The Myths about renting scooters in Thailand:
-The roads are very dangerous
-The drivers are maniacs
-The scooters themselves can be faulty, and rundown
-The companies that rent you the scooter can charge you 10,000 Baht if they detect that something has been damaged-even if nothing has
-You're better off to just pay for an organized tour, on a safe, air conditioned government bus
-I felt very safe on the roads in Thailand, more so then I do at home
-The drivers are 100% conscientious of other motorists
-Road rage does not exist here, people are insanely calm and courteous
-The scooters were brand new, 2013 models, impeccably kept. If you want to find a run down scooter I'm sure you could find one..but a short stroll down the main beach road in Ao Nang turned up half a dozen or more shops..all renting top of the line bikes.
-Organized tours are a total rip off, unless you are unable or unwilling to explore on your own. The buses are not that nice, and isn't it more fun to enjoy a 2 hour drive with the wind blowing through your hair- on your own time anyways?
When standing on the side of the road watching the traffic go by it looks intimidating because of the sheer volume of motorists. Scooters, motorcycles, trucks, tuk tuks, cabs, cars all together, driving on the opposite side of the road..it can be very scary to look at. But once we got in the mix, it was hardly frightening..there is a beautiful rhythm to the traffic here, people moving in and out peacefully. Slower scooters stay to the extreme left, and cars and faster scooters use the main lane..but even so, they honk the horn when coming up behind you as a warning, and give you a large birth when passing.
We met our friends from Saskatchewan at noon at the local McDonald's, and went to rent our scooters; We decided to each get one because we both wanted to experience driving, and figured 100 Baht for gas wasn't too bad!
It was scary at first getting used to the other side of the road, but within 15 minutes I felt quite alright! We scooted down the beach road to the very end, and discovered a really cool park where it seems the local Thai's hang out. The tide was out so we walked out on the sand littered with shells towards the limestone islands, that you normally couldn't access. We found a spot where there was a bit of water to swim, although it was an overcast day and eventually started to rain, it was a surreal feeling to be in water warm as a bath, with ice cold rain pouring down from above.
We ate lunch at a tasty seafood joint, I had the Tom Kah soup with no meat, which was nice and spicy to cure my hangover!
Then the real adventure began..off to see the Emerald Pools! Apparently these warm pools are the colour of emeralds, and you are able to swim in them. Our journey led us winding down the amazing highways, through magnificent limestone cliff passes, and then dipping low into pure jungle. We saw a sleeping buddha statue the size of a semi truck, tucked on her side under the lip of a limestone cliff; she was among a peaceful area spotted with temples, and shrines and beautiful trees with trunks so big you could drive a car through.
We drove for 2 hours or so..and wound up at a national park with an awesome waterfall..we hiked through literal jungle, complete with hanging vines Tarzan could swing on, and an orchestra of exotic jungle sounds.
At about 6pm we left the National park, as the darkness fell I realized my headlight and tail light did not work- this was a very scary realization; I am on a scooter, I am driving on the opposite side of the road, and I must drive on a highway in the dark, with no lights, for 2 hours. Luckily I was able to ride behind Holly+John and in front of Shaun with his high beams on. At one point I decided it would be better to follow Shaun, as my presence was creating a black shadow on the highway in front of me, and I was unable to see very well. It was going well for awhile, until Shaun either sped up- or I slowed down..and he was gone and everything went black. I panicked-screaming his name and flashing my turn signal, and honking my horn; I wildly slammed the bike towards the shoulder, stopped and hoped that he heard me and would turn back. It was honestly the scariest 30 seconds of my life, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, I was on the side of the road, with traffic coming up behind me, and was immobile with fear, crying and shaking in absolute black. Shaun came back, and gave me his bike, and I followed him the hour back to the beach. WOW.
It was an awesome day, and a brilliant experience, minus the lights thing..and I would def. suggest renting your own scooter. It really opens up your capacity for experiences, taking you off the beaten tourist path, and into a more authentic immersion into the Thai life. Even just to hop on the scooter, and find a new restaurant to eat, or to discover a new beach- you don't have to make a 2 hour trek- you can keep it within a 30 mile radius..and save a bundle!!!