because all the rider has to do is switch between the four gears using the step pedal on the side of the bike. Although the initial learning time is slightly longer than with the automatics they are still really easy to ride. The toughest part initially is probably knowing when to change gear because the bikes usually don't come with a rev counter so you must train your ear to listen to the engine. 

The manual bikes are like workhorses. They are strong, reliable and economical. I currently own a Honda Wave 110i and I get almost double the petrol efficiency that I used to get with my old Honda Click. The bike feels far more stable at faster speeds and the parts are extremely cheap due to the fact that they are literally everywhere. I would highly recommend a manual bike to anyone who is planning to go on road trips as these bikes will perform much better over long distances than their automatic cousins. 

Thinking of getting a bike?

Go For It!

If you are thinking of getting a motorcycle and are mature enough to take all the proper safety precautions I say go for it!. It won't take long for the motorcycle bug to bite you and you'll have the freedom to explore what you want, when you want, how you want - bliss!


  1. as stated hear, you can normale get away with not having a valid motorbike licens in Thailand, and if you get stoppede and fined, it will only cost you about 200 Bht.
    BUT remember, that if you get into a occident, your insurens will not cover. The insurens that goes with the motorbike, AND your own helth insurens will not cower you.

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