Renting a bike in Phuket is cheap and the ride’s adventurous and fun. It’s a surefire way to dodge the busy city traffic and get to your destination quick and easy. Once out of the city limits, throttling on the hilly roads is thrilling with the sea wind on your face. Although I would recommend a helmet and some basic riding skills just so that you don’t end up banging yourself and someone else’s party 😉 .
Renting a bike in Phuket – What went wrong
It was around 4.30pm when we were back in Phuket town after a full day riding around Kata and Karon beach on our rental bike. We had an awesome day riding on the hilly roads. As I slowly dragged my automatic scooter to the roadside parking targeting a narrow space between a bike and a parked Honda city, the impossible happened in a flash. I heard a split second rev and the bike just flew ahead from beneath my legs uncontrollably like a raging bull. I tried my best to bring it under control grabbing it by the horns with all my might, but all my countermeasures failed miserably and the raging beast crashed on the parked Honda City before coming to a dead halt. We knew in an instant that the fun part of renting a bike in Phuket was over. What followed next was a marathon 4 hours of dead-end negotiations, lots and lot of discussion or more of arguments and finally police intervention. I am so glad that we agreed to call the police on our first chance. You’ll see in a bit why!
Back to the crash, it took me few seconds to gather my senses and figure out the situation. Maybe while I was pushing the bike, I accidently twisted the gas knob that transformed our little red riding hood into a raging monster. Whatever be the reason, it was done. I saw a long scratch on the Honda City spanning the back door but the bike itself was fine with just a minor scratch to one side. The majority of the damage happened to the Honda City. There was no one near when we crashed so we decided to wait. It didn’t take the guys long to come running. We just stood their silent and waiting for the next chapter to begin.
The build up
So the guy came and started inspecting the car and the bike. I narrated the whole incident in a single breath. Then few more guys came. They started discussing among themselves. The only word I could understand was “Farang”. Although technically I’m not a Farang in Thailand 🙂 . Two mute spectators watched silently as a heated conversation went on between the owner and his friends, all this time cursing ourselves for not following the world of advice on Trip Advisor and other online forums on renting a bike in Phuket. With each passing minute, our belief that a big compensation amount was on its way was getting stronger. Which is what exactly happened after about 30 minutes. The guy came back, showed me all the dents and scratches once again before pitching in with a demand of 30,000 THB as compensation. We were expecting something similar so it didn’t knock us off our feet. Rather we were prepared for the situation.
The life saver
I did some usual routine online research before our Thailand trip. I found a great piece of information on a Trip Advisor forum which I remembered clearly that day. The cars are mostly insured which covers the expenses of an accident. So even if the owners demand a huge sum as compensation, most of the time it’s a bluff. Actually, there was another piece of advice too. Tourism is a major contributor to the Thai economy and the government in the right place is pro tourist. So if they threaten you with police action, there’s no harm agreeing to it. Now it’s a known fact in Thailand that even the police on patrol are not really clean and they too have a take. We could easily tell this from our own experience. But once the police get involved, at the least you are guaranteed of physical safety. And being a farang couple surrounded by 10 local angry guys, safety did become our number one priority then. I very clearly remember this valuable piece of advice and which is why we gladly agreed to when they threatened police action.
So the marathon session for negotiations started. At first, they were like not a penny less than 30,000 THB. I asked the owner to show me the car insurance papers, which was such a lame attempt. They only understood the part of our English that included the word money in it. But I could distinctly see a different expression on the bike owners face. He was kind of frustrated with the initial demand and most importantly he was smiling while talking to us which gave us a good reason to stand our ground. I could clearly tell that the bike owner was not in the group and neither was he supporting their claim but at the same time he could not say anything against them. After gathering some much-needed courage I blurted out – only 5000 THB, or you can call the police. Next, we heard was a bang on the car roof and off he went for the second round of discussion with his gang. Another anxious half an hour, the car owner came back and quoted 25000 THB this time. Straight discount of 5000 THB.
Our biggest mistake ever while renting a bike in Phuket
Our biggest fear during this whole ordeal was not the money itself but our “passports”. Yes! It’s a common practice that the owner keeps your passport as collateral when you rent a bike from the road side. At that moment it didn’t seem like a big mistake but when I look back at that incident now I can’t help but laugh at my own stupidity. I would never trade my passport for anything today. I mean literally anything. You learn so many things while you travel and this is the one chapter that’d remain bookmarked in our brains forever. The guys had our passport and thus the upper hand. But they never showed an aggressive attitude. Probably because I had a lady with me (thanks to the lady pirate). They were adamant on the price but at the same time maintained their distance and a low voice tone. We stuck to our end of the bargain while they stuck to theirs. Almost 3 hours passed this way with no visible sign of a solution coming up. Finally, after another round of discussion, the guy came back to us and threatened police action. I was so relieved he finally agreed to call the police. I knew I’d have to pay anyway but at least we’d be safe now.
