I love being on two wheels. Back in California, one of my favorite hobbies was racing sport bikes on the track. While preparing for my one month Venture With Impact program in Chiang Mai, I didn’t really plan or research details regarding riding a motorbike or scooter in Thailand, so I winged it and rented a Honda iClick125 scooter shortly after my arrival. After one month of scooter riding in Chiang Mai, here are a few things I learned:
Scooter or motorbike?
When I first arrived in Chiang Mai, I really, really wanted to rent a motorbike (with gears, manual shift) instead of a scooter since I’ve had many years of experience racing motorbikes in California. But I’m so glad I rented a scooter instead, because I ended up Google Maps to navigate around and needed to occasionally peek at my mobile phone using my left hand while on the scooter. If I was riding a motorbike with gears, my left hand would be operating the clutch lever and my right hand would be using the throttle on brakes, leaving no free hands to look at my Google Maps.
Sometimes, it’s good to stand out.
In most cases, when you’re visiting a scooter rental business, you’ll have a good selection of scooters to choose from. It may be worth selecting a scooter with a distinctive feature, such as an uncommon color, a sticker, or some type of mark that makes it easier to spot in a sea of scooters. We’ve all had those “where did I park?” moments. In this case, my yellow scooter was much easier to spot than say, a red or gray scooter while in the parking lot of Maya mall. Too bad you can’t see the Hello Kitty license plate holder that came with it ...
Carry your International Driving Permit and driver’s license
I didn’t have an International Driving Permit. As a foreigner, an International Driving Permit is legally required to ride a scooter in Thailand. Here’s an example of an International Driving Permit issued by the United States. If you’re from the U.S. and need to apply for one, visit this Fastport Passport website. It’s a quick and easy process, and can be all done online. Please remember that an International Driving Permit is recognized ONLY if it’s accompanied with your driver’s license from your country. Most scooter rental businesses don’t check if you have an International Driving Permit or not. They’ll still rent it out to you. That said, if you choose to ride a scooter without an IDP and driver’s license …
.. THIS might happen.
Yup, I got pulled over and had to pay a $15USD ticket. In some areas that are frequented by tourists (Maya mall, Old City etc), the police will set up checkpoints for licenses and check on all the scooter riders that pass through by stopping everyone, similar to DUI checkpoints in the U.S. Not the end of the world, but can be annoying especially when you’re running late to your yoga class in the Old City area. I recommend just taking a few minutes and applying for an IDP so this can be avoided.
buy a rain poncho
This is Southeast Asia. It can start pouring rain at any moment. I purchased my rain poncho at a 7-11 and kept it under the seat of my scooter. During my one month stay in Chiang Mai, I used it about 7-8 times when it started raining out of nowhere “during” my ride, like on the day I visited Mae Sa waterfall!
Favorite spots to ride to
3. Phufinn Cafe
One of the things I loved about my Venture With Impact experience was the apartment they provided during my one month stay. It was located in a very convenient location between the Santitham and Nimmahhaemin neighborhoods (short walk to Maya mall). This made it possible to visit pretty much all the top spots in Chiang Mai, and to venture out of the city area on scooter! My favorite spots to ride to on scooter were Mae Sa Waterfall, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Phufinn Cafe. I liked these spots because they take under an hour to get to, are easy to navigate and made for a good ride when I craved a little adventure on two wheels. Definitely check these spots out!
“Look Right, Look Right, Look Right.”
This was one of my mantras during my stay in Chiang Mai while riding a scooter. As you know, or now know, driving in Thailand is on the left side, opposite of the US and many other countries. For me, the most difficult part wasn’t riding on the left or making long right turns at the traffic light. It was remembering to look to the right when stopping at an intersection in the small streets and alleys. I would sometimes “forget” that there’s incoming traffic from that direction, and just turn left without paying much attention. So remember to look right!