Angry in Asia: The Hidden Costs of Vientiane’s “Cheapest” Motorcycle

“Give me my passport or I call the police. Your choice.” Momentarily taken aback, the 70-year old Laotian woman across from me paused her tirade and sized me up, trying to decide if I was serious.

“Give me my passport or I call the police. Your choice.”

Momentarily taken aback, the 70-year old Laotian woman across from me paused her tirade and sized me up, trying to decide if I was serious.

I was and then some. Having politely but firmly been asking for my passport for nearly half an hour, my patience was at the breaking point. Steph had looked up the number for the tourist police earlier, just in case the situation devolved as it so clearly had. This was not a bluff—I was ready to go nuclear.

Motorcycle rentals gone bad are, unfortunately, not an isolated incident in S.E. Asia; a quick Google search of “motorcycle scams Asia” reveals it is all too common. However, after 21 months of essentially trouble-free travel, this was not where I expected to find myself, and certainly not over something as simple as a broken shock absorber on an old motorcycle.

Tony on a motorcycle

We’ve ridden at least 40 different motorcycles since we began our trip. If I close my eyes and do some really rough math, I’d say I’ve probably clocked over 10,000km on two wheels in Asia in the last two years, and I’ve never had any real problems. Sure, there have been breakdowns, flat tires, and some scrapes and bumps, but that all comes with the territory. When I say “real problems”, what I mean is that I’d been lucky enough to avoid the really sticky issues of having a bike stolen or totaled and negligent/deceptive renters for our entire trip.

That is, until Laos.

Our Story

Tony on a motorcycle
Wear a helmet, kids

Let me back up and tell you how I wound up seething on a sidewalk in Laos, demanding the return of my passport, hoping things didn’t get really nasty. We had a few days to kill in Vientiane, and one of the things Steph had been waiting ages to see, the crazy Buddha Park, was calling our names. Situated about 20km outside the city, it was an ideal target for a quick motorcycle trip. On top of that, having the bike opened up certain areas of the city we might have missed otherwise. We’d seen shops flogging motorcycles on every corner of every street in the tourist area of Vientiane, so I knew it would be easy to find a bike and get on the road, and I had a general idea of how much it should cost to rent one for a day.

Walking literally one minute down the road from our hotel, we stopped at a little bookstore/massage parlor/motorcycle rental “agency” and took a look at their bikes. Their selection was small, but featured real brands, not junk Chinese copies at reasonable (for Laos) prices, so we decided they were as good as anything else. At 70,000LAK for a semi-automatic 110cc Suzuki (the same bike as many, many other places), they were running one of the cheapest operations in Vientiane, so we filled out the paperwork, grabbed some helmets and were ready to go. And then the first red flag appeared: the girl renting the bike very carefully wiped the entire thing down, checking for scratches before we left. I’ve had other renters check for scratches before, but this was definitely the most thorough inspection I’d ever seen.

At this point I wasn’t worried enough to give it much thought; after all, I’d never had a single damage issue in almost two years. I snapped a few quick smart-phone photos of the bike to fend off spurious scratch claims, and was very confident that, between my riding experience and use of paid parking areas, the bike would come back exactly as it left.

Buddha park

For the most part, the day went according to plan. We made it out to the Buddha Park with no problem, and rode around Vientiane, enjoying the freedom of two wheels, as we knew we would. Late in the afternoon we decided to check out one of the wats a little bit east of town. The motorcycle parking was across the street on the sidewalk and as I rode down the curb into the road to leave, I heard a metallic snap and some clattering. Heart sinking, I looked behind us and saw that the rear right shock had snapped off at the base and the spring was rolling down the street.

Both our minds began to spin, and we started spit-balling ideas for what to do. I didn’t want to ride the bike any more than I had to: with the both of us on only one shock I was afraid that the other strut would blow from the strain and then we’d be really stuck. Steph immediately suggested that we head to a mechanic to get it fixed. Upon inspection, it was clear the shock was original equipment on a 10+ year-old bike, and had simply worn out, so I didn’t feel we should be responsible for its repair. Also, I hadn’t seen any mechanics that day, and unlike Vietnam where you can’t swing a wrench without hitting a repair shop, I wasn’t sure where to find one. So, despite Steph’s better (in hindsight, vastly superior) judgment, I decided to give the owner a chance to do the right thing and give us a new bike while they fixed this one… after all, the girl who rented it to us seemed a decent enough sort and this was clearly their problem.

