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Top Safety Tips for Driving a Motorbike in Thailand

Driving a motorbike in Thailand might seem like a dangerous activity to some. But actually it is generally safe to do if you follow some precautions. It also is one of the most enjoyable activities that you can do in rural Thai provinces, such as Sakon Nakhon, where there are beautiful rural roads, with little traffic, which you can explore on your bike, discovering fascinating, out of the way temples like Wat Tham Kham, and roadside food stalls selling delicious Thai and Isaan dishes.

I have been driving a motorbike regularly for over 20 years, and (knock on wood) have not even had a close call on my various motorbikes. The main reason for my good safety record is that I am keenly aware that driving a motorbike in Thailand is different than in other countries.

Regardless of how much experience you have in driving a motorcycle back home, there are unique precautions you should take while in Thailand. This is, of course, especially true if you have never ridden a motorbike before.

So, please keep the following safety tips in mind when driving a scooter or motorbike in Thailand, and you will greatly reduce your chances of getting into an accident.

1. Beware of potholes filled with water

Roads in Thailand, especially rural roads, often have potholes that fill with rainwater. Any “shallow” puddle that you see on the road could actually be a deep pothole, one that could send you over the handle bars if you try to drive through it. So, pay attention to puddles, and if you can’t avoid them, pass over them very slowly.

2. Look both ways before passing through a green light

Never take anything for granted when it comes to the rules of the road when driving a motorbike in Thailand. Even though you see a green light, look both ways before passing through it, unless you are in the midst of a column of traffic. Be especially careful if the light has just turned green and/or if you are riding your motorbike at night (which should be avoided if you are a tourist).

3. Avoid taking a blind curve on the inside bike lane

As I mentioned before, you should take nothing for granted on Thailand’s roads. Thai motorbike drivers will sometimes take a shortcut by driving on the opposite side of the road along the bike lane area. This means if you are driving along the bike lane (or far left side of the road), you may unexpectedly encounter another motorbike driver coming your way, with little room to get out of the way, if there are any cars passing you to the right. You could also unexpectedly encounter a parked vehicle or person walking.

Therefore, take special care when taking a turn where you can’t see what might be coming from the opposite direction. When taking a blind curve, it is best to be on the left side of the road within the road lines, and not in the left side area outside the lines, where motorbikes often travel. Or if there are no road lines, be closer to the center of your side of the road, in case someone might be coming the opposite direction along the inside.

4. Keep your motorbike speed at 40-60 km/hr

Unless you are driving a big bike on a major highway in Thailand (which only very experienced motorcyclists should be doing), you should keep your speed at 40-60 km/hr — sometimes slower if you are traveling through villages or on bad, rural roads. This speed will allow you to better manage unexpected situations like potholes, dogs, water buffalo, or a driver traveling on the wrong side of the road. It also allows you to better take in the surroundings you’re passing through, and spot food stalls, shops, and temples.

Riding a Scooter

5. Avoid driving your motorbike at night

Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid driving your motorbike at night. There is rarely any need for a tourist to be driving a motorbike after sunset, as there are always other options, like taxis, tuk tuks, and motorcycle taxis (all of which are inexpensive). Driving a motorbike at night means that you have to take greater caution regarding everything that I’ve already mentioned, plus the increased risk of encountering a drunk driver — be they driving a car or motorcycle. Be extra careful of drunk drivers on weekends, holidays, and late at night. If you must drive at night, then try to be home by 11pm. The later you come home, the greater the risk of drunk drivers.

Diriving at Night Bangkok

6. Use your rear view mirror frequently

Keep an eye out for the cars and trucks that may coming from behind you. This is especially true when traveling narrow roads and rural roads. Watch out for trucks and anyone coming up quickly behind you at a high speed. Stay as far left as you can, when you spot a vehicle that may seem to present some added danger. And don’t attempt moving into the middle of your side of the road to pass anything, which might not allow sufficient room for these faster moving vehicles coming up from behind to pass you.

7. Wear a helmet

This safety tip for driving a motorbike in Thailand shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. However, some tourists are persuaded to ride a motorbike or scooter without a helmet (especially upcountry) because they see so many Thais riding without a helmet. Keep in mind that Thais have grown up on motorbikes and are way more accustomed to driving them in Thailand than you are. Plus wearing a helmet while driving a motorbike is the law in Thailand. So, reduce the risk of a head injury should you get into an accident or fall off your motorbike, and wear a helmet.

If you are a serious motorcyclist, and looking for material about motorcycling in Thailand, please check out our post on Grace McDonald and Sakon Nakhon motorcycling.

David Alan