Mount up- A comprehensive guide to purchasing a motorbike in Chiang Mai

This is the first post on the blog written by Mike, researcher extraordinaire.  

After we rented our apartment it was time to work on the transportation. I am used to riding big bikes (1000cc) back home and that is what is familiar to me, not scooters (or motorbikes as they are commonly referred as). Between forums and different websites I had enough knowledge of what I could expect in terms of price and sizes. Armed with this knowledge, we felt that renting a bike to see if it would suffice was the way to go. So, a Honda Click 110 and Yamaha Nouvo Elegance 135 were sampled for a few days.

In the meantime, I researched different bikes and test drove ones that I felt were a perfect fit. I decided on either a Honda Scoopy-i or a Honda PCX since Honda’s have a higher resale value in Thailand. After a few days of semi-serious hunting we ended up with a Honda PCX 125.

If you’re thinking of buying a motorbike I’ll give you some advice that should help you along the way:

Step 1: Research

Do your homework. I looked at thaivisa.com, bahtsold.com, and gt-rider.com for hours simply because I had no reference point for price or brand. Everyone has their own idea of what they want- mine was a balance between comfort and value.  Bear in mind that prices in Chiang Mai (a tiny bit higher) are different than those in Bangkok and/or Pattaya.  Brands matter here in Thailand.

As the dealer who sold me mine explained- the quality ladder goes: Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki (or Vespa which is higher than a Honda). The resale prices show it. I asked anyone who’d give me the time of day for information. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Based on the terms of the rental agreements I signed, both stated that if the bike is damaged/stolen YOU are responsible for a repair/replacement. A new replacement is standard in most rental agreements.

Step 2: Rent

Rent a bike (or three) and decide what is absolutely necessary for you (e.g. basket, under seat storage, hooks, rear storage box, “large” engine). I used two different rental places, but prefer Lucky Rentals (mobile: 089-1915016) next door to the Amora Hotel by Thapae Gate. Kyaw is hands down one of the nicest people I’ve met in a very long time. He also speaks English.

Other places to rent include Mr. Mechanic, Bikky, and Tony’s Big Bikes. Prices for short term rentals are pretty much set in stone. If you’re renting for a week or so you can ask for a decent discount. A good rule of thumb is half the regular daily rate for anything over 15 days. You can do better ($$) in some cases, but just be wary of claims for repairs upon the return of the rental.

A deposit and/or passport is usually necessary-we don’t feel comfortable leaving our passport so we always used a driver’s license (from the U.S.). Insurance can be had for 50 baht/day or more and will cover anywhere from 50-100% of the bike if stolen and also put a maximum on any repairs.(10000 baht max is normal for an insured bike that gets totaled).

Step 3: Look

There are many places that sell new bikes in the moat area of Chiang Mai and they make for a quick information gathering session. Prices at regular dealers will usually include the green book, and plate fee (and sometimes insurance). I looked at some second hand dealers and quickly determined the prices and “extra fees” necessary to make everything legitimate. The extra fees come in the forms of: no green book, no plates (try not to buy these), and insurance.  These will all vary on the size of the bike. Larger/more prestigious= more $$$.  Second hand places I looked at (inside/outside of the moat) were: Big Bike House,  Rimping Market, and Ratchadamnoen Bikes.

Step 4: Buying and Registering

“The legitimate route”

Do your prep work by having your documents ready before you go buy. I only needed a copy of my passport, my address confirmation (my apartment’s lease agreement worked) and a handful of baht to buy my bike and drive away. 20 minutes after walking in I was already driving away. Now getting it registered into your name is another story. It’s really not that difficult if you know in advance what you need.

It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. You will need a confirmation of your address in Thailand. I was told my lease agreement was sufficient, but I’ve also heard getting a confirmation from your building on their letterhead is golden. Next, you’ll need the bill of sale (the receipt from the shop/person/dealer) with purchase price and description of your bike. Mine also had the ID number (VIN) on it. The green book SHOULD come with your purchase and also match the license plate, the model and make, and the previous owner’s name.

