One of the most popular ways to get around Chiang Mai, Thailand is to rent a motorcycle or moped. Bus service in Chiang Mai is limited so, if you don’t want to spend money on taxis, tuk-tuks or songtaews (the small red pick-up truck taxis) then renting a motorbike is an affordable option. Here’s how.
Where to Rent Motorcycles and Mopeds – There are so many rental shops in Chiang Mai, you’ll stumble across three of them before breakfast. The best way to rent a motorcycle or moped is to rent through a shop near your hotel or apartment or, if you’re staying in a hotel, guest house or apartment that deals with bike rental, you can rent through them for no extra cost.
Rent Through a Rental Shop – Your hotel should be able to tell you where the closest bike rental shop is, so start there if you don’t want to walk around looking for one.
All you’ll need to rent a bike through a rental shop is money for a deposit (usually in the 2,000 to 6,000 baht range, depending on the bike), the daily, weekly or monthly fee, and a photocopy of your passport, along with the original.
The bike shop will check your original passport to make sure the information on the copy is correct, (ie: nothing has been altered on the copy) and will then accept the photocopy as proof of identity. If you’re asked to, never leave your passport with them. It’s not legally required, and could cause you problems if it’s lost, copied or stolen.
Of course you will have people, usually westerners, saying you must leave your passport with the shop as collateral. This is not true, as long as you’re willing to leave the sizeable deposit instead. Personally, I’d rather chance losing a 3,000 baht deposit than my passport (although you shouldn’t have any problems with that in Chiang Mai either).
Bike rental run around 200 baht ($6.50) per day or less for a moped (100 or 125 cc Hondas are the most common) and 800 baht ($26) on up for a motorbike. Some shops are cheaper, some more expensive, so shop around before you rent. If you rent for a week the rate per day is cheaper and, again, if you organize a monthly rental, even cheaper still.
Once you’ve picked out your bike and paid, make sure you check everything on the bike before driving away. Check for scratches and dents (you don’t want to be charged later for something you didn’t do) and make sure lights, brakes etc. work.
Typically, you don’t need an international or Thai drivers license to rent a bike in Chiang Mai. However be aware, if you have an accident and try to place a claim through your home country’s travel insurance, or any other insurance policy you might have, (rental shops don’t include insurance in their bike rentals, but some will sell it to you separately if you want it), you must have had a valid license at the time of the accident, or the insurance company will not pay out. That’s why, if at all possible, don’t plan on having an accident.
Now you’re ready to drive away.
Rental Through Your Hotel or Apartment Building – Many places in Chiang Mai have bike rental agencies or are connected to one. When you rent through them, they’ll take care of everything for you, and all you’ll have to do is show up downstairs, hand over your passport copy, deposit and rental fee and the bike is all yours.
Once you’ve finished with the bike, you also return it to your hotel or apartment buidling and they’ll make sure it’s returned to the rental shop.
Words of Warning
1. Be careful driving around Chiang Mai. Thais are not known as the world’s best drivers and many don’t seem to be aware there are motorcycles and mopeds on the road (oddly, as there are tens of thousands of them), so drive defensively. Rush hour in Chiang Mai can be a bit dicey too (although nowhere near as bad as in Bangkok) so, if you’re not an experienced rider, you might want to stay off the road in busy areas until it clears.
2. Make sure the bike has a bike lock and use it every time you park. There is a scam in Chiang Mai, and other Thai cities, with some bike rental shops, where your bike is “stolen” by someone connected to the bike shop. They then try to charge you for the full cost of the bike or get you to claim for it on the insurance policy they sold you. Locked, it’s a bit more difficult to steal.
3. Always wear a helmet. Although most Thais don’t wear one, it is actually against the law not to. While police may not hassle Thais much (although they will hassle them occasionally too) they do go after foreigners more, as they presume they have more disposable income. Being caught riding without a helmet is an immediate fine (200-300 baht usually). Don’t waste the money if you don’t have to.
By the way, even though you are renting a moped or motorbike in Chiang Mai, there will be times when you want to leave the bike at home and take public transportation instead. Read How to Take Public Transportation in Chiang Mai to find out how, as it’s not quite as easy as it is somewhere like Bangkok.