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Motorcycle Tour - opinions wanted

Posted by MADMAC on 8/5/2014 at 23:56

I am considering starting a little motorcycle touring company out here, doing the Mekong route from Mukdahan north and from Mukdahan South. Since I know these roads well, like to ride, and speak Thai well enough to get around, I am thinking it could make a little money and be fun at the same time. I am thinking two bikes (I don't want a big group) and doing relatively short legs of an hour or two driving every day and then letting the customers ride around or walkk around the area at each stop. That Phanom, NKP, tha Uthen, Nong Khai, Loei, Udon, Khon Kaen and back. Do you guys think there would be interest in this? Is marketable?

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Posted by neosho on 9/5/2014 at 01:16

I think you would draw a lot of interest in something like that. You would want to make the trips in a loop so as not to cover the same areas twice. Work on it.

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Posted by MADMAC on 9/5/2014 at 01:37

That's why I was thinking of coming back down via Udon and Khon Kaen - so as not to ride the same road twice.

Do you think it should all be pre-booked or should I rather (as I would prefer if I were a customer) simply provide the motorcycles and guide them and let them decide for themselves (with my help, advice) on where to sleep and where to eat. Package deals are more expensive, whereas if I rented out the bikes and my person for 50 USD a day (minimum two customers) and let them decide do they want high end or low end accomodation, street food or high end restaraunts, and so forth then it would be cheaper for them and more accomodating to their own tastes. But, of course, some people want to just show up and have everything pre-arranged so they don't have to make any decisions in an unfamiliar environment. Thoughts?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 9/5/2014 at 03:51 admin

If you're going south as far as Khon Kaen, then I'd continue south via Phimai to take in the Khmer period ruins there and across Surin/Si Saket then make your way back up to Mukdahan. Lots of good stuff in the sticks around Udon too.

Difficult to say which way to tilt it as think both approaches viable, but will be trickier to do both. If you're offering a full packaged deal then you need to do all the reservations etc, which will cost you money -- so you'd need the cash up front, while the latter not such a big deal. Also if you're accompanying them, that's putting your head above the parapet re acting as a tour guide ... worth mulling over that bit.

I met some cyclists recently who did a "package trip" out of Chiang Mai, where the package was a map and a notebook. The map was fully annoted lots of tips on great back roads, where to stay, web addresses, telephone etc etc etc but the guy selling it didn't actually accompany the trip -- he just sold the package.

I can't remember the exact cost, but it was hundreds of dollars -- I almost fell off my chair, but the cyclists thought it was excellent value. That's another option perhaps worth considering.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 9/5/2014 at 04:06

Need a big deposit if u dont ride with them. You could perhaps offer both guided and non guided tours.

I would also start the tours from nkp cause it has an airport.

I would also offer a southern tour with the phanom rung ruins and khong chiam.

I would join motorcycle forums and other travel ones. I think gt rider has a forum.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 9/5/2014 at 04:08


Cm attracts a lot of gullible tourists.just off the plane.

MM is targeting a diff mkt.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 9/5/2014 at 06:39

I also think u need 3, 5, 7 day options. Some people just want a taste of things and dont have much time. Longer tours would req more storage space on bikes.

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Posted by MADMAC on 9/5/2014 at 07:50

Thanks for the feedback.

Since this would be a small venture and I live in Muk and not NKP, unfortunately NKP is not viable (though certainly people can fly in there and take the van down - it's only an hour). I have space to store a couple of more bikes. I don't want it to be a big group. They get unruly and it's like herding cats.

The negative is as Stuart indicated - if I am with them I have to ensure they behave themselves. I will most definitely have an opt out clause for those boys or girls who can't behave and have to be sent back to Bangkok without their supper.

I agree with Leonard different lengths are a good idea.

Thanks for the feedback guys. Appreciate the ideas.

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Posted by gecktrek on 9/5/2014 at 23:25

as someone who regularly rents motorcycles in different places, i prefer to rent and plan my own routes sans guide, i do however like the input of the local renter on suggested routes, things to see while on that route and english maps (a phone contactable translator would be good idea!)... personally, i am not prepared to spend more than $10/day (in asia) on the bikes/scooters themselves... in vietnam, the easyrider crowd charge $60/day to be a pillion passenger (sacrilege!) and never seem to be short of customers... but i think you have a great idea though!

