If you have always wanted to know how to ride your own motorcycle in Thailand, here is our ultimate guide to motorcycle touring in Thailand. There is plenty of advice, tips and useful links to help you on your way. Or you can travel with us to Thailand!
Thailand At a Glance
Culture shock: 7/10
Thailand isn’t known as “the land of smiles” for nothing. It’s peoples are warm, welcoming, tolerant and friendly to most visitors. About 95 percent of the population practise Buddhism. It’s more a way of life than a religion and plays a key role in the general nature of the people. So observe rules like taking off shoes to enter homes and temples and be respectful of images of the Buddha. Away from the main cities and tourist hotspots, English isn’t widely spoken, so you’ll need a few basic phrases to get by too.
Once you leave the main urban centres, the traffic eases and the twists begin. Empty mountain roads winding up and down through lush green jungle and paddy fields are a delight to ride. But be warned! When near the large conurbations, expect tuktuks, mopeds with full families on board, suicidal cyclists, slow-moving trucks, street side sellers, elephants, dogs and other animals! You’ll encounter it all on Thai roads.
We recommend that you avoid riding in Bangkok (maybe Sundays are OK!). At last count, there were around 7 million vehicles in Bangkok, but the city can only adequately cope with about 2 million. Also, motorcycles are banned from the Expressways in the city. So to exit the city north to where the best riding is, you’ll be battling noisy traffic jams in an effort to get free!
To get the best out of riding in Thailand, we reckon you should be a more experienced road rider, with advanced riding skills and plenty of touring miles under your belt. Alert observation, brisk and confident overtakes and good machine control (at both slow and higher speeds) are a necessity. Some basic off-road skills for tackling gravel sections are also recommended.
Why you should go to Thailand?
Thailand has some of the world’s most stunning mountainous and coastal routes, with the scenery to go along with them. Lush forests hugging mountain peaks. Pure white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. A rich history and culture that enchants and inspires. Warm and welcoming peoples. And of course, some mouth-watering foods. What more could you want?!
What’s it like to go motorcycle touring in Thailand?
Type “riding in Thailand” into a search engine and you’ll be confronted with page after page of statistics telling you just how dangerous the roads are. Don’t let this put you off. Yes, two wheelers do account for a large proportion of accidents on Thailand’s roads, but the reality is unfortunately, it’s mostly locals riding mopeds in the big cities. You should remember Thai mountain roads are not the Alps. The environment is very different, so make sure you ride to what you can see.
For UK Riders, there’s no need to worry about swapping to the other side of the road. Thais drive on the left-hand side of the road. In practice, the most important rule of the road is that right of way goes to the bigger vehicle. Drivers are generally polite and courteous, because that is Thai nature. The main thing to watch out for is the tendency for drivers to cut corners and end up on your side on the road and you’ll find that drivers will also undertake as a norm.
All speed limits are shown in kilometres and the rule of thumb is: School zones – 30kms; Towns – 60kms; Highways – 90kms; Motorway – 120kms. To be fair, outside Bangkok the police usually never stop big motorcycles. They don’t usually don’t enforce speed limits when you’re on a bike either. But the environment you are riding in means you’d be foolish to exceed them anyway.
Mopeds, tuktuks and bicycles have their own system of road rules and abide neither by traffic signals nor one-way street signs. Their goal is to get to their destination as quickly as possible. They’ll buzz around you constantly in the urban areas, squeezing through the smallest of gaps, just to get an extra couple of inches ahead! We find it’s all part of the fun!
Must ride/see in Thailand
These are our top five “not to miss” roads!
- Highway 1095 between Mae Taeng – Mae Hong Son, a very popular ride known by many as The Road of 1,864 Bends
- Roads 1081 & 1256 between Nan and Pua, plenty endless curves with great tarmac road surface
- Road 1148 between Pua and Chiang Kham, probably as good as it gets!
- Roads 108 & 105 between Mae Hong Son and Mae Sot, around 400 km of mountains and bends
- Highway 1090 between Mae Sot and Umphang, another 1,216 curves on mountain roads with negligible traffic
As for your sightseeing, these are our favourites!