Now, my experience should have told me (as Steph did) that it would have been simpler to just go to a mechanic, get the thing fixed, and the owner would never have been the wiser. This was most likely true, but it wasn’t what I did. Live and learn. And learn. And learn.

Steph and a motorcycle

Naturally, when we limped up on our broken motorcycle the person that we ended up dealing with wasn’t the original girl from earlier, but her shark of a mother (let’s call her Greedy Granny), who was not present when we rented the bike. Everything about this woman’s demeanor said she was on the make and my heart sank at the sight of her. Spying the issue, Greedy Granny leapt into action, claiming the part would need to come from the Suzuki dealership only, which was not open. She then promptly made a phone call and claimed that a new shock was going to set us back 1000 baht, or just over 31USD, according to “the dealership” at the other end of the wormhole she used to call them while they were closed. Why it was quoted in baht and not kip, I don’t fully know, as I assumed the “Suzuki dealership” was in Vientiane. My working theory is that Greedy Granny thought we’d be more inclined to shut up and pay what seemed like a lower number without thinking, since 1000 baht certainly sounds like a lot less than 250,000LAK.

It didn’t matter that the contract stated we pay for what was our fault and they pay for what was their fault, because it quickly became obvious that “our fault” clearly included maintenance issues as well as literally everything else. Had the chain broken, or the oil gone dry, or the handlebars came off in our hands, or the engine turned into a goose, it was clear that this woman would regard anything that happened to the bike in our care to be entirely our responsibility, regardless of whether it was because she had failed to care for the machine in the first place or not, and no amount of arguing or impassioned jabbing at the contract would change that.

I’m very level-headed guy, but I’ll admit that, at that moment, all the blood rushed to my head at this obvious, and disgustingly avaricious rip-off. I had fixed bikes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, and I knew, with absolute certainty, that 31USD for a single shock was a minimum of 25USD too high. Hell, we’d put an entire transmission into our motorcycle in the remotest part of northern Vietnam and it had only cost 12USD. This crone had smelled money and thought I was an easy mark. She was wrong. I had made a laughable error in judgment thinking I could trust her to do the right thing, but now she’d poked the hornet’s nest, and I was willing to go to great lengths to deny her any satisfaction.

I immediately rode back to our hotel and asked the desk clerk where the nearest mechanic was. He gave me some simple directions (“very far!”) and I set off down the road, hoping the breeze from the ride would help me cool off. I found the mechanic, showed him the issue and asked the price. 50,000LAK, or about 6USD, for the part and labor. I knew this was the Sunday afternoon, walk-in, tourist-special price, but it was so much less than what I had been quoted by Greedy Granny that I laughed with relief. Not that it was surprising (it was, in fact, almost exactly what I was expecting), but it was certainly satisfying. Unfortunately, the mechanic discovered that both shocks had to be replaced, as the only size shock he had was slightly different from the intact original, so my total jumped to 100,000LAK for parts and labor.

Motorcycle in Indonesia

At this point, our “cheap” rental had now cost us more in repairs than the original rental fee. Despite this, I still felt relieved. 100,000LAK is not, ultimately, a lot of money and it was certainly better than Greedy Granny’s outlandish sum, so I had dodged a bullet, of sorts. Maybe half a bullet at least, and I had stuck it to Greedy Granny. I’m rarely vengeful, but damn.

Thirty minutes later the bike had two new shocks and I was on my way back to the rental agency.

By the time I arrived nearly everyone was gone, leaving only the original girl and her brother. The girl inspected the new shocks with a confused look and called her brother out to take a look as well. While he tried to figure out what the hell had happened, the girl oh-so-carefully checked for scratches once more. With the confusion still evident on their faces, I politely asked for my passport, left as a deposit, now that the issue was so obviously fixed. Leaving a passport as a deposit is standard procedure in many parts of Asia, and unfortunately, as much as it keeps some tourists honest, it also allows some renters to be dishonest, as I was quickly learning. Looking rather scared now, the girl mumbled something about it being in a lock-box and that she had to call her mother to bring the key. Sure.

