Although Koh Phangan is a relatively small island, most of the attractions are quite spaced out. Your taxi bill could skyrocket if you plan on an extended stay on the island. The cheapest solution is to rent a motor scooter from any of the local rental shops. The only question: is it safe for beginners to drive scooters in Koh Phangan? As a complete beginner myself, I would say yes!
Koh Phangan is a great place for a beginner to learn how to navigate the roads in Thailand. Compared to Bangkok and Chiang Mai there is barely any traffic. The roads are decent. (excluding some very dangerous mountain riding) The scooters are cheap and the locals don’t drive like professional motocross racers!
This guide is first and foremost for people who have never been on a bike before. It can be quite intimidating taking a scooter off the lot in Koh Phangan and not knowing how to turn it on. So we’ll focus on getting the scooter and how to ride it first. Then we’ll go into general safety and driving skills.
How to rent a scooter in Koh Phangan
This is the easy part. Before arriving I read so many articles about renting scooters. They all seemed to cover very basic concepts. Here I’ll try to cover in detail how to have fun, not look like an idiot and not die on a scooter. Let’s go over some rules first.
How Much is scooter rental in Koh Phangan?
This will vary but according to Koh Phangan Motor Bikes and Scooters, the average rate is 250 Baht per day. If you rent weekly or monthly you will receive a discount. I ended with a beautiful Honda for 100 Baht per day for one month! You will need to get gas. There are many small places that sell gas for 40 Baht a liter but there are many gas stations that you can get gas for about 29 Baht per liter. The cost of a scooter is a huge plus for a digital nomad on a budget like me!
Do I need an international license to legally ride a scooter?
Yes, you do need a valid license to ride. Do I have one? Nope. Next time around I would definitely get an international license. The fines are hefty (500 Baht). I have not seen that many police on the island except during the week of the Full Moon Party. If you are comfortable with the fine then take the risk. Of course, I’m not encouraging you to break the law, just that it’s an option. Also, be warned if you are in an accident without a motor scooter license your travel insurance will not cover anything!!
Should I leave my passport for a security deposit on my scooter?
NOPE! Do not leave your passport for with anyone! If the rental place will not accept a copy of your passport and a cash deposit then I would suggest heading to another scooter rental shop. A safe option is to just rent a scooter at your hotel or hostel. They all have access to scooter rentals and will already have a copy of your passport. Problem solved. My cash deposit for 1-month scooter rental was 4000 Baht.
How to survive that first start-up and ride
If you don’t know what scooter to get, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The rental person should be able to fit you with a bike that is for a beginner and for your weight. Just let them know you are a beginner. I’ve heard many rumors that some places will not rent to beginners but I have not seen this actually happen. There is so much competition for scooter rental I doubt anyone would want to miss out on a sale.
Let’s start the scooter and get cruising!
I’m not gonna lie I couldn’t figure out how to start the engine on my first scooter ride. Here are a few simple steps to get your scooter started and out on the road with confidence.
- Put your helmet on!
- Take an overview of the buttons and gauges on the scooter. The left hand has turn signals, lights, and horn. The right has ignition and throttle.
- Adjust your rearview mirrors.
- Walk the scooter back/forward until you are facing the direction you plan on driving and there is nothing in front of you.
- If the key isn’t in the ignition, go ahead and put the key in the ignition.
- Grasp the left-hand brake.
- Turn the key clockwise
- Use the ignition button on the right handlebar to start the scooter.
- Look both ways! Do this like 5 times, seriously.
- Once the engine is running, you can release the brake and slowly use the throttle to get the scooter moving.
- Get your feet on the bike, balance and get riding! If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle it is actually very similar.
- Don’t Die!!
That’s it you are now on the road cruising like Easy Rider.
Koh Phangan Scooter Rules of the Road
So how do you do that final step (Don’t Die)? Let’s cover some basic moto scooter while in Koh Phangan.
- Always wear your helmet! It will save your life. Scooter accidents are no joke and could ruin more than your trip. Just seriously put our helmet on.
- Wear sneakers. If you have to put your feet down to regain balance it makes it so much safer having a good pair of shoes to protect your feet.
- Wear Sunblock! I had a horrible sunburn on my thighs after my first ride.
- Stay left. The easiest way to avoid hitting anyone is to stay on the outside (far left) of the lane. Don’t drive in the shoulder.
- Use your turn signals! Also, do not forget to turn your turn signals off. The signals do not turn off by themselves and will confuse drivers if you have your right turn signal on for 5km.
- Normal braking should consist of mainly the rear (right hand) brake. Excessive force on the front brake can easily throw you off the scooter.
- I’ve found 40km/hr to be a good all-around safe speed. It gets me everywhere I need to go in a decent time and alive.
- Keep a raincoat or other weather protection in the seat trunk. Storms can arise quickly and you’ll need protection.
- Watch your rearview mirrors. People will pass you, just be prepared and stay in your line and you will be fine.
- There are many mountainous roads. Going up isn’t much trouble just remember you have to go back down. Be liberal with the braking and don’t over-brake and throw yourself off the bike. The mountains are by far the most dangerous roads on the island.
- Drive around potholes. You are not on an off-road vehicle.
- Slow down when driving over puddles and sand.
- Don’t drink and drive. I mean seriously. You are going to have a bad time.
- Always pay attention. Other drivers will stop randomly in the road, open their doors, let people out fo cars, fly by you on their scooters. Pay attention and be confident in your riding.
- You will eventually be brave enough to pass other drivers. Do it on their right.
Be confident and have fun on your scooter
Be confident, not cocky and you will have a wonderful time driving a scooter on Koh Phangan. As a total beginner myself, I feel this is a great place to learn to drive a scooter in Thailand. After a month on the island, I still don’t feel prepared for Bangkok traffic but I think I could manage Chiang Mai!
Did I miss anything?
I am a beginner rider. I don’t claim to know everything but I feel I have a good grasp of not crashing my scooter already. Did I miss anything important? Anyone have any advice they’d like to add? I’d love to hear it.