As an informed traveler, you have probably heard that Thailand holds the number 1 position in traffic deaths and accidents in the world. This fact is pretty evident for even the casual observer of Thai traffic culture.
So, should you rent a car and hop in to the traffic?
Sure! There are several benefits in driving yourself:
- Public transportation is somewhat lacking. Songthaews stop running at 10 PM the latest, and then there’s mostly just tuk-tuks available in some parts of town.
- You are in control. I, for one, feel much safer and more comfortable this way.
- Even the furthest bits are within reach. If you want to visit neighboring towns, or maybe go deeper into the sois behind the railroad, it’s easiest to do that by driving yourself.
Now that you’re hopefully convinced to jump behind the wheel or handlebar, you have to make a decision:
Car or motorcycle?
Most farangs you see here pick the motorcycle. While it is a economical and quite convenient, consider the pros and cons in both options:
Car is safer but more expensive, both in rental and fuel costs. Motorcycle is convenient in traffic jams and cheaper but less safe.
In a car, you are comfortably protected from rain and wind. In a motorcycle… not so much.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find a parking spot for your car. You can park your motorcycle pretty much anywhere.
Even the smaller cars comfortably seat at least four adults. Motorcycle comfortably seats two, even though you often see entire Thai families packed on a small Yamaha Fino.
If you want to go further, perhaps to visit neighboring towns, car wins hands-down. Only big motorcycles are comfortable enough for long-distance driving.
My recommedation is the car - safer, protected from the elements, can take friends along, better for driving long distances, and so on.
To drive a car or motorcycle, the law in Thailand - just like in other countries - requires you to have a valid permit, AKA driver’s license.
First thing you need to prepare is called an International Driving Permit or IDP. Basically, it is a small booklet containing translations of your national driver’s license in several languages. While sometimes you might get away with just your national driver’s license, it’s better not to take the risk of fines or more severe punishment if the police ever stop you.
Where to get the IDP varies by country - a simple Google search “international driving permit (yourcountry)” should give you the latest info.
When getting your IDP, make sure to get the 1949 version - this is the version Thailand (and many other countries) recognize.
Renting your vehicle
Now that you have the bureaucratic stuff out of the way, you can start looking for rental vehicle options.
However, I wholeheartedly recommend a smaller company, EasyCar Rental. The company is run by a British gentleman, they have a reasonable selection of different cars and competitive rental rates. Their offices are located quite far from the main road, but this is not an issue - you just tell them where you want the car delivered at what time, and they’ll bring it to you. Return is similarly easy, just tell them where to pick it up. Take note though, that cash payment is required, credit cards are not accepted.
No matter where you choose to rent your car from, I recommend picking a smaller car, like Toyota Yaris or Nissan Almera, unless you have a good reason to go for something like Toyota Fortuner. Smaller cars are much more convenient in the narrow sois of Hua Hin, and consume less gasoline.
You can expect to pay 700 - 1000 baht per day for smaller cars, and 1500 - 2000 baht per day for bigger models. If you rent for a long period - at least a month - the rental shops will usually give you a notable discount.
Pre-booking your car makes the process much smoother. Either manually browse through the offerings on the websites above, or use something like autoeurope.com or economybookings.com to find the best deals.
Finding a motorcycle to rent is not difficult - there are several rental shops in the “farang corner” area and the sois around it. Also many guesthouses have motorcycles available for guests to rent. If you are staying in a guesthouse, this is usually the easiest option.
For a small motorcycle, such as Yamaha Fino or Honda Scoopy-i, you can expect to pay around 100 - 200 baht per day. If you are not planning to drive very far, this might be all you need. Otherwise, you may want to rent a larger cycle or a car.
Make sure that when renting a motorcycle, you also get a helmet for yourself and any passenger you may take along with you. It is common to see the police stopping and giving fines to motorcyclists - farang and Thai alike - for driving without a helmet.
It is important to remember that the fines are pretty much the only thing the helmets from most rental shops protect you from. The simple, cheap styrofoam cups they give you will not prevent any head and neck injuries if you happen to fall down or crash into something. So take care and drive carefully!
Checks on rental vehicles
No matter if you decide to rent a car or a motorcycle, it is important to check the vehicle for any damages before signing the contract. Take a look at the bumpers, sides, seats and any other place susceptible for wear, tear and scratches.
Write down all you can find and take pictures if necessary. The rental agent probably gives you a document for this purpose, but if not, any piece of paper will do.
When complete, both you and the rental agent need to sign the document to confirm you both understand what condition the vehicle is in at the time you rent it. Have copies made for both of you. Make sure the document mentions that both you and the rental shop have their own copy.
Although I’ve never had any problems, it is always possible that the rental shop tries to deny you the return of rental deposit, or even try to scam you out of extra money for “repairs” when you return the vehicle. Better safe than sorry!
Off we go!
At this point, it is a good idea to save the rental agency’s phone number to your cellphone. If you get into an accident and damage your vehicle, you’ll need to inform them about the issue.
Very important thing is also to check what type of fuel the car or bike consumes. Ask the rental agent and write it down somewhere so you don’t need to guess when you are refueling for the first time.