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The greatest way to see and travel around Koh Phangan is on a scooter, also called a moped. Nothing is ever too far away as you drive along the gorgeous roads, taking care to stop at views, beaches, see attractions, and watch sunsets.
It's a simple, common, and inexpensive way to travel independently and with complete freedom. Almost every backpacker will want to rent one at some point. However, it is important to know the regulations and some tips when renting a motorbike or scooter.
You might have a different understanding of what a scooter or a motorcycle is depending on where you're from. In Asia, a scooter is commonly referred to as a motorcycle, and vice versa.
It doesn't matter how you refer to it; in Thailand, there are three primary varieties of motorcycles.
110cc, 125cc, and 150cc
This is essentially a reference to the bike's power. The 150cc motorcycle is often larger and heavier.
A common example for Koh Phangan that people drive is a 125cc Honda Click scooter.
You must have a valid driver's license, either from your home country (which is ideally combined with an international driver's permit) or one obtained in Thailand, and it must be for the class of vehicle you plan to hire.
If you don't have a motorcycle license in your home country, you won't get one just by flying to Thailand. Thousands of visitors rent a motorcycle each year and ride across Thailand without a license. It's against the law.
The fact that the rental shop didn't ask for your driver's license doesn't mean you don't need one.
Motorbike accidents are unfortunately common on Koh Phangan. Driving here can be scary at first because the rules and driving style are likely to differ significantly from what you are used to.
However, if you plan to rent a scooter in Thailand, make sure your travel insurance will cover you in the event of an accident.
It's not just about the coverage; you also need to be driving legally. This implies you'll need a legal driver's license in the country you're visiting (in this case, an international driving license that allows you to drive a motorcycle or a Thai license).
Other things to consider to ensure that your insurance policy protects you:
It is mandatory (however only sometimes enforced on Koh Phangan with random checks) to wear a helmet in Thailand; failure to do so is punishable by law.
You must be driving while not inebriated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
When looking for somewhere to rent a scooter or motorbike from, your accommodation may already have a trusted agent they use. They are usually pretty good and reliable so this is a good choice. However, you may want to go by word of mouth or recommendations from friends where they have rented bikes.
Before renting the bike, take detailed photos of every aspect of the bike. That way, you'll have proof that you're not to blame for any existing damages or scrapes. Renting out bikes with flat tires is also fairly usual. The secret is that the hole in the tire is already there, but you don't see it until you begin driving, and you eventually end up with a flat tire. You will have to pay for a new tire because you are unable to prove that the damage was previously present. When you rent a bike, they will normally have one waiting for you but you are allowed to chose one yourself if you’re not happy with that one.
If you have a terrible feeling about a rental place and believe something isn't quite right, leave. Before embarking on your scooter excursion, inspect not only the bike's cage but also the tires at the next gas station.
It is very normal to leave your passport with the rental agent for a deposit.
If you do not want to do this then instead they may accept a cash deposit of 10,000 Baht upwards.
You must realise that scooters are worth a lot of money and so, in turn, they are trusting you not to damage it and so this is why they ask for your passport and then return it to you at the end of the rental period.
Many individuals ride without helmets, and while it may appear cool or you want to prevent helmet hair, trust me when we say that a helmet is a must-have. If you aren't given one, simply ask! And wear it all the time! One brain is all you have. Keep it safe.
If you crash and damage the bike, you will be responsible for the costs of the repairs. Unfortunately, visitors have been known in the past to cause damage and then go, leaving small company owners out of cash and with a broken bike to repair that was not their fault.
This is why you are required to leave a deposit of your passport.
The price you must pay will be determined by the type and extent of the damage to the bike.
If you're lucky and it's only a small scratch from a bump rather than an accident, you might get away with it, but be aware that scratches to the bodywork and any other damage will be charged.
It's best to take photos of the bike on the first day of rental to ensure you're getting a good value, just in case there are any scratches or minor damage.
It is uncommon because rental firms maintain their motorcycles in excellent condition for your safety. You'll almost certainly have signed a contract, which will include a price list of the types of damage and how much you'll have to pay; snap a photo of this at the start to ensure they're sticking to the pricing scheme.
Just keep in mind that bikes are an investment, and if you do significant damage, you will be required to pay for it. Wouldn't you expect the same thing if someone damaged your property?
Don't let this deter you from hiring a scooter; instead, be aware that you should treat it with caution and not rent one if you are a novice driver. Also, don't drink and drive, as this is when the majority of accidents occur!
You're not at home, therefore there will be different protocols than you're used to, no National Health Service or similar, and a different form of insurance plus maybe a financial cost. If you're renting a bike and have minor injuries, instead of trying to take it with you, leave it where it is and notify the rental business. It's preferable to do so in order to avoid more damage, and driving may also be hazardous.
Read a full article on dealing with an accident.
Renting a scooter or motorbike on Koh Phangan will transform your experience here and give you that blissful feeling of freedom and allow you to discover more. The main thing to be aware of is SAFETY. Wear a helmet, have a license, insurance and drive at a reasonable speed, sober.