Information About Asia ¦ Riding a Motorbike in Thailand
Your experience of riding a motorbike abroad overseas.
What was your experience like riding a motorbike in Asia?
Having never rode a motorbike before, I, like many of my other first timers to Thailand was faced with the daunting prospect of riding a motorbike in Thailand. When you live in Asia, riding a moped is part of everyday life, a normality. It isn't difficult, but the environmental conditions that come with it can be terrifying. Sink or swim, ride or walk! The choice was unnervingly obvious.
Standards of safety in Thailand are at best, poor. If you have road sense already from driving or riding in your home country, this will benefit you, slightly. Otherwise, forget rules of the road you have previously learned and strap yourself in for a scary and unique experience riding a motorbike in Thailand.
Outlined is advice and information resulting from a years riding experience whilst living in Asia. It aims to provide a useful insight for the first time traveller to Asia, highlighting potential dangers and incidents you might expect to encounter whilst riding in Asia.
Riding in Thailand
- expect the unexpected! Life in Asia is full of unexpected moments.
- expect to see families of four and the dog on one bike!
- expect anything to pull out in front of you, regardless of whether you're nearly on them.
- expect people to smile when they nearly cause an accident. Calm yourself and smile back (if your still alive).
- wear a helmet. Apart from the obvious, the police enjoy fining you for not doing so. Prices can range significantly!
- expect to see oncoming cars and lorries on the wrong side of the road flashing their lights at you. This is not a greeting or to tell you about the police further down the road. It is their way of warning you that they are coming in your direction. Slow down and get out of the way!
- expect to hear many beeps of the horn from Thais. This can mean a number of things; I'm here, be aware, don’t pull out on front of me, I'm overtaking you, I'm coming. It’s their way of letting you know they are there. Use your horn like it's going out of fashion.
- leave your western expectations of driving standards in the west. Riding a motorbike in Thailand is not the same as many western countries.Try to be accepting of how people drive here. This is life in Asia
- remember to check your inside mirror! Undertaking, overtaking, anything goes here.
- expect people to ride on the wrong side of the road, on pavements and generally where people walk.
- expect to see Elephant's, Buffalo and thousands of stray dogs using the road!
- expect car doors to open into your path without notice, keep your distance.
- expect to see unguarded road works without safety perimeters; diggers often swing out into the road seemingly unaware of nearly decapitating passing motorcyclists!
- expect varying standards of road quality; pot holes, sand traps (on the islands), oil leaks and random debris everywhere.
- wear glasses when riding. The last thing you want is a bug the size of your fist hitting you in the eye at 50km’s. Or sand and dust for that matter.
- expect people to stop anywhere in the road without warning.
- come to Thailand without experience of riding a motorbike. Get some lessons in your own country first. Riding a motorbike in Thailand is not the place to get familiar. Especially on the islands where roads can be very unpredictable. Rolling steep hills, pot holes, sand traps, unlit roads and flash floods are just some of the dangers here. Not to mention Thai drivers who can be at best, careless. Take note if you want to live in Asia.
- expect similar safety standards as you own country. Safety in Thailand is relaxed, probably too relaxed. Go with the flow but be careful.
- expect people to look when pulling out into oncoming traffic.
- expect Thai people to react kindly to western road rage. The roads are dangerous here, fact. Thais drive like this every day so it is normal. Try not to get angry if your prone to a touch of road rage!
- expect people to indicate as they turn right or left.
- expect people to give warning about stopping in the middle of the road directly, in your path.
- get drunk and think you can ride a bike with no prior experience. Riding a motorbike in Thailand is something that needs to be done sober!
- drive on the wrong side of the road! We drive on the left here.
- drive at night in unlit areas if you can help it. This can be dangerous as road quality varies. Things can suddenly change, giving you no time to react.
Living in Asia?
If you want to live in Asia, these are some of the things one has to take into consideration before moving here. Large numbers of Thais own motorbikes as many cannot afford cars. Riding, for many, is part of everyday life in Asia. If you are visiting, have a great time but be aware of things mentioned when hopping on a bike. You don't want to be another statistic.
Riding a motobike in Thailand day in day out is dangerous, there's no doubt about it. Although after a while you get a feel for the way people drive and eventually adapt. Driving sensibly will help ensure that your going to be incident free on a short visit here. Make sure you've got travel insurance that covers you too, just in case.
However, there is a massive accident rate. I recently learned that insurance companies (Thai) will not insure motorbikes after their warranty period because of this. Here is a slightly dated but informative study about accident rates.
Life in Asia is great, don't get me wrong. Like everywhere else in the world though it has its pros and cons. Road safety standards and general safety in Thailand are not high on my 'like' list. Until there is high quality driving instruction and proper road safety awareness implemented, the road will continue to be a dangerous place. As a developing nation this may take a long time, if at all. Other standards in Thailand have improved greatly in recent years so I don't see why this will be any different. Let's hope so anyway!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share any close shaves and near death experiences you may have had in Thailand!