After 10 long minutes, Greedy Granny arrived on a broom scooter, immediately made for the bike and thoroughly looked the shock over, obviously in utter disbelief that it was fixed. When it was clear that she had seen that the bike was repaired, I asked her for my passport. She waved me off and told her son ride the bike down the road to “test” the shock. He produced a spare key from his pocket and jumped on the bike, roaring off down the road hitting potholes the whole way, doing his level best to shake the part loose, leaving me to wonder if that spare key might not have been used to “recover” the bike from our hotel had we parked it overnight, another fairly common scam in Laos. I already knew we were not dealing with the best operators here, but this was just one more little thing to add to the pile. He returned, with nothing to report, and quickly dodged away from his clearly apoplectic mother, never looking up from the ground.

At this point no one but Greedy Granny had much to say. I asked for my passport, again, pointing out, again, that the bike was fixed, and that she had no complaint against us at this point. She responded by hitting me with a barrage of questions about the shock. Where did I get it fixed? How much had it cost? Was it second-hand? I gave her the only answer that was reasonable: a mechanic fixed it, it was clearly fixed, I did not know if it was second hand, but that was certainly irrelevant since it was better and newer than the original shock from that morning. Looking her straight in the eye, seeing that she was only getting started, I decided I’d had enough of arguing. I told her that if she didn’t give me my passport back, I would call the police, and they could figure this out.

She took half a step back, straightened her back, and doubled down on her play. She started going on about how she was certain the shock was used, and if it was a cheap, used Vietnamese shock then it wasn’t as good as a Suzuki shock, and this was her bike, and it was very important to her that it was fixed right (so long as we were paying, I assumed) and we had tried to blame her, an innocent, for all this, and, and… I cut her off, so completely disgusted by her persistent, blatant cash grab that I am certain the look on my face was what actually ended the argument, and not my threat of calling the police. Finally, Greedy Granny had run out of words.

I looked at her children, and saw their obvious shame as they tried to hide behind whatever they could find, not wanting to see or be seen. She cast her gaze on them as well, which they avoided. It was clear they weren’t coming to their mother’s aid; she’d crossed the line. This was her gambit and I was not the easy mark she’d hoped for. She had still come out ahead, but it was clear that this was the end. She stood around a bit more, unsure what to do, so I got my phone out of my pocket and as I flipped the cover open, she started grumbling and told her son to get my passport. He dug it out of a clearly unlocked drawer and handed it back to me (so much for the key she “had” to bring). Silently, Steph and I left the shop and walked to our hotel. It was nearly dark out and as all the adrenaline left my system, I felt very tired and in need of a very big, very cold beer.

Our (Costly) Lesson

Our cheap rental ended up costing us not only an extra 100,000LAK beyond the 70,000LAK rental fee (that’s right—we paid more to fix the bike than we did to rent it in the first place!), but also subjected us to some of the most stressful hours we’d experienced in years. It’s not always easy being in a foreign land to begin with, but fending off a greedy local trying to take advantage of our supposed ignorance was just too much. After nearly two years of relative peace and ease in Asia, this was by far the worst situation we’d been faced with at any point up to now. Fortunately, we’d come out all right in the end, it hadn’t cost us that much money and we never had to see this woman again. We were able to walk away with no larger consequences than a slightly lighter wallet, and let this become just another interesting story from our time in Asia.

So what’s the moral of the story? Sometimes the cheapest option… isn’t. If you can afford it, paying a little extra for peace of mind is always worth it, whether it’s to avoid shady operators or just to know that you have nothing to worry about.

Tips for renting a motorcycle in Asia

Wear. A. Helmet.

Based on our experience, renters like this are the exception, not the rule, so don’t use our cautionary tale as a reason to avoid motorbikes (or locals!). Instead, learn from us and arrive prepared. Here are my tips on how you can reduce your risk to the lowest possible level with any rental:

Do your research. Find out if there are reputable operators that others have used and head for them first. Don’t go off book unless you have to, or you have enough experience to know better. Even then, be careful. As a general rule, we only hire bikes from actual shops, never off of random touts (though they are certainly abundant).

Read (& understand) the contract. Make sure the language is clear. If you have a question, ask (we should have clarified what the agency would consider “their fault”). But, be warned that the answers you receive might change once you’re back if something goes wrong, especially if you’re dealing with someone who wasn’t there before, so try to get it in writing if it’s not clear. If costs are quoted in a another country’s currency (other than USD), take extra care and consider finding someone with a contract that seems less fishy.

Thoroughly inspect the motorcycle. Check for damage and photograph everything that even looks like a nick. They won’t fix any superficial damage (as the myriad previous scratches makes clear), but they will still charge you as though they intend to make the repair. If the renter only gives a cursory glance, or makes no inspection when you take the bike, it’s likely that they will not hold your feet to the flames over trumped-up damage claims, but don’t be complacent. Be prepared to pay for damage you cause, even if you know that they won’t repair it, as most contracts do stipulate that you pay for damages.