This is paramount as more than likely you won’t be able to resell or even transfer the bike into ANYONE’S name if the names and numbers don’t match. Insurance was included in my purchase so an insurance policy and sticker were applied to my bike. Bear in mind that the coverage is for people only and does not cover the bike (getting insurance for the bike is somewhat difficult). Lastly, you’ll need a photocopy* of the previous owner’s ID card, previous owner’s address confirmation (photocopy is OK), and these two transfer of ownership pages. (front pg. 1, back pg 1, pg 2 )

A reputable and knowledgeable dealer should provide you with ALL of these papers before you drive away. Take these papers to the Chiang Mai registration office across from the Holiday Inn Chiang Mai and pay the registration fee (450-500 baht) and/or take the driving test (50 baht).

*All of those items should be ORIGINALS unless noted. Make copies to have and/or hand over just in case.

Transfer of Ownership pg.1

Transfer of Ownership (back)

Transfer of Ownership pg.2

“Semi-legitimate Registration”

In my case we were only living in Chiang Mai for 3 months which changes the scenario for registering. Since all the paperwork was in order and matched up, all I had left to do was to take my driving test (50 baht with my bike) and pay the registration fee (about 450bht). Well that didn’t happen…

Upon further research I determined that it was necessary to register the bike in my name immediately,especially if the previous owner’s ID was to expire shortly after I purchased it. The previous owner of my bike had an ID that didn’t expire until I turn 40 (still far off for me).

I asked around to see if it was even worth it to change the name over. The consensus was no, and that I wouldn’t even have a problem selling since it was already in a Thai name- and even a potential Thai buyer wouldn’t have any problems with it the way it is. I shall soon find out as my next post will be ‘Selling a Bike in Chiang Mai’- (the semi-legitimate way).

Green Book (iphone size comparison)

Final observations:

  • Motorbike insurance to cover the bike is difficult to obtain. Even most rental agencies make their own insurance policies, but it is possible to get insurance-just ask your dealer about it.
  • There are many different rental agencies all around Chiang Mai. The ones we looked at are good, but do your research to find the one that suits you best.
  • We do understand that not everyone has the money to purchase a motorbike right away even if you decide to live in Chiang Mai for an extended amount of time. In our case, we had the money and it was the best choice for us. If you are sticking around though, crunch the numbers and you might find it worth it to invest in a motorbike for your stay.
  • If someone tries to sell you a motorbike without a green book, you will pay less for the bike, but if you are staying long term and you intend on registering your bike, it will prove to be a hassle or very expensive without the green book.
  • The yellow ATM’s around Chiang Mai (Krungsri Bank) are the best for taking out large quantities of cash. It let me take out 30,000Bht at a time, more than once in the same visit.
  • Our motorbike purchase came with 2 new helmets. Please make sure if you’re renting with a partner you both get helmets, even with rentals. Always wear a helmet.
  • When purchasing a new motorbike (or secondhand), check the mechanics thoroughly. You don’t want to purchase a bike and then have to make repairs. Also, when renting, read the agreement carefully. Most agencies don’t cover repairs beyond an oil change (i.e. new tire would most likely be paid for out of your pocket).

Our Honda PCX (year 2009) ended up costing us 62,000 Bht ($US1999.93) It had less than 3,800 km on it and was mechanically sound. It was free of scratches and in overall great shape- it looked brand new. To rent the same bike, we would’ve paid 18000Bht for a 3 month rental (US$580.62) plus insurance for 3 months (4500Bht-(US$145.13) for 50% of theft coverage). Some places wouldn’t even offer insurance! The new replacement cost was 80000Bht (US$2580.55). Since we wanted to have a worry-free motorbike experience in Chiang Mai, we made the decision to buy instead of rent.

Mike and his motorbike named Naomi

Disclaimer: This was MY experience buying a motorbike in Chiang Mai. Laws, regulations, and requirements can and do change. Be smart in your pursuit, but don’t be afraid to take the risk. We received no discounts on any motorbikes we rented or purchased.

Tell us: Have you purchased a motorbike abroad? Have anything to add to this post?

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