- Bangkok: even if just for a day or two, at the start or end of your riding tour, the colours, sights, sounds and culture in this truly 24hr city will astound you.
- Head up to the Golden Triangle region, where the border of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet across the Mekong River.
- Our favourite ancient site to wander around is Sukhothai Historical Park, the Thai capital back in the 13th
- If you prefer recent history, ride over to Kanchanaburi, where you can visit the Bridge over the River Kwai, the start of the infamous Death Railway.
- Doi Inthanon, ride to the peak of Thailands highest mountain.
Getting your bike to Thailand
You can air freight or sea freight your motorcycle to Bangkok. Contact a freight agent like www.motofreight.com. However, unless you plan to spend 6 weeks or more exploring Thailand’s neighbouring countries or its your start point for an epic ride to Europe, then the cost of freighting your own bike there will not make financial sense.
In addition, in 2016, Thailand has introduced onerous new procedures for temporarily importing foreign vehicles. You need to apply for a permit in advance for an agreed route and being accompanied by a local guide. Practical experience shows that an advance permit is actually not asked for by officials at all land borders with Thailand. However, if you’re freighting directly by air or sea into Thailand, then you need to do it right. We suggest you look at the FaceBook Group “Thailand – New regulation affecting overland travellers on foreign vehicle”, for guidance in meeting these requirements.
Your other option is to rent a motorcycle, which is easy to do. We recommend that you fly into Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and get your rental motorcycle there. These towns are in the heartland of the best riding roads that Thailand has to offer. There are also a number of BMW approved rental agencies based there, such as Bike Tour Asia.
POP Bike Rider Rental in Chiang Mai has an extensive range of bikes. As guidance, basic rental prices start at around 1,100 Baht per day (£26) for a Honda CRF Rally 250, up to 3,000 Baht per day (£72) for a Honda Africa Twin.
When is the best time to go?
Thailand’s cool season is from approximately November to January, and this is definitely the ideal time to undertake a trip. Come February or March, the region can sometimes get unpleasantly smoky due to the burn part of the slash and burn-style of agriculture practiced here. April is unbearably hot and the rainy season, from approximately June to October, can occasionally make motorcycling difficult.
Where to stay in Thailand?
Thankfully, Thailand has a massive array of accommodation to suit all budgets. From simple guesthouses and bungalows to incredible luxury spa resorts. Suffice to say that you will find something to meet your budget. Camping in Thailand is also possible and we have linked to this website to tell you more. https://www.thailandadventureguide.com/camping-in-thailand/ To be honest, we don’t tend to camp here due to the heat and humidity, and the fact that guesthouses with aircon are relatively cheap.
What documents do I need?
- Passport – must be valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry. No visas are needed.
- UK Driving Licence and International Driving Permit – Take your UK driving licence and obtain an International Driving Permit from the Post Office
- V5C Vehicle Registration Document – for your own motorcycle; you’ll need the original to get temporarily import your bike.
- Foreign Vehicle Permit – to temporarily import your own motorcycle, officially you must have a permit issued by the Thai Department of Land Transportation and travel with a licensed agent. You can check out the requirements here on the Thai Government Website https://fvp.dlt.go.th/ and refer to the FaceBook page that we indicated above.
- Carnet de Passage – is not required for your own bike.
- Bike Insurance – Local Thai insurance is needed to use your own motorcycle and this is something that will be obtained for you by your Thai Agent as part of the overall procedures to get your own bike into Thailand. Rental agencies will supply the bike with basic insurance, which can be upgraded.
- Personal Travel / Medical Insurance Policy – strongly recommended to have this in place and check it covers you for medical treatment and repatriation (if necessary) in case of any injury incurred whilst riding a large capacity motorcycle.
Check out the latest FCDO travel advice for Thailand here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/thailand
We are passionate about travel by motorcycle and whether you decide to travel with us for two weeks or five months, our aim is to give you a great touring experience, supported by years of relevant expertise.
Book the Thailand Motorcycle Tour with us today!