Test-ride the bike thoroughly. If it has gears, ride far and fast enough to shift through all of them, up and down. The shifting should be easy, smooth, immediate (no hunting or surging), and make a satisfying thunking/clicking noise. Get up to speed and hold it for a bit (40kph or more). Drive very slowly and listen for odd noises and shuddering/stuttering. Check all the lights and indicators. Test the brakes in a sudden stop. Try to stop with only the front brakes and only the back brakes to see if they are worn or if they squeak excessively. Check the tires for remaining tread.

If something is broken, get the shop to fix it before you go or change bikes. Don’t take a bike with an issue, even if it’s minor. You’re paying for the privilege, so make sure it’s right. If your brake light doesn’t work and you get a ticket, guess who is paying for it? That’s right.

Find out what you are responsible for. Find out what the procedure is if something breaks. Ask them what you have to pay to repair. Things like brakes, chains, belts, and the engine should not be your responsibility, but don’t assume the renter is on the same page. Flat tires are always on you, however, so don’t start fights about that.

Get a phone number. On the off chance that something major does break on the bike, you’ll want to be able to get in touch with the rental office so that they can arrange for the bike to be transported back to their office (or fixed) if they have made provisions for this. Conversely…

Fix it yourself. If something breaks, unless you’ve been explicitly told otherwise, just get it fixed. If your renter makes it clear that THEY are going to pay for repairs, and what repairs they will pay for, then go with that, otherwise just get it fixed yourself. Repairs are generally dirt cheap in Asia, so it will always be cheaper to just get it done yourself. We once replaced the entire front right side of a Honda Wave (fender, headlight, console, mirror, rack) for just under 35USD. Seriously, these bikes are ubiquitous and cheap.

Try to get a real Honda, or a very good copy. See the previous tip… Hondas are very common, easy and cheap to fix, and they tend to be very reliable as well. “Hondas” take real parts as well as fake, so while they may break more, they’re just as easy to fix as the real thing. Don’t know how to tell what’s real and what isn’t? If it has gears, look at the engine: if it has the word “Honda” stamped on it (usually above the gear shift or on the opposite side above the brake) it’s real. Any other name = Chinese. Fake automatics are rarely hard to spot, because, for whatever reason, off-brand automatics are almost never carbon copies of Hondas.

Try not to hand over your passport as a deposit if you can avoid it. However, there will be times when you have no other option, and if you’re not comfortable doing so, then you may have to go without. Sorry.

Trust your instincts. If the person you’re dealing with rubs you the wrong way, for any reason at all, walk away. If they’re too pushy, or indifferent, or distracted, or anything that bothers you, imagine dealing with them if there is an issue. Rent from someone you like and your chances for success go up a lot.

If there is a problem, stay calm. Shouting, making a scene and being crass will get you absolutely nowhere in Asia. That’s just not how things are done as a foreigner. If you can, stay calm, stick to your guns, and simply repeat what you want, in a polite way, chances are good that you’ll emerge in considerably better shape than you might otherwise. Plus, if the person you’re dealing with flips their shit, and you don’t, that only helps your cause.

If you feel you are being bullied or a situation cannot be resolved, don’t be afraid to call the police. Yes, some places in Asia are known for corrupt police officers, but in most cases, they really are there to help. Additionally, if you believe you are in the right and have acted fairly, offering to bring the police into things will generally put an end to any shenanigans on the renter’s part.

You get what you pay for (most of the time). Generally if a place is offering their bikes at a substantially lower cost than other places in town, this is not a reason to rejoice, but a reason to be suspicious. This is often a sign that the bikes are poorly maintained or unreliable, and you may be better off going with a more middle-of-the-road operation. Additionally, many places charge different rates based on the age/make of a bike—you may pay less up front for a 10-year-old shit Chinese knock off, but when it dies on you halfway through your day in the middle of nowhere, you’ll kick yourself for not springing the extra buck or two for a better bike.

Do your best and have fun! I try to follow all these rules all the time, and trouble like the unfortunate confrontation related here generally only happens when I get complacent and don’t listen to my own advice. Sticking as close to these guidelines as you can manage will greatly improve your odds of a positive rental experience.

Tell us: Do you rent motorcycles when you travel? If so, have you ever experienced anything like this? How would you have handled this situation?

