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Personally I would say, “No way Jose!” to anyone contemplating the undeniably risky method of getting about by motorbike on Ko Tao. However it would then be fair to accuse me of a certain amount of hypocrisy as I do indeed own and drive one. Well, chances are that unlike me — I own my own bike — you will be renting one. So what’s the score?
The first and most important question to honestly ask yourself is: can you ride one? Have you ridden one before and do you really know what you are doing? If not, then why on earth would you consider doing so in a foreign country? Please do take note that the solution to this problem is not to rent an ATV. While you may argue that they have four wheels and are therefore bound to be safer, the reality is the opposite: they are easy to flip and not nearly as stable as you might imagine.
Next I would urge you to consider the roads. You may be quite adept at riding on well organised and well maintained roads, but have you ever encountered loose sand, potholes and indeed true off-road tracks? If this is you, then you could well be feeling quite comfortable about renting a bike here or in fact anywhere in the world with the confidence to drive in most conditions.
Yet before you hop on and roar off, please take a moment to consider insurance. Boring I know, but here’s how it goes. Firstly unlike renting a car there is no method of insuring your bike when you hire it. While all travel advice and most forums will scream at you that the practice of handing over your passport as collateral in lieu of insurance is illegal, it is in fact the reality of the situation. While there are honest renters, there are some that are not so honest. Travel forums are rife with complaints by unwary travellers who have rented and ended up worse off for the experience. Rent from the wrong place and upon return of your bike you will be charged for damages. This may be expected if you have damaged it, but if you haven’t and the damage is either fictitious or highly inflated what can you do? You must pay or not get your passport back. Don’t think about leaving without your passport and reporting it stolen or lost as the renter will already have reported the incident too.
If you have got this far and are still intent on hiring a bike then my advice to you would be to choose wisely. Ask around a few places for a recommendation of where to go. Make sure you fully understand the cost involved and ensure you take photographs of your bike and any existing damage before heading out. Remember that it is illegal to drive without a helmet and while you will see lots of bareheaded drivers around random police checks do happen. Take it slowly and carefully and consider if you really have to drive at night — you might be sober but is everyone else? Ensure you listen to any advice about the condition of the roads and paths to your planned destination and make sure it’s current; roads change significantly after heavy rain. Thailand drives on the left, yet when turning right you will see many locals pull over to the left and wait for a clear path to cross. Some do pull to the middle of the road and this in itself can get confusing and feel very unsafe.
So what happens if you rent a bike and actually have an accident or dent or scratch your bike? Go get yourself cleaned up — hopefully any injury is minor — before returning the bike and simply being honest. Approach the situation with a calm attitude, smile and barter and like any other purchase you are likely to agree on a discounted rate. Get angry or abusive and you have no chance; remember you did the damage and you knew the potential costs involved. If the accident happens to be severe enough to land you in hospital then clearly you have more immediate worries. This is where you are likely to find the other insurance problem; there are not many travel insurance companies out there that insure lunacy. Don’t think that being hospitalised will get you out of the bike damage either; I have friends who’ve been visited by bike owners in hospital and they did not come with flowers.
Motorbike rental starts from 150 baht per day and it seems cheap versus the cost of taxis here. But do remember that there is a reason they appear cheap, and the daily rate often does not reflect the true cost in more than just monetary terms.
By Ayesha Cantrell
Last updated on 11th December, 2014.