To most people, renting a motorbike in Southeast Asia sounds like a fantastic idea. It is a fun way to get around, that’s for sure. In some cases, it might be the only way for you get around. It’s either rent a motorbike or shell out for expensive taxis.
Renting a motorbike might be fun, though we can’t stress the importance of knowing what you’re doing. Some careful planning can go a long way in keeping your adventure disaster free.
We’ve rented scooters in multiple countries and had no problems. So, we offer you our best advice to make sure your rental goes as smoothly as possible.
Never give your passport as a deposit!
Our number one tip for rending a motorbike in Southeast Asia is to never use your passport as a deposit. Some shops will ask you to do this, say no. You risk having it held as a ransom if you return the bike with even a minor problem.
Often, they’ll accept either a photocopy or a cash deposit instead. If they insist on taking your passport move on and find a new rental shop.
Research local rental shops
Before you consider renting a scooter always research shops in your location. Simple google searches can provide you with information on good and bad shops to rent from.
The online reviewing industry is huge for a reason, it’s valuable! Use it to your advantage. You’d be surprised how many small stores have reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or on google reviews!
Take pictures of the bike
Before you ride away, always ask if the scooter has any known issues. Take as many photos or videos as possible highlighting all the damage you can find. Make sure the lighting is good so you can clearly see all the marks.
This can act as an insurance policy for yourself when returning the bike. You don’t want them to accuse you of further damaging their vehicle.
Check everything works
Again, before you leave the shop check everything is working! Everything from the headlight, indicators, brakes, wing mirrors (sometimes they are loose), seat latch etc.
You should always ask if you can give the bike a test ride outside the shop to check for these issues.
Check the fuel gauge
This is quite a silly tip but important, nonetheless. When renting a scooter in Southeast Asia, don’t assume you’ll be getting a bike with a full tank. Often, they are bone dry.
We once forgot to do this and after 20 minutes we realised that our fuel gauge was seriously red lining. Luckily, we made it to the gas station, but you might not!
Be aware of where you can refuel
Always ask the rental shop where you can get more fuel. In Bali for example, every other shop sells fuel in old vodka bottles. It’s totally legitimate and safe to use. Yet, nothing of the sort can be found in Malaysia, only large gas stations.
Be aware of this and keep it in mind during a long adventure. Running out of fuel is never fun.
Make sure you’re insured
Surprisingly, not many travellers realise that their travel insurance doesn’t cover them for riding a scooter. This varies from each insurance company and they have strict rules about it. You may have to pay an additional fee to be covered for riding a scooter.
Depending on which country, you’re from (the UK is one of them), you need to hold a scooter licence both in your home country AND travel location to be insured.
Don’t tell bike shop where you’re staying
You can call us overcautious, but we never tell the bike shop where we are staying. We have heard horror stories about scooters being stolen from outside hostels.
It’s later been found/suspected the owners steal the bikes before asking for an extortionate fee to replace it.
Obviously, this is a scam and doesn’t happen often, but we take the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.
Haggle for the price of your rental
Like most other things, motorbike rentals in Southeast Asia can be haggled for. If you’re renting for a week or a month, don’t hesitate in asking for a cheaper daily price.
The longer you’re renting for the better price you can get. In Bali, we pay 50,000 IDR on a daily rate but only 25,000 IDR per day if we rent for 1 month.
Make sure you can get helmets
Before you sign anything and hand over any money, make sure the bike shop will provide you with helmets. They might ask for a small extra fee or deposit. Pay it!
If you ride helmetless you’re putting your life in danger and making yourself an easy target for the police. The local authorities will stop and fine any tourists who break this rule.
Read the rental contract
Make sure you read that contract your signing. Ask if the bike is insured if you have an accident. Some shops give you the choice of paying slightly extra so that the bike is covered against damage.
Whether or not you want to pay the extra is up to you. Though it’s always best to understand the situation prior to renting the bike.
Get an international driving permit
If you want to ride a scooter in Southeast Asia you have to get an IDP in each country. You’ll need an IDP to satisfy the local authorities and your travel insurance company.
Choosing to ride without a permit is a sure fire way to get a fine from the police if you’re stopped.
Ask for a lock
You aren’t always lucky enough to get this from a shop. It isn’t absolutely essential to have a lock neither but it helps to put the mind at ease. Ask for a lock and make sure you use it whenever you park your scooter up. If you don’t have one, try to park the scooter in areas with security or lots of people about.
Take a picture of your registration plate
Our final, less serious, but very helpful tip is to photograph your license plate. Anywhere you park your scooter in Southeast Asia will busy and full of other motorbikes. Many of the bikes are the same model and colour.
Take a picture of your plate so that you can remember which bike is yours when you return.
Our honest opinion on renting a scooter in Southeast Asia
We’re of the opinion that if you’ve never ridden a scooter before, then you probably shouldn’t in Southeast Asia. This might not be a popular opinion, but we say it to keep you safe.
Learning to control the scooter is a task within itself. Learning how to ride, whilst dealing with bad road conditions, crazy traffic, lack of ‘rules’ and in an unfamiliar location is a recipe for disaster. It can get very overwhelming very quickly. You can be a danger not only to yourself but the other hundred people who are sharing the same road as you.
For the record
You might be wondering if either of us is qualified to ride a scooter. The answer is yes. Jack had previously ridden in the UK for over 2 years. He also got re-certified before our travels to make sure we would be covered with our travel insurance.
On the other hand, Becky isn’t qualified. Any pictures you see of Becky on a scooter are just for fun. She hasn’t tried her hand at using one.
What do you think?
Have you rented a scooter in Southeast Asia before? How was it? Do you agree with our best advice? If you feel like you have any tips or advice that we have missed then don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments.