I knew hiring a scooter on Ko Phangan was a bad idea…

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Years ago, in Vietnam, when we were on our first RTW, I had a go at driving the moped we’d hired. I got my twisting, pulling and pushing mixed up and mounted the pavement extremely inelegantly, scattering the picnicking Vietnamese family who were quietly enjoying their lunch. I hadn’t been near a moped since because I feared for my life and the lives of everyone around me. This post is about a bad experience with scooter rental on Ko Phangan, Thailand.

On Ko Phangan we were a little stranded, so I took my next, and last, foray into the world of scooter hire because there really wasn’t much by way of an alternative.

Read how we lost a lot of money, and just check the rules below before you make our mistakes.

moped ko phangan
it started so well…

UPDATE: This post is a personal account of what happened to us and not a directory of bike hire companies on Ko Phangan. If you are looking for the latter you need another site as I won’t be creating anything like that. The title should be sufficient to tell you that this is a story (in the first person) from our very early days of blogging, not information on bike hire. I will not be taking the post down, it’s part of our story and an important one. Losing that amount of money was a big deal back then, as it would be to most people on a 12 month RTW, and we had to modify our first year of travel accordingly. We are now on year 6 and I don’t think we’ve hired scooters since because there has been no need and we generally think it’s too risky. We’ve seen a lot of accidents in the last 5 years, in Thailand more than anywhere else. I DO have a license to ride a bike of this size, it’s covered on my full driving license, maybe check your own. We’ve had great times hiring cars in Thailand in the north and on Phuket, it’s what we prefer.

Our experience hiring a bike in Thailand

This morning, on Ko Phangan, I thought it was time to face my demons and have another crack at the moped thing. It can’t be so hard. Everyone here rides one, usually with babies, toddlers, sisters and grannies riding pillion.

I spent an hour practising, up and down our lane to Haad Salad Villa and went for a solo ride to Haad Yao, conquering the incredibly steep hills on the way.

Yesterday I published a post called Family Budget Travel. I clearly stated that I would never put my babies on the back of a moped. Well, that was yesterday.

We had a lovely family moped ride to Thong Sala

Riding a moped on Ko Phangan is really pleasant. There is nice scenery and interesting things to look at. The other drivers are very thin on the ground and considerate to bikes.

The boys enjoyed the ride and were great passengers, Boo and I were singing and having a lovely time. I was feeling really proud of myself for learning a new trick.

We pulled into Thong Sala and decided to stop for an ice cream at the 7-11.

This is where it went pear-shaped

Chef pulled into the pavement, I pulled in alongside him, both the kids hopped off.

For some reason that I will never understand, Chef reached over and tried to put my front brake on. I was stationary and about to take the key out of the ignition.

As he squeezed the brake he squeezed my hand on the ignition putting the bike back into motion. The bike and I mounted the pavement and I fell off.

I’ve bruised my knee and Chef has burnt a hole in his running shoes on my wheel (which will hurt him a lot, he loves to run).

We’re fine, the kids are fine but this is GOING TO COST US.

We’ve maybe damaged just about every panel on the bike.  We didn’t check it over when we picked it up – rookie mistake. I don’t know how much it will be yet, but it won’t be cheap. So much for saving money on transport by being self-propelled.

It could have been a lot worse

We were all wearing proper shoes and long trousers, they saved my knee and Chef’s foot. Everyone had helmets, although no heads were involved. Please take care.

Ours was a freak accident, we were ultra careful and rarely went above 20Km/hour and we still had a crash.

It’s hit us in the pocket but we’re all fine and I’ve learnt how to ride a moped OK. It’s a useful skill to have in SE Asia. The bikes cost us 150 Baht each per day. You couldn’t get a tuk tuk from Haad Salad to Thong Sala for that.

In conclusion I’d just like to say, IT WASN”T MY FAULT. Chef is totally to blame!


 Hiring a bike on Ko Phangan danger insurance

Hiring a bike on Ko Phangan check requirements, licenses and insurance.

They claimed that every scratch on the thing was down to us and saw us as a great opportunity to make money. Think about that before you hire a bike. I must say though, it’s about the only way to see the island, taxis, tuk tuks and water taxis are expensive, book the tour at the top of the page, it’s very affordable. There is no public transport and you can’t walk. Lesson learnt, never hire a bike unless they will offer insurance. I can tell you exactly where NOT to hire a bike on Ko Phangan.

