Travelers who visit Thailand exclusively end up in the same 5 or 6 cities. Even if one explores Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Koh Pha-ngan, and Pattaya, they’re still missing out on a huge chunk of this gorgeous country. The ability to instantly explore any city, any park and any place is creating a huge surge in the popularity of motorcycle road trips throughout Thailand.
We’ll cover everything a biker needs to know before embarking on their Thailand road trip. We’ll present a deep dive into safety issues, insurance, cost, common routes, best road stops, and we’ll even explain how to legally eliminate the entire cost of your motorbike.
There is a ton of information one should know before their journey begins. One can never be too careful while driving in Thailand. Your life may depend on knowing specific pieces of information. Above all else, always wear a helmet.
If you’ve never driven in Southeast Asia, you should fully expect and envision a Mad Max situation. Rules and regulations are almost never enforced. As a result, countless deaths (quite literally – they can’t count them all) occur in the country every year. Defensive driving is mandatory if you want to leave your trip unscathed.
If you opt to rent a motorbike from a rental company, they will always offer you a helmet. It’s absolutely vital that you wear this. As someone who has seen brains spilled onto the street from a motorbike accident, I can’t stress this point enough. Wear a helmet.
However, the chances of these rental company helmets fitting your gorgeous head flawlessly are pretty slim. They’re also not exactly the highest quality helmets that one can find. Throughout the country, there are motorcycle helmet stores every several blocks. I recommend purchasing a full face helmet. They don’t cost more than $30 and you can even resell the equipment at the end of your trip for 2/3rds the original cost.
Think about it like this – your head is the most important part of your body. If you’re wearing $50 shoes but wearing a $5 helmet, you’re likely focusing on the wrong things. Spend more on this because you’ll never regret doing so.
In Thailand, it’s quite common for trucks, cars, buses, and even 18-wheelers to enter your lane. We recommend driving closer to the shoulder of the road. I’ve been on a bus in Thailand where the driver was chugging Red Bull and chain-smoking cigarettes the whole time. He even drank a beer during a rest-stop. You cannot expect your decent driving to make up for other’s recklessness. You need to be proactive and hyper-aware.
If it’s raining, take a break. If a car ahead of you is going 1 MPH under the speed limit, you shouldn’t feel a need to pass them (it won’t save you that much time). If you can, try to ride in a group. There is a pack mentality when driving. Cars will be less likely to inadvertently push you off the road if there is a group of bikes together.
If you’re not comfortable driving a bike or scooter in the United States, then why in God’s name would you possibly think doing it in Thailand would be easier? The country barely offers traffic police to control dangerous drivers. Those who do break the law and endanger the lives of others often walk away with nothing more than a ticket. Only drive a vehicle abroad if you’re comfortable.
I don’t mean to intentionally scare you away from pursuing a motorbike trip. These adventures can be the most fulfilling and exciting way to truly explore the parts unknown in Thailand. However, it’s important that you understand the necessary steps to make this trip a reality. Insurance is of utmost importance.
We highly recommend Safety Wing for your travel insurance needs. They’ve done a great job for us. However, travel insurance companies don’t cover your bike-related injuries if you don’t have an international driver’s license. Bike rental companies never check for international driver’s licenses, so many think they aren’t crucial. This is not the case.
If you end up hurt or in an accident, your travel insurance will not cover you unless you are legally certified to drive a motorcycle abroad. Make sure you take the necessary steps so you don’t end up needing a GoFundMe to pay for new legs.
Healthcare in Thailand isn’t tremendously expensive. However, if you need serious surgery, you can fully expect to go bankrupt trying to pay your bills. Do the due diligence and make sure you’re protected properly.
Traffic is intense in the larger Thai cities. If you are in a serious accident, it is possible that it will take hours to get you an ambulance. Most Thai citizens prefer a different method. If they see someone is hurt or in an accident, they will load the individual into a taxi and drive them to the nearest hospital. Taxi drivers are used to this behavior and are normally more than happy to accommodate.
