Luckily, we were warned ahead of time on the situation with police and tourists in Thailand. While researching whether or not to drive a scooter to Pai (check out more info on the drive here), I found out police often pull tourists over and pocket any “fees” they charge.
Firstly, in Krabi/Ao Nang area, we rented a 2 seater scooter and drove all around and had zero issues with any police. We didn’t even see any- which was a good thing because we didn’t have an international motorcycle license. Back in the US, we got an international drivers permit from AAA for around $20, but it only covers what your license is issued in. In our case it was a regular car license, not a motorcycle.
Secondly, the police in Chiang Mai are a whole other story. They are everywhere! Literally. So after we rented our scooter, we left the old town walls and probably got about 10-15 minutes down the road until we were flagged down. There were a handful of police on the side of the road with some traffic/hazard signs flagging down other “foreigners.” If you have a valid license, you should have no problem and be on your way soon enough. We showed the policeman our license, tried to explain we were renting a scooter and not a motorcycle (that doesn’t fly there anyway apparently), and then were told to turn around and go to the police station for a 1000 baht fine, or pay them 500 baht on the spot.
ESSENTIAL TIP: Hide your money, only carry small bills for cases like this. I hid our money in my socks (another tip from a couple we met the day before).
I showed him our money, which was maybe 300 baht (we should have left out less than that), and after several minutes of begging, the policeman let us go (without a receipt). I said “please” in Thai, so I’m thinking my words of persuasion influenced him (LOL).
Once we left Chiang Mai, there weren’t any other cops on the way. Without a receipt, who’s to say this wouldn’t happen again?!
BACK IN CHIANG MAI
After we got back from our trip to Pai, we decided to drive out of Chiang Mai to go to Bosang Lake for Mekong Catfishing. On the way leaving, once again another roadblock and we got pulled over. We did the same deal as before, but this time we explained that paid the fee already and were able to be let go. We got a few blocks down and then GOT PULLED OVER AGAIN. We said how this was our “second” check that day and once again were free to go.
They seriously are on the hunt for tourists without valid licenses. Don’t be one!! If you must rent a scooter anyway (because it’s a great way to get around, is great on gas, and as long as you drive cautiously, I highly recommend it), then hide your money. They pocket it, it’s known. Just be aware!