The Law and Road Rules for Hiring a Scooter or Bike on Ko Phangan or in Thailand

  • You need a suitable bike license.
  • You need an international driver’s license or a Thai license.
  • You need to wear a helmet.
  • You need to be sober.
  • As a foreigner, you will take the blame, always.

So weigh it up. It’s great fun riding a bike in Thailand but their road death rate is shocking. I wouldn’t do it in a city, but I’d be tempted in country areas.

Make sure you have the right license and the right insurance. It’s easy to get. This is the travel insurance company we use. The same rules apply for car rental in Thailand, we’ve enjoyed driving around northern Thailand and Phuket, just because they don’t ask for a license, doesn’t mean you’re not required to have one and you will be at fault if you need to claim.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

35 thoughts on “I knew hiring a scooter on Ko Phangan was a bad idea…”

  1. I spent 4 months in Koh Phangan back in 2006. Like you said it’s not easy to move inside the island without a bike, especially if you want to discover the place, So after a couple of weeks, I rented a scooter. Never had driven this before. Had no licence at all, no insurance, I was drunk driving at least once a day, I mean totally wasted, and I pushed the little beast above 110 km/h, with no helmet of course. I’ve only had 3 minor incidents with no consequences on the bike, the only thing that cost me is when I lost the key at some beach party. Oh I also almost died once but some cool girls I knew from the bars drove me back on my bike.

    I’m going back next week and yes, I will rent a bike again, considering the pros and cons:

    – It’s cheap.
    – It is really pleasant driving this thing on this beautiful island, great sensation of freedom.
    – It is ultra convenient. Just take a look at some videos on youtube of people riding from there to there on their bike, there’s like 10 bikes for 1 car. And no traffic.

    – It can cost you a lot, money and your health.

    Being 12 years older, I will wear a helmet this time and will go more slowly.

    Last advice: do not go to the Full Moon Party with your bike! I repeat: do not go to the Full Moon Party with your bike. You will get drunk.

  2. There’s some good advice to consider here, and in the comments too…. some more useful than others and somewhat entertaining! I’ve never driven a moped and wanted to read the details of the experience. Here on the Greek island of Crete, a scooter can be rented for 15โ‚ฌ a day (that’s what the sign says; there are probably extra fees).

    When I’m driving my car, scooters sometimes surprise me by pulling up quickly in between the lanes, rotating slightly in order to avoid wing mirrors; something I don’t envision myself doing if I were to rent a scooter. I have a friend here my mom’s age (in her 70s) who is getting a scooter soon! Definitely some crazy riders out there but they don’t all have to be.

  3. You all might be interested to know that, on average, 2 people die every week in road accidents on Koh Phangan’ most of them being motorbike riders. Only 3 or 4 days ago 2 girls (1 dead and one gravely ill) crashed into the cliff face on the twisty road that you mentioned around Had Yao. My advice is learn to drive a motorcycle before you come to Koh Phangan and risk killing yourself. The roads are extremely busy in high season and during the full moon parties and very dangerous!

  4. A ripoff for Motorbikes is the first shop on the lefthand when you arrive with Songserm next to the roundabout. It is called BOW. They betrayed a lot of tourists with the scratch trick and slapped them if they dont want to pay. police cant help you. dont give your passport to them! I want to warn everyone who goes to Koh Phangan from this motorbike / scooter rental named BOW!

  5. Thanks a million for getting back to me so quick, really appreciate it! I’m not sure if he’s still here, we just got here today but I’ll do some digging around

  6. Hey,

    I’m travelling with some friends and we’re actually in the exact same villa you were in and thinking of renting a bike but obviously don’t want to rent off somewhere with a bad rep, could you recommend somewhere good or even where not to go, it would be a big help, thanks!

    • All the bike rental places ( we think) and most of the shops are controlled by the same woman Sha. Or they were when we were there. I don’t think she’s particularly “bad” it’s just a fact of life, there is no insurance, any tiny, tiny scrape, you will pay for. Rent a bike from the owners of Haad Salad villas, they were great. Is Iam ( the big Burmese fella) still there? We spoke to a local a dive instructor, about what we should be paying for the bike repairs, his exact words ” Depends what size new TV they want.” She was reasonable with me in the end, but my husband could not get her to budge from some crazy price, don’t think she liked him ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. “You can’t walk” if you have functioning legs you can walk. You also need time. And walking on the shoulder of some of these roads has it’s own risk factors. But the truth is, You CAN walk. I walked to bottle beach, 4 hours from the pier. It was great.