So he made the call and after about 30 minutes the patrolling officer showed up in aviators. He did a quick inspection of the vehicle and checked my driver’s license. Nothing was wrong there. I narrated my end of the story, how much I was willing to pay and waited for the final verdict. The officer continued his discussion with the group on the other side. They had some pretty heated discussion among themselves for another half an hour or so. Finally, the officer came back to me and as expected said – “5000 THB is too less. It won’t cover the repair costs”. When I reminded him to check the car insurance, he took another 5 minutes and then – “7500 THB, final”. By this time, it was already getting dark. We agreed on 7500 THB. At the same moment, I heard two loud bangs on the car roof. Somebody was definitely pissed off with the final amount. I paid the cash, the officer returned back our passports and off we dashed to our hotel.
I must say here that even after all that happened we didn’t feel the real gravity of the situation until we were back in the hotel. Once safely locked in our room, we started browsing the internet for similar incidents like us. To our surprise we found so many where tourists had real nasty experiences, even getting physical, kidnapping and other horrible stuff.
That moment we just saw each other in the eyes and realized the potential of what could have happened, what a big mess we walked in and out. Could have easily been another episode of Banged up Abroad. The self-realization gave us goose bumps for a long time and we thanked the almighty for returning us safe and sound.
5 Things you should consider very seriously before renting a bike in Phuket
We did some really stupid mistakes that day while renting a bike in Phuket and I learned a lesson pretty quick and never to forget again. If you have read through our ordeal above, don’t miss the 5 really important points you should consider before renting a bike in Phuket.
1. It’s always best to rent bikes from the hotels where you are staying. This might not work for all the hotels. Ours had none. But if you have the option please go for it. You might have to pay around 100 THB extra but remember from our experience – 100 THB is nothing compared to 7500 THB. Also, the vehicles from the hotels are well maintained with proper paper works. The cost of renting a 125cc bike in Phuket from the roadside is around 200-300 THB/day (note: without an insurance) while from the hotel should cost you around 400 THB (with an insurance).
2. I would recommend doing a research before you arrive. Confirm with the hotel if they have their own rental. If not, consult the recent posts on Trip Advisor forums related to renting a bike in Phuket from external vendors. If you don’t find a post related to your query, create one. There are hundreds of people online willing to help, including us.
3. If you still decide not to follow advice 1 and 2 and save 100 THB on the rental. It’s fine. The risks are there but then so many tourists are already doing it. My only strong recommendation, in that case, would be to never ever deposit your passport for collateral. There’re vendors willing to rent out without passports. You might just have to spend an extra 30 minutes searching for them. You will have to pay a security deposit but that’s fine as long as you keep your freedom to travel back home. Also leaving your passports expose you to the rental bike scam. The shenanigans of bike rentals have ruined too many holidays already and you don’t want yours to add up to that list.
4. If by any chance you crash, or you get caught in a scam, call the police or let them call one if they insist. You might have to pay anyway but you will be safe with a police officer involved. A healthy farang is much better than a beaten to pulp farang. We never saw them getting aggressive on us but there are some sting videos on YouTube where you can clearly see the scam stars getting aggressive.
5. Finally ride safely. The traffic is bad and the roads are congested inside the city. My biking experience in Mumbai came real handy here. The traffic didn’t feel like a new thing. Bikers pass from both the sides. However, once you are out of the city limits the hilly terrain starts. It is here the majority of bike accidents occur. We saw a crash for real on the hills between Patong and Karon. The girl was wailing while the boy was lying flat on his back probably unconscious with the motorbike by his side. Just as we reached there the ambulance arrived. It was a pretty bad scene. Be extra careful when the road is wet. Thailand has a tropical climate and hence a lot of rain. The 125cc motorbike tires are too thin for a solid grip on a wet road at high speed. Don’t touch the front brakes on a 125cc while the road is wet. This YouTube video might make it crystal clear as to WHY.
We sincerely hope that this post will guide a fellow traveler some day to make the right decisions while renting a bike in Phuket. We did some pretty basic mistakes and we are baring it all so that you don’t have to.
Do write to us if you have any more information to make this post even more useful.
Signing off for now…..