Hiring a scooter or motorbike on Koh Chang is a very popular way to see the island. Partly because it’s a fun way to do it and partly because public transport on Koh Chang is limited to ‘songtaews’ – which are white, shared pick-up truck taxis. They ply a route from the ferry piers down the west coast of the island to Bangbao in the south. It’s just a matter of flagging one down and hopping son. However, it starts to add up when you are taking several trips a day in order to see the island, and, with just a couple of exceptions, there aren’t any services down the East coast.
So if you want some freedom and want to see all the island has to offer, then renting a scooter is a great way to get around the island. However, it is important to bear in mind that there are lots of accidents here. often due to uneven road surfaces or sand and other debris on the roads. Care is needed.
The 115 or 125cc automatic scooters are cheap to rent. The go for 150 to 250 Baht / day (24 Hours). These will get you up the hills without any problems ( usually). It is possible to rent bigger bikes, there’s a place on White Sand beach that rents choppers and some rental places have 250cc off road bikes but there’s no need for them. Choppers weren’t designed for twisting, hilly rads and there are very few places when you’d actually need an off road bike. So, stick with the scooters.
As you’d expect, nothing is as straightforward as it seems and there are a few issues associated with renting a scooter on Koh Chang :
1) They’re too easy to learn to ride. All you have to do is have a sense of balance and use your right hand to twist a throttle. There’s no messing around with gears, a clutch or even a kick-starter – as they all start simply by pressing a button. Your feet don’t do anything and the brakes are in the same position as on a bicycle. This leads to people who’ve never ridden anything with an engine learning around corners or up hills whilst on Koh Chang. It’s not a good place to learn. Uneven and slippery road surfaces coupled with an above average number of mad drivers means that there are numerous accidents every day.
If you ride the length of the island on any day, chances are you’ll see an accident that has just happened. Often they aren’t too serious, just road rash, but serious injuries and fatalities do occur. So if you have never ridden a scooter before before and insist of doing so on Koh Chang, at least spend time getting used to handling the bike; cornering; using the brakes properly on flat roads before heading off to try your luck on the hills.
TIP: An easy way to spot someone who’s never ridden before is when they put their feet out when going round a corner or down a hill. With their flip-flops ready to be deployed as emergency brakes. That doesn’t work.
b) ID required. You’ll need to leave some form of ID as deposit. Many rental shops ask for your passport. If not then they’ll require some photo ID that you don’t want to lose. Finding a place that will only accept a photocopy is getting much harder. The reason is too many people are now having accidents. Someone rents a bike, has an accident, the bike gets smashed up. Everyone has heard stories of people having to pay crazy amounts for repairs to scooters so, if the rental shop just has a photocopy of your passport, it’s easy to cut short your holiday and disappear. It’s only when the bike isn’t returned to the rental agency on time that they discover that the renter has long gone. The police aren’t going to set up roadblocks; close the borders or alert Immigration or Interpol for a damaged bike ( It is getting harder get out of paying as the volunteer rescue guys post photos of the accidents they attend which show the registration numbers of the bikes involved. They’ll also notify the rental shop. )
c) Maintenance. Many scooters aren’t well maintained. The first two things you need to check on all bikes are the brakes and the tyres. It’s easy to check the tyres before you ride anywhere. Avoid any bike with skinny tyres and any that have worn tyres. Once you ride off, test the brakes, if they aren’t responsive, change the bike. If they aren’t working properly on the flat then chances are they won’t work well coming down a steep hill either. Checking the bike for existing damage is also another obvious thing to do before riding off. Most rental shops have forms where the renter will enter notes of any existing damage.
d) Fuel. The bikes use ’91’ gasoline. Fill up at a gas station – you’ll find them in Klong Son, Chai Chet and Klong Prao. Much cheaper than buying old whisky bottles filled with fuel from roadside stalls. At gas stations, you don’t put the fuel in – the attendant does. A new automatic scooter will do 50Km/litre. You can be sure that any fuel you don’t use will be siphoned off by the rental shop when you return the bike and sold to a future renter. As bikes are always rented with a near empty tank.
e) Helmets. Rental shops always provide free helmets when you rent a bike. It’s compulsory to wear a helmet whilst riding a motorbike in Thailand – although you’d never know it. On the roads on Koh Chang, it’s around 50/50 for helmeted and non-helmeted riders.