Popular in: Laos

42 comments Leave a comment

  1. Oh dear. You know I love me some scooter action in Asia! Sorry you had such an awful experience but it does underline the tips you outlined above. Be careful, do your research, and cover your butt!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 6:11 am
    1. Gillian author

      Yeah, we’re not about to stop riding or renting, that’s for sure. Hopefully nothing like this will happen again, but it’s best to always be prepared!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:27 pm
  2. We have rented in Thailand and Cambodia with no issues, but just a few days ago Jason had an “incident” here in Vietnam. 2 REALLY young “police” pulled him over and demanded 500,000 Dong. After a lot of back and forth and holding ground another tourist drove by and was pulled over allowing Jason to leave. After talking with some locals we are pretty sure these were not real police and if they were they were not traffic police. Could have been much worse, feel bad for the other tourists that were pulled over though!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 7:24 am
    1. Simone author

      We never even had anything remotely like a problem anywhere else. We’ve heard stories about police issues in Vietnam, but have never once been pulled over, and we clocked over 5 months of riding all over the country. Usually the best way to deal with them is to grab your key (so they can’t) and act like you just can’t understand what they want. You can also ask to go back to the station to pay your fine there if that doesn’t work. Also, in all likelihood, real police probably would have impounded the bike, since it isn’t really legal for foreigners to ride without a license. Again, I think these instances are pretty rare though, and I’m glad to hear you got lucky!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:33 pm
  3. I had to giggle at your jab of Greedy Granny appearing on a broom. Thanks for sharing your experience! You’ll be able to laugh about this in the future. 🙂

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 8:48 am
    1. Katrina author

      Yeah, it still stresses me out a little bit now, but soon enough it will just be a distant memory, and a good lesson.

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:34 pm
  4. wow what a story. I’m glad you stood your ground, I would have too! I wouldn’t have thought to go get it fixed on my own- I’d be afraid they would make it worse or even steal more parts. I’ve heard some pretty bad stories, so it leaves me weary.

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 9:02 am
    1. Rachel of Hippie in Heels author

      Local mechanics are usually pretty good, able to fix most anything on the spot for very little money. We’ve been to a lot of them and they have never tried anything suspect. It would be hard for them to do so, since we just sit there and watch them work, so there isn’t much chance of them stealing anything. That said, it’s probably not the best idea to leave your bike and go do something else while they work, especially if they ask you to do so. Just stay there until it’s done and you should avoid any problems.

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:37 pm
  5. So frustrating. We had several of these types of issues in Vietnam, normally with hotels or day tours, and I occasionally thought my head might explode. Sadly, all part of travel, but it sounds like at least it got resolved!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:52 am
    1. Rhonda author

      I’m sorry to hear that! We actually never had any problems in Vietnam, but we only took one tour in five months… we were pretty independent. We did have a similar problem in Nepal though, the price for a jeep in the mountains doubled halfway through the trip, not cool since it was already expensive…

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 10:41 pm
  6. Bryant

    Hi. So sorry to hear about this incident but many thanks for sharing though. I’m from the Philippines and have been following your blog for quite some time now. Just out of curiosity, were you ever required to surrender your passports when you rented bikes in the Philippines. From my understanding, it’s not a common practice here to require people to surrender passports like when renting bikes or stuff.

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 12:06 pm
    1. Bryant author

      Hi! Thanks for reading! As you know, we loved the Philippines, so we’re glad you’re here! No, we never had to leave a passport, we did leave an ID a few times (my US driver’s license) but that was the most. We’ve actually rarely been asked for a passport, it really only seems common in a few countries, namely Cambodia and Laos. Most other countries don’t even ask.

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:40 pm
  7. Yeeesh. Sorry that happened to you! It’s a shame that she tried to take advantage of what was already a bad situation. As I was reading, I was hoping you’d end up splitting the bill with her… sigh. Last month I rented a scooter on the island of Phu Quoc, from a hotel where my friends were staying. No paperwork, no passport, just handed me the key and I was off!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 12:42 pm
    1. James author

      Yeah, it would have been very human of her to offer to pay anything, but that just wasn’t going to happen. When she’s thinking she’ll get 6 times the cost of the part off of us, negotiating for 50% of cost doesn’t really enter into the conversation 🙂 We never had any issues in Vietnam, when we rented our bike long-term in HCMC they took a photocopy of our passport, but otherwise most people didn’t even ask. Nice and easy!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:43 pm
  8. Ouch! That isn’t a pleasant experience at all but we all need to go trough bad experiences sometimes to learn the lesson and I’m sure you have 🙂

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 1:00 pm
    1. Franca author

      Lesson learned, and well! Hopefully, this won’t happen again!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:43 pm
  9. We rented a motorbike in Thailand, and my worst fear was the “Greedy Grannies” of the world. Thankfully it turned out ok. But to be honest, I had a hard time of enjoying myself because the entire day I was worried about if we would get our passports back. Your advice of “you get what you pay for” is often pretty spot on, even in the world outside of motorbike rentals.