If they seem reluctant to let a bleeding person into their vehicle, throw money at the problem. If they speed off after you’ve been dropped off at the hospital, it’s because there is a fear that they will be called into question for liability reasons. When tourists are hurt in Thailand, many often don’t want to be associated with the problem.
If an ambulance is able to pick you up, they are generally less trained than an EMT in America. However, they certainly know more about first aid than the guy who works at the corner store beside your accident scene. They definitely are more knowledgable than the taxi drivers when it comes to CPR.
The number of people who partake in Thai medical tourism increases each year. With this in mind, recognize that the Thai healthcare system is quite capable of handling your needs. It may not look as fancy as your doctor’s office at home, but these trained professionals are certainly able to save your life if it comes down to the wire. Treatment style varies from hospital to hospital but Thai healthcare is some of the best in Southeast Asia.
Motorbike trips offer a surprising luxury – cost. While one wouldn’t think that visiting more cities would ultimately wind up cheaper than visiting just one or two cities, it’s surprisingly cost-effective to travel this way. Aside from the purchase price of your bike (we’ll cover that subject in a future section), you’ll undoubtedly save money if you do this properly.
For starters, larger cities are more expensive than smaller cities. This holds true in a variety of ways. Your hotel (or more likely – hostel/homestay accommodations) will cost less than the same service in Bangkok. The food is much more likely to be affordable and low-priced. However, one should expect to eat local foods – you won’t find many pizza places in rural Thailand.
If you avoid booking through Airbnb or Hotels.com, then you’ll be able to shop around. One could walk into a series of nearby hotels each evening to price shop. They almost always have vacancies available, and if they don’t, they’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Most motorcycle trips are flexibly planned. Conditions like rain, traffic, and desires to stop and spend time in an unexpected paradise are all reasons why a motorcycle trip won’t fit into a rigid schedule. We recommend having a list of potential hostels along your route, but don’t suggest that you book accommodations ahead of time unless you might show up past 10 PM at night.
While this may seem nonsensical, you want to be afforded the luxury and the freedom to take your time. Motorcycle trips are always more fun when the events of the day are spontaneous. There are plenty of roadside attractions that could garner your attention. Alternatively, your butt could start hurting after sitting on an uncomfortable seat for 6 hours (sounds funny but it a serious issue).
As you stop for traditional Thai food on the side of the road, try to start a conversation with the locals. Even if you don’t speak much Thai, use your phone’s Google Translate app to ask a few questions. Like people anywhere, those who live in rural Thailand are proud of their town and always have a few secret spots they would love to show travelers.
Don’t be surprised if your travels take you to a city where you are the only foreigner. Many of these rural communities never receive a traveling backpacker. The kids are extremely curious and many will follow you around the city. It’s a strange but kind occurrence. Most people enjoy this rare form of limelight.
These people will all have suggestions that are cheap and non-expensive as the local economy isn’t necessarily one that caters to tourists. Whether it’s a local national park, somebody’s farm, or a nearby waterfall, you’ll almost never spend more than a few dollars during these excursions. Tour guides don’t even exist in many of these cities – just kind locals who want to show you attractions that make them feel proud.
Most of the popular and famous routes in Thailand start or end in Chiang Mai. There are plenty of great routes in the Southern section of the country (we’ll mention a handful below), however, something about flat land makes motorcycle trips a bit less enticing. Thus, the popularity of mountain/hill driving makes Chiang Mai the perfect destination for your road trip.
If you decide to venture out near Chiang Mai, our advice is to avoid the months of March and April. For a few months a year, Chiang Mai becomes the most polluted place in the world in terms of air quality. The city experiences a manmade phenomenon called ‘burning season’.
The area surrounding this mountain town is known for rubber plantations. When the season ends, farmers actually burn their land to promote soil growth and increased nutrients for future growing seasons. Some farmers even light intentional fires as a means to improve their hog hunting odds.