One reason is that enforcement is pretty lax. The only time the police will stop you is if they have a checkpoint set up, which happens every week or so. Then anyone not wearing a helmet is pulled over and fined 200 Baht. Fortunately, rental shops usually get advance warning and will tell you to wear your helmet as there’s checkpoint. Likewise, if there’s a checkpoint ahead, often Thai riders will pat their heads to indicate that you should put your helmet on and drivers will flash their lights – which is the international warning sign for police ahead.
h) Indicator lights. They are your friend. Don’t fear the flashing orange lights. Learn to love them and use them to warn other road users of your intentions. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of scootering and forget to indicate at corners or when overtaking. You’ll remember that you should have indicated a split second after you are sent flying by the pick-up truck that just hit you. Most Thai drivers aren’t telepathic, regardless of how many amultes that have on the dashboard of their vehicle. So they rely on riders giving them hints about when they are about to slam the brakes on and turn right. Your left thumb controls the indicators. Flick the switch to the left or right to activate them. Then press it to stop them after maneuvering. The indicators on a scooter aren’t self cancelling, like those on a car.
The headlights on the bike will be on all the time – don’t look for the off button, there isn’t one.
g) Insurance. You’re going to ask the rental shop if the bikes are insured. They will say ‘Yes’ . This is correct. The bikes are insured, they will have the legal minimum Third Party insurance. But it’s impossible to get Fully Comprehensive insurance for a scooter as there are too many accidents and that would bankrupt the insurer. So if you have an accident involving another vehicle it will be expensive. Bear that in mind that not only do you have to pay for repairs to the bike, but if you end up in hospital it will likely be in the super-expensive International Clinic which you’ll pray your travel insurance will cover.
But the chances are that your insurance doesn’t cover a scooter accident. Either scooters will be excluded in the small print or riding without the appropriate international motorcycle license will invalidate the insurance. Insurance companies will look for any way they can to avoid paying out. The rental shop isn’t going to check if you are licensed to drive a scooter or not. They don’t care.
Out on the road.
In general you need to look out for small potholes and uneven road surfaces, plus debris from trucks and sand on the roads. Even if you are going slowly it’s possible to a bike to slide on some corners and hills. More so when it rains.
But if you’re sensible and if you stick to anywhere on the east coast of the island or the road between White Sand and Kai Bae then you should be fine. There are no big hills to negotiate. The stretches of road where you need to be particularly careful when riding a scooter on Koh Chang are from Kai Bae down to Bangbao and from Klong Son to White Sand beach.
Between Kai Bae and Bangbao the road looks like a mini rollercoaster. It’s narrow, undulating with several very steep climbs and hairpin bends. When it rains the surface can get slippery and it’s near impossible to get down some hills without having an accident. And between Klong Son and White Sand beach, you have the ‘Big Hill’ so called because it’s a big hill which comes complete with hairpin bends; trucks belching smoke; slow moving traffic and people trying to overtake slow moving traffic around blind corners.
But rather than me bore you with descriptions of all the roads on Koh Chang. You can be bored by these videos instead. A real time scooter ride from the main ferry pier in the north east of the island all the way down the west coast to Klong Kloi beach in the far south of the island. Each video is around 10 minutes in length.
1) From Ao Sapporot Pier to White Sand Beach. There’s a small hill just past the ferry pier which will get you ready for the big hill that lies in wait just after you pass through Klong Son village. If you’re nervous then don’t ride up it when there’s a lot of traffic that’s just come off the ferry pier. Expect vehicles slowing to a crawl right in front of you and taking corners wide when they come in the opposite direction.
Click the links below for the other videos . . .
2) From White Sand beach to Klong Prao village. This stretch is on a wider road with no steep climbs. It’s just a mater of watching out for fellow riders and drivers doing stupid things whilst you’re passing through built up areas. If you crash anywhere on this stretch, take that as a bad omen and end your scootering adventure on Koh Chang.
3) From Klong Prao village to Lonely Beach. The road is still good all the way to Kai Bae. Once you come out of Kai Bae village you’ll notice that it narrows and goes into a steep climb up to the viewpoint – which is well worth a stop. From there you’re passing over the hill and dropping down to Lonely Beach. Probably the most hazardous stretch of road on the island is the hairpin bend on this section. Stop to allow traffic coming up the hill to pass as vehicles take the final turn very wide. If it’s wet be extremely careful on this section.
4) From Lonely Beach to Bangbao & Klong Kloi beach. Ride through the backpacjker’s paradise that is Lonely beach, south to sleepy Bailan and then it’s just a couple more kilometers on the rollercoaster of a road before you reach Bangbao. To see Bangbao, you’ll need to park your scooter at the start of the pier and walk along the pier. Scooter’s aren’t allowed on the pier – unless they happen to be ridden by local kids, ignorant tourists or lazy dive shop employees. The last stop is Klong Kloi beach, another kilometre or so past Bangbao on the south coast of Koh Chang. A popular spot with daytrippers and if the sky is clear you’ll be able to see as far south as Koh Kood.