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Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia forum

Four wheels good, two wheels bad?

Posted by somtam2000 on 19/10/2015 at 23:35 admin

From this week's newsletter,

A few years ago I was in Phuket enjoying a couple of cold drinks at a sunset viewpoint with my friend Jamie Monk. Jamie runs an excellent website to Phuket and over a Chang Beer or three we chatted about Phuket and what people like doing there. One thing he mentioned was that he had seen a lot of interest from his readers in hiring a car for their stay in Phuket. Phuket has a very broken and corrupt transport system and so it is generally a good idea to sort out your own wheels, but I'd always just hired a scooter. I'd never thought to hire a car.

Not a week goes past (it seems) without a new tragic story on Facebook of some unfortunate traveller who has had a scooter accident in Thailand (or elsewhere for that matter -- Bali is another favourite for this) and were either uninsured or their insurance company had refused to pay out because they were unlicensed or not wearing a helmet. Their friends and family are left appealing to Facebook to try and raise what can turn out to be tens of thousands of dollars for the required medical care and the transport to get them home.

Yes, of course car accidents happen too, but you're generally more likely to survive one. You're also more likely to have a license to drive one (hand up if you've ridden a scooter in Asia without a licence), and you're not required to wear a helmet (hand up if you've ridden a scooter in Asia without a helmet).

Both hands up? Read on.

Next time you're in the region, especially if there are two (or more) of you, perhaps consider renting a car. Yes, obviously it will cost more, but, well, not as much as you might think. Depending on the type of car and length of hire, you should be able to rent a small car from perhaps 800 baht a day (a scooter will cost 100-150 baht per day). It may be a bit steep for the solo traveller, but for two people it becomes more affordable, and, well, for a travelling threesome or families, more affordable again.

Costs aside, you're more likely to actually be licensed to drive one. You'll also keep dry in the wet season, be able to leave your stuff unpacked on the back seat for the entire trip and, well, have somewhere to sleep if the hostel is full. Driving in Southeast Asia might be a little more invigorating than in your home country, but you'll face that learning curve on a scooter too. Do it slowly and do it carefully.

In places like Phuket and Bali, where transport may be either ridiculously expensive (hello Phuket taxis and tuk tuks) or not really designed with tourists in mind (Bali!) renting a car to explore might be not as silly as it sounds. It is commonplace in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the States, so why not in Southeast Asia?

Would you consider renting a car for your travels in Southeast Asia? Why or why not?

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by Alfan on 20/10/2015 at 03:46

Why not... Safety is first, then follow by comfortable. Should be consider by travellers, even on minimum budget. Don't sacrifice safety only for reducing budget.

#2 Alfan has been a member since 27/6/2015. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 17

Posted by Yesterday on 20/10/2015 at 03:52

Have been considering hiring a car for our upcoming trip in Thailand. It seems like a good option.
One thing I wondered - are car break-ins common? Could we safely leave our stuff in the car at a national park parking lot and go off sightseeing for a few hours without too much worrying? (obviously not leaving anything tempting in plain sight)

#3 Yesterday has been a member since 9/8/2015. Posts: 33

Posted by craigthewedge on 20/10/2015 at 04:07

Ever since a pretty scary near miss on a scooter in Laos with my wife on the back, I've not been able to get on 2 wheels again. I often feel I'm missing out as hiring a car quite often just isn't an option. I'd be delighted if it became more available in SE Asia & would definitely take advantage of it. I know I'm not the only person who doesn't like bikes, especially amongst us older travellers. I'm surprised more enterprising folk don't offer quad bikes as an alternative. I've only seen them in 2 or 3 places recently.

#4 craigthewedge has been a member since 22/2/2012. Posts: 3

Posted by Gogomobile on 20/10/2015 at 06:42

Scooters are for 5km to 20km trips. They arent designed for serious road travel. So if you are staying in Kata and want to visit Patong a scooter is fine. If you want to explore the whole island get a car.

If you are a proper motorcyclist you hire a real motorbike not a crappy scooter.

