Desert to Jungle

Three new expats, two human, one canine, countless adventures

Getting Around – Motorbike Rental in Chiang Mai

So you want to get around in Thailand, what are you going to do?  Spend around 1000 baht ($33) per day on a rental car, or rent a motorbike for 250 baht per day?  For most people on a budget the answer is obvious.  Motorbikes are not only cheaper but more fun and you don’t get stuck in traffic.

The wisdom of zooming around on a machine you’re not qualified or insured to ride on, in a foreign country which probably has a driving style much different to what you’re used to, is debatable.  Thailand has a very high road accident death rate and according a government statement up to 80% of fatalities are from those on motorbikes.

Transporting household goods by bike, with the help of bungee cord

Transporting household goods by bike, with the help of bungee cord

I have extremely limited experience riding motorbikes but have been using one extensively since arriving in Chiang Mai and I love my little, lurid green bike!   House hunting, food shopping, buying household items would all have been extremely difficult without a bike.  I live in an area where no tuk tuks pass by and I can’t afford (and don’t want to) hire a car.  Yet I can hop on my bike and get from this area with its streams and scary looking black canals, wandering cows and open fields, to the centre of Chiang Mai in ten minutes.  So far so safe.

Mr T and I are renting bikes by the month and because we’re renting long term the costs are low:

115cc Yamaha – 2000 baht per month (daily is 250)

125cc Honda – 2500 baht per month (daily is 300)

The rental costs includes a helmet which I always wear.  I love the wind in my hair as much as the next person but I like the current shape of my head more.  That said, I have doubts about the strength of helmets here.  I find it hard to believe that something that costs less than my bicycle helmet back home could protect my head in a high speed impact.  I’ve looked around to see if more expensive, hopefully stronger, helmets are available but other that going for a full face helmet such as an Arai I’ve not found anything.  So I’m sticking with my wonderfully cheesy ‘Disco Inferno’ helmet for the moment.

Another, far less important, reason for wearing a helmet is that there are police checkpoints all over the place pulling people over and fining them for not wearing a helmet.  They move around and you’re never quite sure where you’ll come across them.

The bikes come with basic insurance to cover us in an accident, I’m not sure exactly what is covered but I know it’s not nearly enough and I plan to get medical insurance as soon as my travel insurance runs out.  I’m acutely aware when flying down the Superhighway at a blistering 40 full, entire miles per hour (yep, 4-0 folks, just about the top speed of my bike!) singing ‘Born to be Wild’ in my head that I’m not fully covered for medical/accident.  I plan to remedy that as soon as possible but as a new arrival with so much to do just to make day to day life liveable I’ve not done it yet.

I find it hard to concentrate on the road and not let my mind wander.  For the first couple of days I had intense focus. I’d just spent weeks in a temple and at a retreat practicing meditation and not once did I achieve the focus I did on my first trips amongst trucks and pick-ups on the multi-lane ring roads and Superhighway.  Not so much focusing on my breathing as on my survival!  Of course it all becomes routine surprisingly quickly and therein lies the danger.

My top tip: when riding down the multi-lane roads don’t keep to the edge of the lane.  I’ve had vehicles come dangerously close to me when I do that.  When I ride in the middle of the lane (as the locals often do), other road users have to make a conscious effort to go round me and give me more space.

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4 comments on “Getting Around – Motorbike Rental in Chiang Mai

  1. hnd
    August 1, 2013

    I know it’s likely a dumb question, but what kind of food are you living on? Suppose you are limited a bit as you what you can get in the shops.

    • Noor
      August 1, 2013

      We’re doing OK for food and Mango is loving having pork for the first time! It’s not the easiest country for vegetarians but we have Tescos and a supermarket with lots of imported (and therefore costly) foods. We’re having lots of noodle soups, vegetarian fried rice/noodles but also things like pasta. There’s a local market for vegetables close to where we live and I’m very happy to say we had lunch at a veggie cafe almost at the end of our street today! It’s attached to a temple so very cheap, less than GBP1 for a meal.

      My big problem is I can’t find free range eggs so have given up eating them for the moment – although I did carry six duck eggs from a place three hours away!

  2. Billy
    August 10, 2013

    Your top tip about riding is great.

    I do that with my cycling. I’m not overly obtrusive generally but if I think a road is too thin for a car to pass me safely, I’ll ride a little bit wider. They are very likely pissed off, but it saves me from them being over ambitious and meeting oncoming traffic.

    After all, if a car is overtaking a cyclist (or any two wheeled vehicle) where the gap is not quite wide enough, the driver is very likely to choose the “least path of resistance”…in other words take the cyclist (motorcyclist) out as opposed to hitting a solid object like a car. It’s not a conscious thing either…it’s a reaction thing.

    So that’s a VERY good tip!

    • Noor
      August 11, 2013

      Thank you Billy! You’ve got much more experience on two wheels than me so I’m pleased to hear I got that correct.

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