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 1:42 pm
    1. Katie author

      Thailand is pretty relaxed when it comes to motorbike rentals, I don’t think it ever even entered my mind to worry, and we rented a lot of bikes in Thailand. It’s one of the most prosperous countries in the region and people there are renting nice bikes and aren’t as concerned about squeezing every penny they can out of the tourist. It’s much easier to make an honest living there, and it shows.

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:46 pm
  10. OMG how excruciating! I think we’ve all had something along these lines happen to us on the road somewhere (for me it was in a souvenir shop in Cairo), and can relate. Thank you for the warning!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 2:17 pm
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya author

      Yeah, it happens to everyone eventually! Hopefully this will help someone avoid a similar situation, or at least help them handle it better!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:47 pm
  11. Oh man – I think I need a beer too after reading this. I would have flipped out at all parties involved for sure. I am glad you were able to deal with things without blowing a top!

    Apr. 18 2014 @ 3:50 pm
    1. Emily author

      I was tempted to flip out, but we’ve been in Asia long enough to know that loosing our cool would only make things much, much worse. If you think the situation is bad, try loosing your temper and watch things get really ugly!

      Apr. 18 2014 @ 11:48 pm
  12. So stressful! Good for you guys for not blowing up. I might have come close

    Apr. 20 2014 @ 2:58 am
    1. Rebekah author

      Fair enough. I knew I had to stay calm, however much I may have wanted to blow my top at this old cheat. It was a tough situation!

      Apr. 27 2014 @ 1:01 pm
  13. What a pain. We saw plenty of fishy motorbike rentals in Laos, so I’m not surprised – one place which was beating the crap out of this bike for some reason. Not sure what the benefit was, but it was a weird place. Glad you stood your ground, even if you did have to pay more. I can only imagine the rage boiling inside…

    Apr. 20 2014 @ 4:13 am
    1. Carmel author

      Yeah, Laos has definitely earned its reputation as a hive of motorbike skullduggery. Who knows what’s happening half the time, but we survived, and now it’s just a funny story instead of something worse!

      Apr. 27 2014 @ 1:04 pm
  14. Tony, Wow! What a tale. I’m not sure I would ever rent a motorbike, but I think your tips are also good for renting cars!

    Apr. 21 2014 @ 2:49 am
    1. Corinne author

      I hope it helps someone! We’ve never tried to rent a car over here, but I can imagine a lot of this advice would cross over, save for the mechanical parts anyway. Car rentals aren’t terribly common in Asia since traffic can be crazy and drivers are usually pretty cheap.

      Apr. 27 2014 @ 1:06 pm
  15. Everyone ends up with a story like this, don’t they! We had somebody try to scam us in Phuket. We actually found that around the Kata Beach area very few places rented motorbikes without you surrendering your passports. We were very nervous about doing that (and considering there’s a huge racket in stolen passports, I’m glad I trusted my instincts) so we found one that didn’t require this and rented 2 bikes. The inner tube of one of them broke before we were even out of town. We phoned the rental place, who told us we had to pay for it to be fixed because the bike was in our possession when it happened. I told her no way, we were literally three blocks away from her, and there was no way this was something we were responsible for. After a lot of back and forth, she finally agreed that they would reimburse us for the repairs (and she kept her word, thank goodness). I truly believe the only reason she won out is that a) I stood my ground and b) I still speak some halting Thai from when I used to live there. I can only imagine how easy it would have been to scam a naive, first-time visitor.

    Apr. 21 2014 @ 1:38 pm
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling

      Oops, that was meant to be “the only reason I won out”.