    • Well yes, you could, obviously. My legs are extremely functional, far more than most. I spent 2 hours most days walking to and from the shops in the next bay, mostly just for something to do and a bit of exercise, it’s a nice walk. But to see the whole island on foot would involve lugging your packs from place to place with you and would take days. Or, to walk to say, Thong Sala and back, if you need supplies, would take a full day, its not a small island.

  8. I am wondering if you can rent these bikes with your credit card and use the insurance that comes included with your card, I usually do this when I travel just in case I have an accident? Is this an option in Asia?

  9. I love riding mopeds and touch wood nothing bad’s ever happened to me yet! It’s always at the back of my mind though when I see other people injuries!

    Best wishes, Kate

  10. Glad to hear that everyone is ok! I once crashed my moped when travelling in Greece (that’s what happens when you confuse the break and accelerator!) and had nasty cuts all down one leg for the longest time. Next near-accident was travelling on the back of a motorbike in China. I have now been put off two wheels (apart from the bicycle kind) ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sorry to hear that Katja. My husband has been riding bikes all his life and it was HIM who caused our accident, stuff happens!! It worries me loads putting the kids on the back of a bike, but sometimes I need to break out of my comfort zone. They had lots of fun.

  11. So many travelers hop on motorbikes without a second thought when they reach Asia and the results really can be catastrophic. While we were in Pai, we saw so many tourists wandering around with huge cuts and gashes on their faces and body and some even had casts and slings on too. One night at the market we witnessed someone unfamiliar with his bike do a similar thing to you, though in his case he ran right into a springroll vendor and destroyed her stand. One thing you might consider is seeing if there’s somewhere on the island you can get the bike fixed yourself as it might be cheaper than whatever the place you rented it from will charge, but I don’t know how feasible that will be on Ko Phangan. At least no one got seriously hurt, that’s the most important thing!

    • I know Steph, and the way they drive them and what they wear is ludicrous. Usually gap year kids, groups of boys are the worst. I’ve seen a lot of accidents and even more burns from the exhaust pipe. Scooter hire is really the only way to get around Ko Phangan though, there’s no public transport on the taxi drivers know you’re stuck.

  12. OH NO! Haha this reminds me of when I was 12 riding a bicycle and my friend and I thought it would be fun to hold each others handles of course completely crashing into each other.. We were 12. Great job Chef lol!

  13. Too funny. Glad you got back on one and the kids enjoyed it too. I rented one in Koh Samui about 20 yrs ago and had a blast, but it was just me.

  14. Hey Al, don’t give up on the mopeds. Why do men have to interfere? They can never believe, somehow, that women ARE capable human beings, can they? Sorry for your hurts, physical and financial, though.

    • Hi Kate! I was just thinking about you. Tough stuff you and I, we both keep plugging away. He meant well, he’s just a bit lacking in the brain department. He accepts full responsibility , so that’s something. Look after yourself! Ax

  15. I’m glad you’re all ok – this could have been so much worse. I’ve never gone as far as hiring a moped – put off by seeing all those tourists with bandages on knees and elbows. But my guide took me all over Kathmandu on the back of a motorbike – I worked on the basis that he didn’t want to fall off any more than I did, and enjoyed it after the initial wobbles.

    Will you get back on? (Think I know the answer to that!)

    • You bet I got back on Jo! We went in the opposite direction later in the afternoon and found ourselves some elephants. Loving it!!!

  16. Ha–I can totally relate! I, too, am 2-wheel challenged and have accepted that its just not something that I’m good at. Luckily our kids are still small enough (6 &7) for all of us to fit onto one scooter :). Glad you are ok.

    • Jess, I just clocked the title of your last post, that’s exactly what I posted about yesterday. How much cheaper it is to not pre book accommodation. Although a lot of people are turning up here today in Haad Salad with the Ko Phangan full moon party just two days away and finding that all accommodation is full up. We have a hammock on our veranda, we’re thinking of sub-letting!

  17. I was laughing out loud at the first paragraph with the family, glad everyone’s okay, even if the wallet is bruised ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Arghh posted too soon. I am so golad you weren’t hurt badly. Maybe they won’t charge you?? I crashed in Pai (I need to write that one out, its hilarious) right into the office I rented from and they didn’t charge me a dime.

  19. Did you not ride mopeds around Laos?? That was the best place for them. We spet 3/4 of our time in VangVieng on them:)

    • No, we had push bikes there. I was still to scared to try it with the kids there. All this sea air and relaxation at Haad Salad has chilled me out enough to give it a go!

  20. So, guessing this really is the last time you go near a moped?! Glad you’re both ok, even if wallet isn’t ๐Ÿ™‚

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