The Ultimate Guide to Renting and Riding Vehicles in Chiang Mai

Looking to Rent a Vehicle in Chiang Mai? Wondering how much is a daily rental or if you need an International Driver’s License? We’ve got all the information you need to get you on the road.

Chiang Mai is a Mecca of backpackers, digital nomads, and retirees from all over the world looking to soak up the delicious Northern Cuisine, the affordable lifestyle, and the unmatched hospitality of the Thai people. Plus, there’s so much to see! From the hillside temple of Doi Suthep to the hippie haven of Pai— there’s something for everyone. And how will you get to these storied places? For those who enjoy their freedom— a scooter is an obvious choice. 

There are scooter rental shops EVERYWHERE and we know that renting a motorbike or car in a foreign country can be a daunting task. Lucky for you— we’re here to walk you through the entire process. Check out below our inside tips on quality rental companies and dealing with local authorities.

Article Contents

  1. What to Know Before Renting a Car or Motorbike in Chiang Mai
    1. To Leave Your Passport or To Not Leave Your Passport
    2. Short Term Vs. Long Term
    3. Photograph and Kick in the Tires
    4. 115CC, 125CC, or 150CC? What Does it Mean and What Type of Motorbike Do You Need?
  2. Where to Rent a Motorbike?
  3. Where to Rent a Car?
  4. Rental Costs (including Fuel)
    1. Motorbikes/Scooters
    2. Cars
    3. Petrol
  5. Fines, International Driver’s License, and the Joys of Dealing with the Local Police
    1. Wear A Helmet
    2. Get Your International Driving Permit
      1. Option #1: Get Your International Driving Permit
      2. Option #2: Get a Local Thai Driver’s License
    3. Local Police? Let’s Hear a Little More About Them
  6. Road and Traffic Conditions Around Chiang Mai
    1. Laws of the Land
    2. Driving Safety
    3. Road Conditions

What to Know Before Renting a Car or Motorbike in Chiang Mai

Before you start walking around looking for a Rental Agency— there are a few things you should know that will make your life easier. 

1. To Leave Your Passport or to Not Leave Your Passport?

Tip: Look for Agencies that Accept A Deposit + Copy of Your Passport. Avoid Places that Ask For Your Passport.

Some rental agencies require that you leave behind your passport while others will ask for a deposit & a copy of your passport instead. I don’t know about you, but personally— I avoid leaving my passport behind in a foreign country at all costs. 

If given the choice, I always choose to leave a deposit with a copy of my passport. I would say that 1000Baht is a standard and reasonable deposit for a scooter in Chiang Mai. A car deposit in Chiang Mai can be much higher— up to 5000Baht.

2. Short Term vs Long Term

Tip: The longer you rent the vehicle— The cheaper your daily cost will be. 

Remember to negotiate and shop around. If you’ll be in Chiang Mai for more than a handful of days, most rental agencies will drop the price if you ask so always ask!

3. Photograph and Kick in the Tires

Tip: Before you ever take the Motorbike or Car off the lot— Test Ride & Take Photos! 

While most companies are incredibly reasonable and you should never experience a problem— Foreigners have had issues with companies claiming that they caused damage that they did not. Protect yourself by photographing the vehicle and documenting any nicks and scratches that were there before you rented.  Also, test ride to make sure you’re comfortable and check that everything is working. 

4. 115CC, 125CC, or 150CC? What does it mean and which type of motorbike do you need?

CC stands for Cubic Centimeters of Cylinder Displacement and that’s about the extent of my knowledge of motorbikes. To put it simply, the higher the number– the more powerful the bike.

If you’re riding around the Chiang Mai and using your motorbike for day to day errands, all you really need is a 115CC. If you are planning on going to Pai and taking on the windy, mountainside roads, then you’re probably better off with 125CC or higher. Over 150CC, the motorbike stops being a scooter and starts being a motorcycle with all the fancy gears.

Where to Rent a Motorbike?

Take a look at our recommended Rental Agencies in Chiang Mai. 

Red Rides: Great, reliable, and affordable local rental agencies that rents cars and motorbikes. They’ll deliver your bike to you and do monthly check-ups for long term rentals.