Regardless of the reason, rationale, or intention, this burning has a negative impact on the health of the surrounding community. The mountainous region traps this smog and until rain drives out the hazardous air, the smog will stay in and around Chiang Mai. The smog is so bad that one cannot see properly beyond 100 feet. This makes driving conditions dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
However, outside of these two brief months, it’s arguably the best place for a motorcycle trip. The Mae Hong Son Loop is the most famous loop in all of Thailand. It starts from Chiang Mai and takes you through 600 kilometers of the prettiest part of the country. The road is difficult for novices but well worth it if you know what you’re doing.
The journey can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. We will always recommend a long journey because it is easier to become engrained in the local community (and have more authentic cultural exchanges). There are several great stops along this journey, however, the mandatory stop is in Pai!
If you know anything about Pai, you know why we give this recommendation. This Thai hippy community has garnered the interest of tourists for years. It’s most famous for the Pai Circus hostel – a series of accommodations where you can learn how to juggle, toss-fire, slackline, and all other dreadlock-related activities.
Another famous motorcycle route in the area is the Chiang Rai Loop. The route is pretty straightforward. You begin in Chiang Mai, then head to Chiang Rai. From there, you venture towards Mae Salong and finally, to Doi Angkhang before heading back to your starting point.
Chiang Rai is famous for its all-white temple. The building is incredibly decorated and is a must-see on your journey. Doi Angkhang is an interesting stop for Thailand travelers because it is actually the coldest city in all of the country. Most don’t think of Thailand as cold, but this place gets a bit chilly. It’s interesting to see traditional Thai outfits that are catered to the cold weather.
The Samoeng Route is a third famous trip that begins in the Chaing Mai region. This one is a great journey for beginners because it is a short venture. At only 100 kilometers long, most riders are completely capable of knocking this journey out in a day or two.
I highly recommend stopping at the Mae Sa waterfall (it has 10 different falls) and most importantly, the Samoeng forest. The journey won’t be complete unless you stop at the Mae Sap cave, too.
If you aren’t making it to the Northern part of Thailand, there are still several great trips around Bangkok (and some further South, too). The Kanchanaburi area is a great place to explore. I’ve heard some people call this the Nang Prue – Si Sawat loop but the area is still such a new motorcycle trip zone that the name hasn’t fully stuck.
The great part about Kanchanaburi is that it’s not too far from Bangkok. There’s even a great fishing retreat on the way out there – Palm Tree Lagoon Fishery. They have some massive fish (the size of your children). In fact, this part of Thailand is just as close to Bangkok as Hua Hin! Just head West.
Kanchanaburi is well-known for several very popular national parks. Erawan National Park, Sai Yok National Park (my personal favorite), and Khao Laem National Park are all within Kanchanaburi’s territory. When you take your bike out there, make sure you explore each of these beautiful parks.
One of the biggest complaints about riding entails the need to get off your bike and stretch your legs. There is no shortage of hikes in this area. One of the best hikes you can find in all of Thailand is located here. Look into exploring the Khao Chang Phueak ridge. It’s a beautiful trail situated on the top of a small mountain that keeps you at the top of a narrow ridge the whole time.
If you’re looking for a good place to stay during this trip, then I highly recommend looking into a famous fruit-themed hotel. Each abode is designed to look like a fruit. You can stay inside a pineapple (insert Spongebob Squarepants joke here), lychee, an eggplant, an apple, an orange, and just about every other fruit you can think of.
Phuket is a great starting point for many travelers. There are two popular routes I recommend that begin in Phuket. The first is Phuket to Surat Thani. This beautiful drive will take you through Phang-Nga. Make sure you stop along the way at the famous limestone cliffs this area is known for.
The second journey is similar. It’s Phuket to Ranong. This will take you into a much less touristy part of Thailand (hence, why people are beginning to enjoy this immersive journey). However, most prefer the Phuket to Surat Thani departure for a simple reason – Surat Thani is one of the main departure points for some of Thailand’s most famous islands.
From Surat Thani, you can reach Koh Pha-ngan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao. If you make it out on these islands via ferry, chances are that your journey is no longer a motorcycle trip. If you ride a bike around the islands, it’s really more like driving than any type of road trip – unless you drive endlessly around the island in a circle.