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Posted by DLuek on 9/5/2014 at 23:28 TF writer

I definitely think there would be interest and that it's marketable. You could probably find a fair amount of customers through Google alone if you were able to build a decent site and successfully target keyword phrases like "Motorbiking Thailand" and "Motorbiking Mekong Thailand".

Regarding whether to do package or more independent style experiences, you might want to offer a few different options. For example, "high-end package", "low-end package" and "independent package", but then you also have to decide if you'll include things like food and beverages. Logistics can be a pain when arranging package tours, though probably less-so in Isaan I'd imagine.

It's good advice to really mull over the idea of being a tour guide. It's similar to being a waiter at a restaurant as in you have to do everything you can to take care of a group of individuals for a certain period of time. But as a tour guide, you're literally stuck with those people for hours or days. People are unpredictable -- some are really easygoing but others have all sorts of weird particularities and expectations -- so don't expect it to be a walk in the park every time. Also keep in mind that it's technically illegal for foreigners to lead tours in Thailand, and Thais are only legally allowed to do it if they've passed a rather grueling guide license course that currently costs around 40k baht and lasts for around four months. If you don't have a licensed tour guide plus insurance and a registered tour company, there could be liability issues to consider. Starting a licensed tour company requires leaving a 100k baht deposit with the government for however long the company is open (that's if started by a Thai national -- I'm sure there are other hoops for foreigners).

My girlfriend runs a small tour company with a food and culture tilt in Bangkok, and from personal experience, businesses like these can take on lives of their own. At first it seems like a fun and fairly easy way to share your passion for a place, but there's a lot more to it than that. For example, the management side takes consistent time and effort answering emails and arranging things for a given tour. You'll get "know-it-all customers" who will inquire by saying "I want a customized tour to the riverside market in Nong Khai, the chedi in That Phanom, a mountain temple, some obscure national park and time spent learning about northeastern Thai food, so how much will this cost and what's included in the itinerary?" You'll also get stingy people who feel they should get a guided tour for no more than 1,000 baht per day.

I'm not trying to discourage you because it is a really good idea and I'm sure you have the know-how to make it happen. Having met you in person, you also seem friendly and knowledgeable enough to be a good tour guide. Just be realistic that it could turn into more work and stress than you might anticipate. Also keep in mind that people booking tours expect a "service" and will have certain expectations just like if they're going to a restaurant or spa, so you really have to be "service-minded" (not to mention extremely patient) to be successful. If you want a more casual sort of thing I'd just offer day trips around Muk by laminating a little flyer and dropping it at the guesthouses in Muk, offering a little commission to the hotel of course.

Have you ever thought of offering motorbike rental in Muk? I couldn't any last time I was there.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 9/5/2014 at 23:35

Sounds like a whole lot of hassle. The problem i see is Muk gets few tourists and with only 2 bikes income wouldnt be a lot considering all those tour guide fees. Might just be giving money away.

Might be easier to just offer bike hire plus put together guidebook of region with tips which u could print out and Id if i went.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 9/5/2014 at 23:39

How many farang tourists visit Muk each month would u estimate?

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Posted by neosho on 10/5/2014 at 01:59

Just start with the bike rental and maps/guides. If it's working for you, then keep growing and developing it. If not, you haven't wasted a lot of money. That way you will learn what people are looking for. Otherwise you might shoot for a market that doesn't exist in your area. That's the way we did our shop.

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Posted by MADMAC on 10/5/2014 at 06:06

"Have you ever thought of offering motorbike rental in Muk? I couldn't any last time I was there."

The Honda dealer quasi across from the Picking Cowboy now has rentals. But they're Honda Waves of course.

"How many farang tourists visit Muk each month would u estimate?"

A handful. Maybe 30. Not many. To make this work, they would have to be coming here for that purpose. That means internet marketting.

Thanks to everyone for the replies. A few things to mull over there.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 10/5/2014 at 07:06

Hard to attract people without a big attraction that interests them and no airport. The sort of person who.might do this can fly to khon.kaen, udon and hire a bike and hit the road. Is there is big bike rental place in.nkp?