Mango Bikes: A popular company with tourists. This is another great local company with tons of bikes to choose from that’s been around for a while. 

T Motor Rental Center: A great local shop run by a Thai woman on the West Wall of Old Town. They’re super professional with lots of bikes to choose from and reasonable prices. 

Where to Rent a Car?

Red Rides: Red Rides also provides car rentals at reasonable prices. They will deliver the car to you if you are renting for longer than a week. 

Budget Catcher: This is one of the biggest rental companies in Chiang Mai. They have very reasonable daily rates starting at 485Baht with a minimum of 2 Day rentals. The deposit is a little steep at 5000Baht but you can be rest assured that you are getting a great service. 

Locals: It is fairly common for local Thai people to rent their vehicle out. If you know any Thai person, ask if they have a friend who will rent their car to you for a day or two. The answer will almost 100% be yes. Some people may not trust this sort of arrangement but in my experience, I’ve never had an issue with renting from a local. They may show up an hour late to bring you the car, but that’s Thailand for you. Just take punctuality into account if you have a place you are trying to be at a certain time. 

Rental Costs (including Fuel)

Motorbikes/ Scooters:

Daily Cost: 200 Baht ($6 USD) 
Deposit: 1000 Baht ($32 USD)
If you are renting for a few days to a week, the rental company will usually drop the price to 150 Baht ($5 USD) a day. Monthly rentals can be as cheap as 60-100 Baht ($2-3 USD) per day. 

Cars:

Daily Cost: 500 Baht ($16)
Deposit: 3000- 5000 Baht ($32- $160USD)
The standard daily cost for renting a car in Chiang Mai is 500 Baht ($16 USD) and the deposit can range anywhere from 3000Baht to 5000Baht. Budget Catcher has a 5000Baht deposit but if you go with a local Thai person, you probably will only be asked for 3000.

Petrol:

30Baht ($1 USD) per liter on average,
There are all different grades of gasoline in Thailand so make sure to check with the rental company which gas you bike or car takes.

Fines, International Driver’s Licenses, and the Joys of Dealing with the Local Police

You may or may not have heard that Thai Police have daily check points and they LOVE to ticket foreigners. More than love, they are legally entitled to fine foreigners.

These fines are due the moment you are pulled over and will last you three days. This means that your ticket is sort of a temporary protection against the same fine. If you get a ticket for 500Baht for not having an International Driver’s License, you can show that ticket if you are pulled over again the following days after. Once that ticket expires, though, be prepared to be hit with another fine if you are pulled over again.

Here are some other things you should know before you rent vehicles in Chiang Mai:

1. Wear a Helmet! One more time for the people in the back. WEAR A HELMET!

We all know that the helmets in Thailand leave a lot to be desired BUT you should wear a helmet as a layer of protection in the possible event that you are in an accident. You may say, “But Locals aren’t wearing them, why should we?” We would say, “Just because the locals don’t wear helmets, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.”

If your own safety isn’t enough of an incentive, know that the Thai police have cracked down on tourists and locals alike. If you are pulled over for not riding with a helmet— You will get a ticket. So if your wallet can handle repeated hits of 500 Baht then by all means, take your life in your hands. 

2. Get your International Driving Permit (AKA International Driver’s License) or Local License

Oh yea. The local police will also ticket you if you do not have an International Driving Permit. Nevermind the fact that tourists can legally drive in Thailand with out an IDP for a month— Cops will ticket you regardless.

The fine is usually 500Baht for this offense. We have heard from long time residents that the fine should be 200Baht and if you argue with the cop on the issue, they’ll lower your fine to 200Baht. I have never had that kind of luck and I also don’t enjoy confrontation with foreign police so, for me, it was a no brainer. I got an IDP.

Ok. We know that foreigners get ticketed for not having an International Driving Permit so what are you options?

Option #1: Get An International Driving Permit

Where can you get an International Driving Permit? Your home country is a great option. But what if you already left and now you are having difficulty renting or you are worried about fines? Well, we got you covered. E-ITA has an online application with an option to print yourself at our local print shop in Chiang Mai. It’s cheap, quick, and easy. Guaranteed to work with local police and worth the money you save in fines. 