All are great journeys. However, one of the most fun things you can do is plan your own trip. If there are a series of cool things you want to see, we highly recommend creating your own loop. True Move SIM cards are the most effective in the rural provinces (though, not incredible absolutely everywhere) so if you do opt for this style, we suggest using this for your data needs.
If you want to plan a trip of your own, we recommend carving out time to see some of the fascinating sights listed below. Most tourists never get to see this side of Thailand and you’ll never regret that you opted for the path less traveled. It’s a great way to experience real travel and real culture shock.
Things to See That Are Out of the Way
Everyone visits the Grand Palace and almost everyone goes to Phuket’s bar street. However, the meat of Thailand’s culture isn’t located in places that are overrun with tourists. It’s likely that you already understand this sentiment, as it explains why you’re crazy enough to drive around Thailand’s rural provinces.
We highly recommend some of the following activities that aren’t on the typical traveler’s bucket list. The Sanctuary of Truth is a great find in Thailand. It’s a temple decently North of Pattaya that is designed, unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your entire life. The complex is ornate beyond belief.
Lotus Lake is a jaw-dropping place that almost no tourists get the opportunity to visit. This entire lake blooms with millions (not an exaggeration) of lotus flowers during particular seasons. It’s close to the Cambodian border and well worth the visit if you can make the journey that direction.
The Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is another place to check out that a normal tourist wouldn’t ever see. This place is supposed to be an artist’s interpretation of the Buddhist hell. It’s quite the place to get a bizarre picture and certainly scares one into acting on their best behavior.
Rent a Bike vs. Buy a Bike
How does one go about acquiring a bike in Thailand? It’s actually extremely easy. The entire industry is highly unregulated and you’ll be able to find motorbike rentals in every city (except maybe the towns with only 100 people). However, this rental process doesn’t work for everyone. It might be convenient if you’re driving a loop but not if you are journeying from point A to point B.
If you want to minimize your costs and plan to be on your bike for more than 2 weeks, we have a rather foolproof method for your trip. There are countless Facebook groups that cater to tourists, travelers, and expats in Thailand. There are even Facebook groups centered around buying and selling motorbikes, motorcycles, and scooters in Thailand.
To keep your costs low, we recommend a seemingly counterintuitive method. Buy a motorcycle. I know that sounds like the opposite of keeping things cheap, but hear me out. If you purchase a bike, it will only cost you $200 – $1000. Many people who go on motorbike trips end up traveling for more than 14 days.
If you have a few days left in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, you can post pictures of your bike (preferably with all the beautiful places you have visited in the background) on these Facebook pages. You can sell your bike at the same cost (or slightly less) if you can find a buyer. This can be a dangerous predicament if you don’t have enough time, though.
I even know several people who made money off the ordeal by selling their motorbike for $100 more than the original price. They simply gave the bike a new paint job and were able to make the bike look great using their DSLR camera.
You don’t need to purchase a big bike. Even a smaller scooter will do just fine for your purpose. A rental bike will cost anywhere from $3-6 USD/day when you rent long term. If you want to rent it for the day, prices will be a bit higher. You do the math. If you think you’re good enough at marketing and can sell your bike to another tourist, it’s a great way to keep costs low. Just make sure you get the proper paperwork/blue slip to prove ownership of the bike!
This is a great workaround to save you money. You can spend some of that saved money on a nice helmet before your trip. Don’t buy a dinky one made of soft plastic. Remember, your head is worth more than $5. In case you forgot, drive on the left-hand side of the road. Happy journeying!
Is it safe to drive a motorbike in Thailand?
Statistically, Thailand is one of the most dangerous places in the world to drive. On the other hand, 95% of tourists who rent a motorbike leave Thailand without ever experiencing an accident. Rules and regulations are loose, so make sure you act as a defensive driver. If you don’t have prior experience driving a bike, don’t learn here.
What are the best cities to visit in Thailand?
Most people visit the islands of Thailand like Phuket, Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Pha-ngan. However, there are many other beautiful places to explore in Thailand. We recommend Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phang-Nga, Hua Hin, Koh Chang, and the Similan islands.