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In 2017 we spent 4 months travelling around Southeast Asia, and I can honestly say that riding around on scooters was the most enjoyable part of the trip.
And what’s more, I know plenty of people who say exactly the same thing.
However, this begs the question, had I ever ridden a scooter before I went?
In fact, the first time I ever rode a scooter was when I had just landed in Bali and my friend had gone ahead and rented me one for the month.
He showed me what to do and I jumped on and drove to the end of the road. And then …
I fell off!
All with Cazzy on the back as well, and with a surfboard strapped to the side.
So, if you’re in the position I was in less than 12 months ago and you’re looking at renting a scooter in Southeast Asia for the first time, here’s everything you need to know.
There are so many reasons why you should decide to hire a scooter when you’re over in Southeast Asia.
That’s not to say they're for everybody, but they certainly are the go-to mode of transport for most backpackers we met.
First off, you have to realise just how much fun they are. There really is no feeling like driving through cities and across endless stretches of road with the sun on your back and the breeze in your face.
Secondly, they give you so much more freedom than other modes of transport.
If you find something cool to do in Southeast Asia then you either have to schedule in for a tour or get a taxi.
Both methods are far less exciting and don't give you the same level of personal freedom. If we didn't rent a moped in Pnomh Penh, then we would never have got the chance to visit the amazing Wildlife Rescue Centre they have there.
Also, they're great just for driving around cities in the evening if you need to grab something from the shops or head out for dinner
Next, and one of the most important reasons for you fellow backpackers out there, is that it’s so cheap!
The maximum we spent on a scooter for the day must have been around $6, and fuel costs next to nothing everywhere you go in Southeast Asia.
The fourth and final reason as to why you should give scooters a go is that they are, generally speaking, much quicker than other forms of transport.
This is particularly true in Bali where car and bus drivers have to sit in a lot of traffic to go even a couple of miles.
A moped, on the other hand, offers you the freedom to slip past cars and cut your journey times by more than half.
Right, now we’ve got that out the way, let’s look at why you're actually here! To get some juicy answers to your most pressing questions.
Let’s get stuck in ...
Hiring a moped in Southeast Asia is very straightforward, everyone and their mum seems to be renting them out to tourists. However, you’re best off sticking to renting them from either your hostel/hotel or a reputable local firm.
This does depend on exactly what country you're in, but we never paid any more than $6 a day. The cheapest price we got was in Bali. Because we were there for 3 weeks, we brokered a deal that saw us paying just $2.20 a day!
If you're from the UK, then yes! In fact, I think most countries allow you to pick up some sort of international driving license. Failure to have one when stopped can see you getting fined heavily by local police.
To get an international driving license in the UK, you just need to go to the post office. You’ll need two passport pictures, and it cost me £5.50 back in 2017. Here's some more info.
Experience helps, but it is not a prerequisite. As mentioned, I had never driven a motorbike before heading to Asia and I picked it up just fine. However, the one thing I would say that is more important than experience is to be confident and trust in yourself.
The most sensible option is to wear trainers, long trousers and a long top/jacket. You should also wear a helmet at all times and sunglasses if your helmet doesn't have a visor. Oh yeah, and always carry around a poncho just in case the weather turns all of a sudden (which it will!).
Absobloominlutely! There are a number of obvious risks associated with renting a scooter in Southeast Asia and you should 100% have insurance. Just be sure to check your travel insurance includes it and what power engine it covers you for.
In most cases, the owner of the moped will require you to leave behind your passport or something of equal value. However, in some cases, we left after giving nothing more than a crisp high five (a little Deadpool reference there).
After 4 months we never had any trouble, but you should take certain precautions. This includes the following:
Getting fuel for your scooter in Southeast Asia is actually very easy. Whenever possible stick to using the larger petrol garages. Simply pull in and the attendant will fuel up for you and take your money. If you’re in more rural areas then you can purchase it from houses with a small hand pump outside or vodka bottles filled with petrol.
You’ll find the fuel take under the seat. You just need to pop it open and then twist the cap off. Simples, *squeak*.
If ever your bike won't start, here are 3 of the most common reasons:
What, there’s more?!
Hell yeah, there’s more! If you thought you were ready to jump on a moped already, then you were wrong.
I’ve come up with 2 more important points for you to consider before renting a scooter in Southeast Asia.
Keep reading …
1. First and foremost, bikes do not get the right of way. In fact, they are lowest in the pecking order. The bigger the vehicle, the more authority they have and you should acknowledge this.
2. Don’t get angry. If someone cuts you up or beeps at you, it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as it does back home. You might have failed to acknowledge the pecking order or the beep might have just been to alert you to something. Plus, getting angry is a sure fire way to lose concentration and injure yourself.