      Apr. 21 2014 @ 1:40 pm
    2. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling author

      Yeah, sadly a lot of these places take advantage of people they think are inexperienced, which is what I am sure happened to us as well. As with you, we weren’t so easily pushed around and things ended up working out okay, but I imagine a lot of people get scared and just do as they are told, which is too bad. Also, I have heard that Phuket is somewhere you have to be extra careful when it comes to potential scams. Thailand is usually pretty good, but there are still parts where you need to watch out a bit! Glad you held your ground!

      Apr. 27 2014 @ 1:09 pm
  16. Wow, what a story. I’m glad you shared the cautionary tale with all of us – maybe it will prevent some of us from getting ripped off in the future! I had no idea there were so many scams with motorcycle renting in Asia, but I suppose there are scams everywhere. I don’t know if you could have prevented this one too much, but live and learn for next time. Glad it all worked out!

    Apr. 24 2014 @ 7:32 pm
    1. Lauren author

      I hope it helps someone! Asia can be scam central if you’re not careful. Some people here will try to get any extra money they can if you’re not paying attention. That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of honest people too, but there are enough that are out to get you that it pays to be cautious and know the red flags! If not, you’ll learn quickly enough through trial by fire!

      Apr. 27 2014 @ 1:13 pm
  17. Great tips Tony, I had never thought about some of the things to check, as a naive novice of these bikes I kind of just hope that the rental agency know what they’re doing and are honest. Although we haven’t rented nearly as much as you guys we’ve still rented a few and I always take photos before as ‘evidence’. Glad it didn’t cost you too much even though you shouldn’t have paid for that fix; we heard of a friend paying $400 Australian for an accident on their bike.

    Apr. 30 2014 @ 11:11 pm
  18. Hi Tony,
    I read about your experience with ‘greedy granny’ in Vientiane. That sounds like a bit of an ordeal.

    I run a motorbike rental company based in Hanoi with an office in Danang.

    We are expanding due to increased business which is largely contributed to our great customer service and fair terms and conditions. I won’t go into that too heavily, but you get they idea.

    In your case, had you rented from us, the first thing you should have done is call us. We would then direct you to a mechanic (we prefer dealerships as the prices are the same and the quality is good, also they will give the correct price, no haggling and there is a receipt which helps prevent scams) if we could and then once there we would ask them to assess the damage and quote a price. If the mechanic, who is likely to be independent as we do not know every mechanic in Vietam, tells us it was an accident or that you had ten people on the bike la la la we will ask you to pay. However, if they tell us, which seems to be true in your case, that it was an old part then we pay for it as it is clearly a mechanical failure. We may be able to deliver a bike to you, so that you can get underway whilst our staff waits in the mechanic’s shop. Once we have agreed to pay over the phone, you can rest assured that we will honor that decision.

    There is a slight problem when renters go ahead and make a repair without calling us or obtaining a verfiable receipt and that is that IF we agree to the repair we may not agree to the cost as roadside mechanics are likely to overcharge the less experienced rider,no matter what race or religion they are. In this case we pay out the correct price of the part which is sometimes less than what was paid. We insist in our terms and conditions that renters call us before dong this.

    If you are in either Hanoi or Danang, feel free to come over and get a bike. Review us for your site. Recommend us to other travellers who want to take bikes HN – DAD – SGN or even into Laos.

    Sorry for the lengthy post but this might just give other readers a litle insight into how things can work.

    I am about to read more of your posts now, I hope they are as good as this one:)


    Mar. 9 2015 @ 10:54 pm
  19. andrew

    Hi Tony,

    great article and there are without doubt lots of motorbike rental places that make more money from charging for “damage” than they do in rental fees, but I really don’t think this is one of them. I have lived in Vientiane for a decade and in that time have owned half a dozen bikes, and 1000 baht is what a real Yamaha or Honda shock costs. Sure you can get a cheap Chinese one from a repair shop for $10 or so, but real Yamaha parts cost more, and that’s what she was quoting you. She quoted in baht because that’s what the Honda or Yamaha dealers quote in – with the parts being imported from Thailand, its easier to keep to the same currency, although of course she would accept kip. Its the same in hardware shops when you go to buy a tin of paint or a new bathroom sink – baht.

    It could have been worse- there are some unscrupulous rental places in Vang Vieng that rent you an old wreck that has been crashed half a dozen times, and try to charge you the full $2000 replacement fee from the contract if you are the unlucky person to be riding it when the engine or gearbox finally seizes!

