Whether you're a long-term expat or a two week millionaire tourist if you hit the road touring without carrying the right equipment in Thailand you could be up shit creek before you know it.
If you're a city dweller it's usually not a major deal as there's usually a solution nearby that can fix a problem. But if you're in the back-of-beyond with no help in sight not having the right tools and equipment is can mean a serious set-back.
Carry a passport or photocopy of passport.
Basic Insurance/rental agreement.
Your homeland driving licence.
At least a modicum of sobriety.
Premium/First Class Insurance.
A&E Medical insurance.
A Thai drivers licence.
BIKERS IN THAILAND
A Tool Kit
Almost always i find that few folk in Thailand have access to the necessary tools to carry out basic checks and maintenance on your bike. It is easy to pay a thai mechanic to work on your ride but things like checking the tire pressure and the fluid levels are important before you set out on a blast.
Every bike has a small dedicated toolkit for maintenance, they are usually stored under the riders or pillions seat.
Older bikes may not have them though as the previous owners may of either lost them etc. This is normally not a major problem unless you have an exotic big bike no-one has heard of. In this case the tools may be specific to that make and finding the right tool to take apart something could be awkward.
Another important, but often overlooked, item. Without you'll have to hunt around on the internet and via the local mechanics for essential info like tyre pressure settings and more mundane matters of what engine oil the bike best runs on.
If you've bought you're bike in Thailand brand new there's a chance that it won't be in english! But this is still better than having nothing to refer to.
Things to Wear - Biker Equipment
For one thing, wearing any type of helmet, even a stout hat is better than no protection at all. Besides the obvious goal of keeping out skulls intact they can act as a barrier against the intense thai sun, keep your eyes shielded, especially with a tinted visor.
For some in Thailand the attitude is Mai Pen Rai and let the spirits guard over us. Unfortunately I, for one, have heard, seen and read in the papers too many stories of unfortunate Thai folk being killed in accidents where a helmet could of prevented what the spirits and fate could not. If nothing else wearing a helmet means the thai police cannot fine you for breaking the law.
However the quality and protection given by a helmet varies...
Here's the low-down on what you can expect...
Bike Helmet - Open Face (Thailand)
The weakest of the helmets available in Thailand and the most typical. The mass produced 'open-face' style helmet can be seen every day here in Thailand. Some are equipped with a cumbersome flip-down visor (pictured). They give more protection than a hat would but much less than the more expensive 'full face' helmet. However in the sweltering heat of the afternoon they tend to keep a wearers head relatively cool. However their armour rating is considered to be little more than ordinary plastic. Cost - Between 100 and 300 baht.
Manufacturer - ATM, BM & Index.
Versatile and well suited for hot climates.
Good field of vision.
Unlikely to be stolen (cause there's millions of them in Thailand!)
Very weak; In a medium to serious accident they are likely to smash open like an egg-shell.
Unsuitable for speeds above 80 - 100 kph - The air resistance becomes unbearable, even with the visor down.
Bike Helmet- Full Face(Local)
The entry-level, full-face style helmet. These are not as common as the 'open-face' helmet style but most superstores stock them as well as some independent outlets. This type of helmet is, like the open-face style, made in Thailand and is very affordable. These are considered a middle-of-the-road option amoungst bikers and only men in Thailand tend to wear them. The integrated visor gives relief and sun-glare protection while the composite plastic resin with some decent padding on the inside gives affordable armour resistance.
Some models allow either a full-face or open-face configuration.
However the increased protection is not without it's trade-offs. These helmets are slightly heavier and during the heat of the day, in traffic, it can start to be an annoying downside as your head cooks. That said this helmet can be considered a pretty decent compromise between the weaker open-face helmet and it's bigger brother; the full-face-import.
Cost - Between 800 - 1500 baht.
Manufacturer - ATM, Index & Nippon.
On The Road Thailand's Verdict: Recommended.
An affordable mid-range helmet.
Comfortable for high speed riding.
A good level of protection for low to mid level collisions.
Uncomfortable and hot in rush-hour traffic (even with the visor raised).
Reduced field of vision.
Unlikely to withstand a severe collision or knock.
Desirable to thieves.