3. Make sure you know which side of the road to drive on. This point may sound simple, but the correct driving lane changes from country to country in Southeast Asia. Don’t just jump on a bike and intuitively go down the wrong road if you’ve just crossed a border.
4. Beep your horn at people if you are about to overtake. It’s not seen as rude, it’s just the rule of the road and it will help keep you safe. In fact, larger vehicles will expect it from you.
5. Never leave anything of high value in the seat compartment. It is possible to prise open the seat compartment with a screwdriver, so only leave things of little value in there.
6. Confidence is crucial.If you’re nervous on a scooter then you are far more likely to have an accident. Instead, you need to summon your courage and get stuck in.
7. If it’s your first time riding a scooter, then go solo for a bit. Having someone on the back can make it much harder to balance, especially when coming to a stop and weaving through traffic.
8. Expect everyone else to drive like lunatics. Never let your guard down, even for a few seconds. Locals in Southeast Asia really do drive like mad men. I would say driving in Bali and Vietnam are the 2 worst countries and Thailand was the best.
9. If you break down, then stay calm. Breakdowns are common in Southeast Asia and it happened to us twice. Once in the middle of nowhere in Bali and once in the middle of Hanoi. Both times, we managed to find a repair shop with relative ease and got them fixed.
This is despite the fact that we had no idea how to speak their language and they spoke no English. The simple matter is that scooters are everywhere in Asia and they have spare parts ready to fix all kinds of bike. It's also incredibly cheap for parts (oh, and don't expect to get reimbursed by the bike’s owner!).
10. Prepare your maps ahead of time. To reduce the amount of stress, you should plan out where you are going ahead of time. I strongly recommend downloading maps.me and bookmarking all of your locations. You can download maps for offline use and the app works brilliantly.
11. Make note of any damage already on the moped. When you rent your scooter anywhere in Southeast Asia, there’s a high chance there will already be a small amount of damage. I recommend you show this to the person hiring you the bike and then take pictures for future evidence in case they try ripping you off.
12. Make sure you buy your own padlock! I’ve already mentioned this but I’ll say it again. It is important that you take your own padlock for the bike chain. It is a common story that the owner of the bike will follow you to wherever you're going and then steal their own bike and charge you for it.
13. Don’t stop on a hill.If it's your first time renting and riding a bike in Southeast Asia, then bear this in mind. Stopping on hills can be very tricky as it makes for a tougher start and a loss in balance.
14. Check what sort of bike your insurance covers you for. Most travel insurance only covers you for bikes up to a certain level of power. Mine was 150cc I believe.
15. Steer clear of sand. Never drive your bike onto the sand (or mud for that matter). It can cause you to easily lose balance or get stuck.
16. Don’t rent a moped from street hustlers. We’ve read cautionary tales online of people getting ripped off somehow by street vendors. Or these guys are the ones who will try and steal it back from you when you're parked up. Instead, stick to actual stores or your hostel, especially for scooters in Cambodia (Phnom Penh is apparently particularly risky).
17. Use the rear brake more than you use the front brake (i.e. squeeze with your left hand more). This is the safest way to brake.
18. Keep a close eye on the road ahead for any potholes or bumps. If you thought the potholes in the UK were bad, then you’re in for a shock! Keep your eyes peeled.
19. Don't go full throttle! It’s tempting to let loose and race off on your moped, but ultimately, it’s dangerous. You run the risk of getting fined and, more importantly, seriously hurting yourself.
20. Stay off the sidewalks.It’s tempting I know, especially when everyone else is doing it. But it can make controlling your moped much harder, and a rogue police officer might fine you for it simply because you’re a westerner.
21. Remember to wear sunscreen. It's easy to forget how hot the sun is when you're cruising along with the wind on your face.
22. Take a poncho. On the flip side, Southeast Asia is well known for its sudden temperature changes. Take a poncho just in case.
Whenever you rent a scooter in Southeast Asia, it is very important that you first try it out before handing over your passport and signing anything.
Oftentimes, we had to go through 3 or 4 scooters before finding one that was actually safe enough to drive. Here are the key things you should at before signing on the dotted line.
Basically, take it for a test run and raise any issues immediately. If you're not happy, or if it doesn't feel right, then ask for a different bike.
If they refuse you, then just walk away. It’s not worth taking the risk on a dodgy scooter.
Renting and riding scooters in Southeast Asia really is one of the most enjoyable things you can do.
And if you've never tried it before, then I bet you'll be hooked within the hour!
If you have any funny stories about renting scooters in Southeast Asia or have any more questions, then please do let me know in the comments below.