Option #2: Get a Local Thai Driver’s License: 

This is the more difficult of the two options. It will take you more than a month to complete the process. This option doesn’t make sense for someone only in Thailand for a short amount of time. You’ll have to go to the Immigration Office to get Your Certificate of Residency and a local hospital to get a doctors note before heading to the Thai Land Transportation Office.

However, If you have your heart set on getting a local license— Here’s what you will need.

What You Need For a Local Thai License
  1. Medical Certificate: Costs about 50-100 Baht at a local hospital. It’s a quick checkup that everyone passes.
  2. Residency Certificate or Work Permit: If you have a work permit then skip this section. The Land Transportation Office will accept this. If not and you need a residency certificate– Please Note that it takes 1 MONTH for a residency certificate to process. These are the documents you’ll need to take to the Immigration Office: 
    1. 2 Passport photos
    2. A copy of your rental agreement
    3. Copy of your TM30 Form with your landlord’s signature
    4. Signed Photocopies of all important and relevant pages of your passport
    5. Passport
  3. Passport
  4. Copies of all relevant pages from your passport. 
  5. Your Domestic Driver’s License and/or an International Driving Permit. If your license is not in English, you will need an International Driving Permit (International Driver’s License) to translate your domestic driver’s license into English. You can apply here. 
Other Things to Know About Getting a Local Thai License

NOTE: If you are applying for a car AND a motorbike license— you will need two separate applications with the above paperwork. Photocopies of the Medical Certificate and Residency Certificate are accepted for the second application. 

Finally after you have collected all of your paperwork, you will have to take a vision test, sit through an hour long safety course, then another 5 hour long training video, and finally a written test before you will be able to pick up your license. 

Deep Breath! A lot of work. If you are just in town for a short time— I recommend you settle on an IDP. If you have decided to get a local license— we also recommend getting an IDP to save yourself the fines while you wait for the paperwork to go through for your Thai license. 

3. Local Police? Let’s hear a little more about them.

As I mentioned before— local police set up daily checkpoints around Chiang Mai to ticket tourists and collect absorbent amounts of money from them in fines. The checkpoints are in touristy areas like Old Town or on the road to Pai. 

Before you say, well can’t I just set up a Facebook group to notify other unknowing foreigners like myself where the police are stationed that day? You may be surprised to find that posting the location of Thai Police is ILLEGAL. Tourist police and Immigration officials are in Facebook Travel Groups so rest assured your well-meaning post will be flagged. Your only options are to have the proper paperwork or pay the fine. 

Road and Traffic Conditions Around Chiang Mai

Laws of the Land:

Traffic is on the left side of the road in Thailand. Another important one to remember in Thailand and anywhere in the world is to not drink and drive. This is another issue that Thailand has cracked down on in recent years so keep that in mind. 

Speeding is also something that local police are cracking down on. If you make the drive to Doi Inthanon or to the Mae Sae Border at Myanmar to do an immigration run— Be aware that there are cameras looking for driver’s breaking the speak limit. The ticket for speeding is 500Baht. 

Driving Safety

I have found riding a motorbike in Chiang Mai to be relatively tame compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia. That being said, if you are a first time motorbike rider— riding in Chiang Mai can be a little intimidating. 

In most Southeast Asian cities, the drivers and riders follow the rules of Snowboarding. You make sure you don’t crash into anyone in front of you. Period. What happens behind you is everyone else’s business. What does this mean for you as a rider in Chiang Mai? People are just looking at what is ahead of them. If you are behind them, do not be surprised if you are cut off by another rider. They aren’t looking for you and that’s just the driving culture. If you know that and stay alert, you shouldn’t have a problem getting around the city. 

It’s also best to stay on the left side of the road if you prefer to ride slow. 

Road Conditions: 

The Roads in Chiang Mai are generally well paved. If you are in a more local neighborhood, there’s a much higher chance there will be potholes. Street lights are also rare outside of the major city areas. Street lights are even more rare in the country so limit the amount of time you drive/ride at night outside of Chiang Mai.

Also be aware that signs are written in Thai. Make sure to have Google Maps or Maps.Me downloaded so you can get around Chiang mai.

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