How to backpack thailand on a budget?
Are you tired of bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers? Are you exhausted by taxis that get stuck in the traffic? And are you frightened of reckless mototaxi drivers who refuse to give you a helmet and then zip like madmen? How about driving a scooter yourself (with a helmet, this time)? That is actually a very good idea! Renting a scooter is cheap and a great way to discover your very personal hidden gems in the city. These are the five tips you need in order to get started and have a great driving experience. Enjoy the read!
I – Choose carefully
Who you rent from. Considering how large Bangkok is, there are relatively few scooter rentals, and their quality is often poor. Many tourists have reported scams of different natures, so it is always best to do your research on a specific rental. I recommend you earch for reviews on the internet and if you are not convinced, just choose another one. Here we advise the two rentals with the highest rating according to Google Maps:
Bangkok Scooter Rental
We personally rented from here and were very satisfied. The rental fee starts from 200 ฿/day (=6 $/day) and includes a basic insurance that can be upgraded. As far as the documents are concerned, they require a valid passport OR driving license, but they will just scan them.
I must to say: NEVER give your original documents away! Here, instead, they ask for a deposit of 2000 ฿ (=60 $) that will be completely refunded at the end of the contract (if you didn’t destroy their bike). Since they are located quite far, a delivery can be arranged if contacted in advance; the staff is also very friendly! Very good experience.
Line ID: BKKScooterRental
This rental is situated closer to The Yard Hostel Bangkok (about 20 minutes taxi ride), and applies similar rental fees (tiny bit more expensive) and conditions to the previous rental. We read great stories about it, so you could try and let us know!
Whatsapp: +668 783 76708
NOTE: even if you are not asked for a driving license, it doesn’t mean that in Thailand is legal to drive without a valid one. If police stops you, you might be fined. It’s always better to be on the legal side, especially if you get into an accident. To be legal, you should ask for an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your country of residence. You can find more info at this link:
Before signing the contract at the rental, read carefully the conditions of the insurance. Check the damages on the motorbike with the employee and take pictures from all angles, so that you can produce them in case of problems. Ask for two helmets if possible: you want also your friend to be safe when you drive.
If everything went right, you just got out of the office with the keys in your hand: time to start exploring!
II – Take it easy.
In Thailand, just like in United Kingdom and a few other countries, you have to drive on the left side. It might take a while to get acquainted with left-side driving , so it’s best if you first try slowly in the neighborhood. When you feel ready, approach a main road. Always watch both left and right before making a move at the intersections. Start by driving on the left side of the road, which is the bus lane. Be prepared for long queues at the lane stop: the red traffic light can last up to 6 minutes! This of course means that many fellow scooter riders will accumulate around you. To get an idea of how crazy it can get, watch this video:
When you are surrounded by so many people, don’t panic and just be confident about your direction. Your left hand should be ready on the brake at all times, because you don’t know what awaits on the road. Roaring tuk-tuks, ragged buses, Ferrari cars, mototaxis, crossing pedestrians, you name them. Be defensive, even if you are an experienced rider. With the proper precautions, driving in Bangkok is not dangerous, but it surely requires a high level of vigilance and attention. For this reason, if you feel tired or plan to drink a few buckets in Khaosan Road, we highly suggest you to leave the scooter at the Yard and grab a taxi instead. It’s definitely not a good idea to drive while intoxicated – dangers aside for both you and the others, the police could cause you a lot of problems, more so if you don’t possess the proper documents.
III – Get lost!
Now that you got a feeling of the traffic flow, just follow your inspiration. Did you just see an interesting khlong (canal) over there? Turn right (don’t forget to switch on the indication sign) and go. The scents of this market are even stronger than the smoggy smell of the cars around you? Stop and check it out! That is the real beauty of driving a scooter in Bangkok: the freedom. We highly recommend you to buy a Thai sim card with internet included, so that you can always find the way back to us (or call us for rescue!).
A quick peek at your GPS location on the phone and you will have an idea of where you are. You can of course ask for indications to the people on the street, Because this is part of a backpack in Bangkok, but beware… Only a few speak a good English!
Truemove, dtac and AIS are the main Thai mobile phone companies. They all have similar tourist package offers and have stands conveniently situated just next to the exit of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Truemove is said to be the best for city usage, while AIS is more reliable in rural/island environments. Dtac is kind of in-between, although all the options are good. Choose the one that suits best your trip.
IV – Refill the tank.
If you rent for a few days, you might need to top up the gasoline at some point. There are plentiful gas stations scattered around the city. The closest ones to the Yard are in Phaholyothin Road (the big road overlooked by the skytrain), just next to the BTS skytrain station Ari. To get an idea of the prices, a total refill of regular 91 gasohol costs 100 ฿ (3 $) on a typical scooter: quite cheap indeed, perfect to backpack in Thailand. Most gas stations are not self-service, so a worker will serve you. Now, time for a quick Thai lesson. He/she will probably ask you:
Which means “How much?”. You can simply answer:
That is “full tank”. Alternatively you can indicate the amount of money (for example “roi baht” = 100 ฿). Take into account that most gas stations don’t charge less than 70 ฿ worth of gasoline. Pay directly in cash to the employee and go your merry way.
V – Prepare for the shower.
An essential item to keep under your seat is a raincoat, especially if you are visiting Thailand in the period from May to October: this is the infamous rainy season! And guess what, it rains a lot. The morning and early afternoon tend to be dry, but later in the day winds blow clouds charged with torrential rain almost on a daily basis.
Keep in mind what we stated in the other points, plus add slippery roads and reduced visibility: traffic jam gets worse and worse! So please, take extra care in case you need to drive under the rain. If you have plenty of time, you can also enter a cafè or eat something while you wait for the shower to end. The heavy pouring usually doesn’t last long.
OK, we covered most of the basics. You are now ready for Bangkok most common sport: car dribbling! That’s right, when the eternal traffic light turns red you don’t need to stop and wait. You can slowly yet surely slip away between the still vehicles and reach the top of the lane.
Many scooter riders gain an impressive skill in this regard and always find tiny gaps to exploit. This might look scary at the beginning, but once you follow the flow you will save a lot of time! Moreover, the queue will seem shorter and somehow funnier.
This is all, we wish you the best time in Thailand:
Kap rot dii dii (drive safe)!
PS. Chiangmai and Pai is good choice to explore by motorbike.