#5 Gogomobile has been a member since 14/4/2015. Posts: 412

Posted by DLuek on 20/10/2015 at 07:32 TF writer

somtam: My only nudge is with the prices you've listed; in Thailand I've never seen rental cars for less than 1,000 baht a day, or motorbikes for less than 200 baht, unless you're talking vehicles born before I was. Most of the car rentals I've seen are newish Toyotas or Hondas starting at around 1,100 baht a day through small-time shops, up to around 1,500 through mainstream rental agencies. And then gas for cars costs way more than for motorbikes. Insurance is another concern; with a scooter the most you'd have to pay is around 40K baht if you trash the thing, but with a car you could be in deeper even if you dinging it up. I'd love to rent cars but since I usually travel alone (and when I don't it's usually in my partner's car), it's not financially viable for me.

Yesterday: My impression is that car break ins are not very common in Thailand. I personally wouldn't have a problem leaving my stuff in the trunk of a car at a national park.

craigthewedge: I can't really speak for other countries but rental cars are widely available in Thailand. Mukdahan is the only provincial capital I've been to where I couldn't find one. Virtually all airports have rental car booths and there are also many small-time rental car services.

Gogomobile: I agree with your premise but, nevertheless, 200 km in a day is my limit for a crappy scooter. Overall I've been impressed with the durability of these toy-like machines.

#6 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,346

Posted by MADMAC on 20/10/2015 at 12:04

I have yet to get this fascination with "scooters". Yes, Thais ride them a lot because they're cheap. But they also suck. I have ridden a motorcycle with a clutch and a decent top end since I have lived here, and am glad I have. I hate riding in cars and I hate driving them too. I like the feel of the wind, the smell of the environment, the freedom of riding. It's worth taking the risk - which frankly I have found manageable.

#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by craigthewedge on 20/10/2015 at 12:25

DLuek: You are quite right about the availability of rental cars. It's more when you just want some wheels for a day to go & find a remote beach or look round an island. It's then that the non-bike riders miss out a bit. Saying that, if we can afford it, it usually means we end up hiring a driver instead which means someone get's a day's work out of it. Also means I can have a beer or 2 so win win!

#8 craigthewedge has been a member since 22/2/2012. Posts: 3

Posted by gecktrek on 20/10/2015 at 16:06

hey, i always choose 2-wheels over 4-wheels, coming from australia the distances in sea are never very great, and there is always something of interest between any 2 places, the climate perfect for riding... imho, it's one of the highlights/lasting memories of visiting the region...

#9 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 178

Posted by kaercher on 20/10/2015 at 16:10

4 wheels, always.


In February, I met this Belgium girl in a Phuket hospital. Her boyfriend was being operated on after being badly injured in a motorcycle accident at an island (don’t remember the name).


He had to be ferried to the coast (no speed boat), and then transported by ambulance to Phuket. As I remember, the whole trip took around 10 hours. And the guy was in pain. They arrived at night, and he was only operated on the next morning.


Every time I think about that, I get a shiver on my spine.

#10 kaercher has been a member since 26/9/2009. Posts: 14

Posted by somtam2000 on 20/10/2015 at 16:27 admin

DLeuk - a quick Google took me to this mob in CM who do small sedans for 5,500 baht per week (there is one listed for 2,000 per week, but that must be a mistake), that's with "full insurance" (whatever that means.) and this is online, so probably find something cheaper wandering around.

Cost for gas, yeah sure bikes are more fuel efficient, but there are other advantages to a car.

Personally, like gecktrek I prefer a motorbike, but that is when just me. With a tribe, a car makes a lot of sense.

#11 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by Gogomobile on 20/10/2015 at 19:07

Manual scooters can be hired for 3000 baht a month so a 100 baht per day is possible. Normally 150 baht per day or more on short term basis. Busy touristy areas charge more. Some will charge 300 baht for auto.

Cars can be hired for 20,000 baht a month so less than 700 a day. Short term normally 1000 baht up.

Cars save you from rain and allow you to carry luggage and extra people so are best for long travel. Motorbikes are more for expats going for a few days.

#12 Gogomobile has been a member since 14/4/2015. Posts: 412


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