The day started perfectly. We left our hotel and walked down the main strip in the old city of Chiang Mai and got breakfast. On the way back we picked up Thai iced coffees and discussed the plans for the day. Garon and I decided to rent a motorbike and drive up to the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Doi Suethep.
Being precautious, I decided it would be best to rent the motorbike directly from our hotel. I’ve heard stories of companies not keeping their bikes in proper condition and I didn’t want to have any mechanical problems on our journey. Little did I know that would be the least of my worries.
We asked the hotel staff to contact the motorbike company. The bike arrived at the lobby of our hotel within 15 minutes. While we waited for the motorbike to arrive the hotel concierge went over how to get to the temple and made sure we were comfortable operating a motorbike.
The last thing the hotel staff said should have stuck with me more than it did “in case you are pulled over by the police, tell them you have everything you need, your passport and your license.”
The man from the rental company arrived at the hotel. He had us fill out some paper work and briefly explained how to operate the bike. He too, mentioned the police and assured us that we had all the proper paperwork and licenses. (We both have American drivers licenses.) He snapped a quick picture of us, and pointed us in the direction of a specific gas station.
The gas station we were directed to is on the opposite corner of the old city. We were just getting our bearings on the bike when up ahead I spotted a Thai Police officer.
We were waved into a road blockade and were demanded to show our documentation. At this point I was not worried since we were told by multiple people that we had all the proper documents and should have no problems. Once the officer saw our American drivers license he insisted we were driving illegally and must pay the fine. WHAT! How could we be driving illegally?
The whole operation seemed a bit scammy if you ask me. This left me wondering, were we actually driving illegally? or were we lied to by the hotel staff and motor bike company?
As Garon paid the fine I had the opportunity to step back and observe the situation. The next victim pulled over was another American, from Texas. He put up more of a fight then we did. Whipping out his American drivers license he insisted that this should be enough documentation. He stated that he was recently in Bangkok and that he had no issues there. He resisted paying the fine but the officer would not have any of that. Mr. Texas finally relented when he discovered the fine was only 200 baht($5.60USD). The police officer instructed him to get a Thai license since he planned on staying in Chiang Mai for the next 6 months.
I kept watching the operation and noticed they were only pulling over foriengers. Not one Thai looking person was waved over.
On our way out, I asked the officer if we were allowed to continue onto the temple. He exclaimed that it would be completely fine. But we didn’t receive any receipt that we had paid the fine so who knows how many of these blockades were set up. By no means did I want to continue breaking the law. I’ve seen Broken Down Palace one too many times for that. So I insisted to Garon that we take the bike back to the hotel and take a taxi to the temple.
The hotel and motorbike company asked why we were returning the bike right after we had rented it out for 24 hours. We explained the situation they didn’t seemed phased. I think they knew this was going to happen. And possibly were in cahoots with the police. I mean, they did tell us the only gas station we could fill up at was directly next to the police trap.
My advice to anyone looking to rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai is to do it at your own risk. In all honesty, the ordeal seemed like a routine operation to generate revenue or to grease the pockets of shady policeman. I’m not sure. Either way if you choose to rent a bike make sure to carry extra cash to factor in the fine.
So who was lying here? I couldn’t find any credible sources on the internet about proper motorbike regulations. If you have any insight please leave a comment!