I Drove a Motorcycle across Thailand for under $50 per Day. Here Is What I Learned (with Lots of Pictures).

Erik McDonel
Dec 18, 2020 · 9 min read

Hi, my name is Erik and I am an American expat living in Bangkok, Thailand. Since COVID is a thing, and travel between countries is currently difficult, I decided to take a 10-day motorcycle trip across Thailand during a break from my job. Here is what I learned, and what it was like.

Pick the Right Motorcycle

Maybe you live in Thailand and own your own motorcycle. Maybe you’ll fly in and rent. Either way, you’re going to want the right motorcycle. You’ll need a ride that you can comfortably sit on all day. That means the motorcycle must have an upright seating position, a wide seat, and a suspension that soaks up bumps (very important in Southeast Asia). Also, if the bike vibrates a lot or is loud, it will be too exhausting for this type of trip. Stay away from super-sport bikes (CBR1000R, GSX-R), dirt bikes, and Harleys. Go for a commuter motorcycle, a modern cruiser, or a hybrid (Kawasaki Versys, CB500X, etc.). Also, your bike must have a windshield, or the wind will be a real problem.

My motorcycle is a CBR500R. It looks aggressive, but the seating posture is almost upright, taking the weight off your wrists, and the suspension really soaks up the bumps. It looks like a sport bike, but it’s more of an all-purpose motorcycle that can be used for anything.

Behold, my motorcycle.

You’ll Have to Pick Between Big, Fast Roads and Slow, Scenic Roads

There are two types of roads in Thailand — Big roads that aren’t too scenic, and are usually pretty fast (once out of Bangkok), or small roads that are much more scenic, but *glacially* slow. The small roads are extremely windy, and it can take all day to go 200 kilometers (125 miles). Some of the smaller roads turn into dirt. My suggestion is the phone app called Calimoto, which allows you to pick how small and curvy you want your roads to be. Some days, I just wanted to go fast through the flats to get to the mountains, and other days, I just wanted to slowly wind around the countryside. Below are some pictures of things I saw on small roads.

One advantage of small roads are that they can look like this.

You Don’t Need To Bring That Much Stuff

I saw a lot of other people on the road who had massive luggage sets attached to the sides and back of their motorcycles. In my experience, that much stuff just isn’t necessary. Most of the stuff I had fit into a smallish (37 liter) case on the back of my motorcycle. I also had a tank bag. You could just as easily find a medium-sized waterproof duffel and bungee cord it to the back seat. Five changes of underwear and socks, four shirts, two jeans, and two shorts was plenty of clothes. Every third night, I just washed my clothes at a hotel and let them dry overnight. I probably could have traveled with less.

Here is the 37 liter trunk, the tank bag, and some extra things bungeed on.

Hotels in Thailand are Almost Impossibly Cheap

Once you’re out in the countryside, $25 USD or less will get you incredible hotels. If you were in the United States or Europe, similar hotels would cost $200 per night. All you have to do is have a phone with an Internet connection and Booking.com installed. After you’ve been driving and hit the “I’m feeling like I’m ready to stop” moment, you can just pull up the app, surf through the hotels, and pick the one you want. Take a look at some of the hotels I stayed in during the trip, all of which were $25 or less. Some were under $20. There were many others that were not as fancy, but available with air conditioning, for under $15.

$22/night.
$19/night.
$12/night.
Way up there at $25 per night.

The Food Is Also Cheap, and Incredible

Thailand is one of those places where food is EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t matter where you are, food is there too, even out on roads with few people. You can find restaurants on the sides of mountains, cafes in rice paddies, and food carts along dirt roads. There’s no reason to go hungry, and no reason to ever pay more than 50 baht ($1.50) for a full meal. Furthermore, Thai food is known as some of the best in the world, and for good reason — it IS some of the best in the world. You will eat very well if you undertake a similar trip.

Just some of the food available at local markets and restaurants.