    Mar. 23 2015 @ 2:09 am
  20. jim

    I have to agree with Tony, you most likely put lower quality parts onto her bike and stood your ground as you thought you were being taken advantage of. It’s most likely not the case. You rented a bike that looked in good care and something when wrong. Most Suzuki in Laos are not 10+ years old, perhaps the KM on the bike would have been more telling. You rode the bike off a curb, full weight on it? Most scooters are not designed to do this and will fail after time. As a rental operation in Laos, I see other companies bikes come back trashed and it’s the owner’s fault sometimes and the rider’s others. I don’t know the rental office but “Greedy” “Broom riding”

    The children’s look of shame was most likely directed as your treatment of their mother. Lao customs and traditions tend to feel more sorry for the insulting person and in this case from reading your rant, it was you.

    Nice one, try to look at this from the other side before you post 10,000 words of how bad your rental was in Vientiane. This company most likely has hundreds of happy riders per year.

    Glad you got something to write about instead of the land/people/scenery/food/culture/history/fun and so on.

    Apr. 3 2016 @ 3:55 am
    1. jim author

      I guess it’s a bit of a moot point now, as this was years ago, but I should clarify some things. It’s worth noting that, yes, in fact the bike was obviously quite old. It had over 55,000km on the clock and was clearly more than a few models out of date (though it was the best one they had on offer). Clean (on the outside), but old. I should also say that I didn’t ride it fully loaded off a sheer curb, I rode it down an incline and the shock failed in the middle of the street on flat ground. If this had been a new(er) bike, and not an ancient bike with clearly original shocks, I would have been less inclined to view this as a maintenance issue, but the way the shock sheared off and the clear fatigue to the strut made it clear it was just past its service life. I’ve seen struts fail before, both from abuse and from age, it was obvious this was age.

      As far as the shaming of the owner goes, I never raised my voice and I never insulted her, which, to be fair, may not be clear as I wrote this with a bit of a hot head still. Despite that, I do know how to handle things like this in Asia having spent quite a bit of time there. She was rude and loud and directly accusatory from the beginning and I calmly stood my ground and kept my cool. If she was convinced that I was wrong, then she could easily have taken me up on my offer to call the police. They agree with her? I pay. Fine, I’ll respect that. They probably would have sided with her in reality, she being a local and me, well, a foreigner, which made me all the more dubious that she didn’t call my bluff.

      Did I handle this as perfectly as I could have? I’m sure not, but it was obvious that she was of the opinion that I would pay, no matter what had happened, and no matter the reason, mostly because I asked her and she made that clear. Chain failure? “You pay.” Engine stops? “You pay.” On and on, despite anything written on the contract to the contrary (it was clearly written that we were not liable for maintenance issues, which is why I came back in the first place). That combined with some pretty obvious attempted deception was enough to get my back up.

      In any case, her children were flinching away from her almost from the beginning, and it was no exaggeration when I said they were hiding from her (one literally hid behind a tree); it was clear from their body language that they were not on her side in this by the end, as she was the one whose eyes they wouldn’t meet, not me. I may not be many things, good or otherwise, but I am good at reading situations and body language, and had her children been even remotely willing to back her play after I fixed the shock, I think I would have been less confident that she thought of me as something other than a walking ATM. All this said, we had a lot of good times in Laos too (and wrote about them, too), it’s just that this wasn’t one of them.

      Apr. 26 2016 @ 10:39 pm
  21. K Dwight

    Hi Tony Here is another scam for you in Vientiane, just been there a couple of weeks ago, parking your car and it gets clamped and the police want 2000 baht to release it, why it needs 4 of them to turn up and do this not sure, it only costs 200 baht for speeding in Thailand, and this costs more than a parking fine in England, paid as was leaving the the following morning unfortunately, why they can’t seem to understand that what they are doing, is seriously degrading the tourism in these places, and it will put people off going there or going back anyway.

    Dec. 26 2016 @ 11:26 am
  22. Glenn Jackson

    Hi and thanks for your story, I had a similar experience in Vientiane with one of the bigger bike rental places and it cost us 4 days of our holiday and countless hours on the phone to the guy trying to get it sorted. It all worked out in the end and other than that dampener we had a great time and covered over 2000km seeing this magnificent country.

    Jan. 24 2017 @ 1:19 pm
  23. Peter

    Really well-written story. It was a pleasure to read as I’m currently riding through SE Asian on an authentic Honda Wave that I purchased in Vietnam.

    Mar. 30 2017 @ 3:47 am
  24. Your site looks great Mani! Good luck with everything.

    Jun. 28 2020 @ 3:40 pm

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