Bike Helmet- Full face (Import)
These helmets represent the highest level of protection and armour for your head. Available in specialist bike shops only, they are a rare and prized addition to any bikers equipment in Thailand. The visor, plastic and padding are of the highest quality, ballistic absorbent kevlar is often used to reinforce the helmet even further. The ram-air vents are often improved upon and refined to give superior air cooling and operation.
Often decorative and aerodynamic they are a magnet to opportunist thieves and some consider them too heavy, too expensive and overkill for normal day-to-day riding in Thailand.
Nevertheless for long-distance touring and brilliant armour protection they are a serious piece of kit worn by those who ride hard and value their heads in Thailand.
Some imported models are an open face variant and give some much-needed relief from the hot weather but for the purpose of brevity we've included them under this heading.
Bullet resistant levels of protection!
Very comfortable for high speed riding.
An excellent level of protection for low, middle and high level collisions.
Almost unbearably hot in rush-hour traffic (even with the visor raised).
Reduced field of vision.
Can cause neck fatigue during long distance touring.
Very desirable to thieves.
On The Road Thailands Verdict: If You Can Afford it, go and buy one.
In a biking magazine years ago, a biker traveling through Colombia claimed his imported helmet actually deflected a bullet at close range!
Biker Clothing In Thailand
We all wear at least some form of clothing when we hit the road but like the helmets there are different styles to suit different needs and desires.
The Bare Necessities
This level of protection is typically what almost all tourists and quite a few expats (who should know better!) go out biking in;
Shorts, T-shirt and sandals.
Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. Just picture what you see most of the farang tourists wearing in any island or beach resort and you have the bare necessities!
At low speeds around town a careful biker is unlikely to have a bad accident.
With a pleasant breeze blowing there's nothing quite like biking in the tropical heat of Thailand.
Plenty! Even a minor spill is likely to cause cuts, bruises and sprains.
Sunburn becomes a major pain if you ride exposed for too long.
Out on the highways and by-ways of Thailand it is practically suicide to be out riding like this.
On The Road Thailands Verdict: It's a tough call sometimes but for the most part wearing this level of protection is not a wise move.
Full Layers of clothing
Jeans/trousers, shirt or T-shirt, long sleeved jacket, long sleeved gloves (to cover the wrists) and either shoes or trainers.
Wearing this isn't going to protect you from harsh impacts and damage in an accident but it will massively cut down on the lacerations and abrasive wounds that will occur if you take a spill. In the tropics it is these types of wounds that are easily infected and prevention is always better than cure. Consider a scarf (silk is best) to wrap around the neck (even with a decent helmet your neck will be exposed) or just use plenty of SF50 suncream.
Will protect v. well against sun burn.
Helps protect against cuts and abrasions in an accident.
Thai police are less likely to 'see' you as a foreigner.
Only a slight degree of protection in a mid-to-serious collision.
The heat becomes a factor, but not usually a serious one.
On The Road Thailands Verdict: You know it makes sense, get some layers on out there
This can vary, but it starts with (at it's most basic) externally padding vulnerable knees, elbows and hands. For cheapness and ease of availability this is quite popular amongst a few thais and farangs.
The next level of protection is wearing an armoured jacket, leggings and biker gloves. These tend to be thick, tough, abrasion-resistant materials of leather/kevlar with carbon lamellar sections. They often have reinforced armour plating/padding which can be inserted/removed to protect the spine and shoulders etc.
For further protection hard-armour (chest/back plates) can be added. This is toughened composite-plastic with a foam layer which (when complemented with other layers of protection gives excellent resistance against collisions and blows.
Not forgetting the vulnerable feet, sturdy boots can be a good choice and a budget option. For the best protection, dedicated biker boots like these below can give optimal protection.
At the cutting edge of biking armour technology is a jacket with an 'shock buffering system' that (when activated via a rip-cord anchored to the bike) inflates the jacket via an integrated gas canister to act as an air bag. Considered a soft armour system of sorts it is good for open race-tracks and open areas. It 'works' on the basis of the rider being thrown off his bike and so may not be as effective in a direct smash against a large, close-up obstacle like a wall or in built-up areas. It tends to much lighter than a jacket combined with hard-armour however.
Excellent protection against impacts and 'thrown-rider' accidents.
Usually prevents or at the least reduces cuts and abrasions in an accident.
Very expensive (all gear tends to be imported).
Can take time to get used to riding and wearing it.
The heat can become a factor at slow speeds and heavy traffic.