You Will Not Run Out of Gas

The first time I took one of these trips, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find gas out in the countryside. I was wrong. Gas is everywhere. On the big roads, there’s usually a gas station every several kilometers. These gas stations have convenience stores, five types of gasoline, and air conditioned cafes. On the smaller roads, there are always countryside gas stations. In the tiny, tiny towns on the tiny, tiny roads, you can certainly find someone with a barrel of gasoline and a hand pump.

On the big roads, there’s huge gas stations like this one, complete with 7–11.
On the very small roads, there’s gas hand-pumped from barrels.

Expect the Unexpected

I don’t know what it is about Thailand, but “Expect the Unexpected” is unusually true here. Expect that whenever you go around a corner, there may be a truck in the middle of the road. Do not be surprised if there’s a water buffalo just hanging out in the middle of the road like it owns the place. Do not panic if you run across an elephant in a national park. Try to be prepared for sudden degradations of the road. Is there a giant python crossing the road in front of you? Did you nearly have a heart attack when the ten police stopped you at the military checkpoint just ask you how fast your fancy motorcycle can go? Is a goat currently chasing you down the road? Did a lizard just drop on you while you were sleeping? Don’t panic. You never know what to expect in Thailand. That’s part of the fun!

Just a bunch of live fish in a pan. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
An abandoned U.S. military Jeep.
Some local dogs waiting for the bus.
A truck full of water buffalo??
A road falling down the mountain.
A bunch of water buffalo in a ditch by the road. They just stared at me.
A whole mess o’ roosters.
Beware elephants! Always stay a couple of trunks’ lengths away!

Stop and Smell the Roses

When you are riding a motorcycle across Thailand, you will drive by a staggering variety of interesting things. There are so many temples, ruins, monuments, markets, amazing views, interesting villages, and so many other things you would never expect along the road. Take your time and stop at places that seem interesting. So many of my memorable moments aren’t from places I planned to go, but impromptu stops along the way.

Thai People Are Very Friendly

This goes along well with my last point. Any chance you get to stop and chat with someone, you should take. I met so many people on the road, and they all have Facebook (so you can keep up with them later). Many of them speak a little English. The locals were all very curious to see a foreigner pull up on a large motorcycle, and they were always happy to talk. Sometimes this is quite useful. I stopped at a food stand around 1:00 pm on day, and spoke to the woman who was running it. Her husband, who was right there, informed us that an hour down the road was a town with lots of hotels. However, he stated, the next “large” town with hotels was at least four hours past that. Thanks to this man (who also happened to be a Thai police officer), we stopped much earlier than planned, and didn’t accidentally end up driving in the dark.

Another thing is that if you are ever having any problems on the road (motorcycle malfunction, for example), the local Thais will bend over backwards to help you, and with a smile on their faces!

Somebody actually let me drive this Tuk Tuk! It looks like a candy cane!!
A friendly police officer and his wife. “Don’t go past the next village, because the next one that has hotels you won’t reach until after dark,” they told us. Very friendly!
This man in a small town on the northwest border has actually made knives for the Queen of Thailand!

The Scenery is Amazing

Thailand boasts amazing scenery on every country road. There are rice paddies, rivers, mountains, and many combinations thereof. Here are a few photos.

To Sum It All Up…

Should you take a motorcycle trip through Thailand? YES!

Wait. I mean, “Yes, if you have at least a couple of years’ experience riding a motorcycle.” Riding in Thailand is not for motorcycle newbies, and driving here is much more challenging than in the United States or Europe. Also, everyone here drives on the left, so be sure you can do that without accidentally swerving into oncoming traffic.

If you can do that, then a motorcycle trip through Thailand can be inexpensive, scenic, freeing, and will produce many memories that will last a lifetime!

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Erik McDonel

Written by

International school teacher who loves adventure!

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Erik McDonel

Written by

International school teacher who loves adventure!

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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