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Posted by exacto on 10/5/2014 at 12:40

I'd guess a Mekong Motorcycle Tour might be a reason to visit Mukdahan by itself. Plus, with the bridge there, you definitely have people crossing back and forth to Laos. I think what might really set you apart is that you are talking about renting real motorcycles as opposed to Honda scooters. I'd make the extra effort to get to Mukdahan for a real motorcycle rental. Plus, the town and the region are a draw for the off-the-beaten-track crowd, which is who your market would be anyway.

I think DLuek had solid suggestions about a high-end, low-end, and independent option. I'd also suggest that when you are working with the public in general, rather than saying "what do you want", give them two choices and let them pick from that. Two routes. Two restaurants. Two hotels.

Would it be worth it for you to start just as a motorcycle rental shop with a few bikes and build the business model from there? Apart from internet, are there any central places in Mukdahan like guest houses, restaurants, pubs, etc. where you could advertise to pick up last-minute business?

Good luck!

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Posted by Tennouji on 10/5/2014 at 21:42

I think the advice to start off by hiring a couple of bikes and getting feedback from customers about what they did/didn't enjoy and what they wished they could have done or seen would be a great way to start.

If people are passing through on the way to and from Laos then you already have the word of mouth potential to give people a reason to hang around for a few days. You can then invest and expand when you have a better understanding of your market. I'm not sure that a "high-end" version would attract that many people but some kind of home-stay and dinner with friendly families en route would be popular, I think.

As for guiding yourself, aside from needing the service-minded qualities as mentioned above, you could get burned out by trying to be all things to all kinds of people and get bored pretty quickly of doing the same circuits.

I once knew an Australian who ran a bush camp and he was burnt out after three years. Of course, it was more full-on but he was under the illusion he had to entertain the guests all the time and constantly worried about whether they were enjoying the experience or not. He also wasn't very good at listening to his customers and would get annoyed if someone insisted on hiking the most popular and touristy route rather than the ones he considered better. He was also touchy about criticism so got a reputation for being a grouch which I'm sure contributed to the business' decline!

A friend who runs tours in Japan offers two services: one where the customers travel alone but receive all tickets and hotels booked for them and receive an info pack with lists of attractions and restaurants, maps and a phone number for emergencies. The other is a small group with a guide who goes from place to place with the group and then encourages the guests to explore the destination on their own with the option of meeting up for dinner and drinks in the evening. Of course, the guide will accompany those who do want to be guided all day! Both services are about equally as popular.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 11/5/2014 at 00:12

I doubt high end customers r even looking at Issan. 600 to 1000 baht gets u a good 3 to 4 star room out that way. Hardly any 5 star type hotels in Issan.

Biggest prob is attracting people as its well off the beaten path.

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Posted by MADMAC on 11/5/2014 at 01:11

Leonard is right. I am reminded of a line from the movie city of Ghosts:

"It could use a fresh coat of paint?"
"The whole country needs a paint job. But then, that's part of its charm."

The big reason I think acting as an escort (vice guide) is language. Out here, english doesn't get it done. It just doesn't. And that can be pretty initmidating for people. You're driving along, you're in Tha Uthen, you want to stop at a local restaraunt to get something to eat... or ask directions... or anything and you can't communicate. Of course most people know they can manage to figure it out, but for a lot of people it's intimidating. Also, finding the things worth seeing, while certainly not difficult, is a lot easier when you're riding with someone who already knows there they are.

In my minds eye, conceptually I would take them to something interesting (if they wanted - we would of course talk about it prior to departure of each leg). And then give them a chunk of each day to wander around a bit on their own. We could go eat together or not if they preferred to loan wolf it. I don't intend to babysit people, but rather give them some additional leverage so they don't feel like they're in deep water without a life preserver.

I would only do this once a month. No walk ins. It has to be planned. I already teach dance and train and fight. After I get my black belt I plan to reduce my training schedule a little bit, but I will still compete as long as I can. So this won't be a full time deal. It has to be marketable over the internet.

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Posted by fondo on 11/5/2014 at 05:13

It's a good idea. Works for a niche market. Remember your language skills only work for them when you are there. If they want to go it alone you will need to provide suggestions, reviews, maps etc otherwise you have nothing to sell.

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