Riding a motorbike in Southeast Asia is one of the most exciting and convenient ways to get around. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy though it’s pretty dangerous and sometimes terrifying. There’s a new story every week about a Westerner dying in a motorcycle related incident. Don’t be one of them!
Our previous post gives you some tips for “renting a motorbike in Southeast Asia” now take our advice on riding one. Accidents do happen, but we promise that if you follow our advice, you’ll minimise the risk and keep yourself safe.
Before you ride a scooter in Southeast Asia, you’ll need to rent one. Check out our top tips for renting a scooter here.
Wear a helmet
Our number 1 tip for keeping yourself safe is to always wear a helmet. It’s the law in your home country, it’s the law in most countries. There’s a reason for that. It could save your life.
Unfortunately, the law in Southeast Asia is often ignored. Just because you see locals or other travellers riding without a helmet, don’t copy! It’s not big and it’s not clever.
Cover your eyes
Try your best to get a helmet with a visor. Your visor will help protect your eyes from loose dirt, dust or even bugs. Any of these can seriously impair your vision and make your journey very dangerous very quickly.
Often, helmets are visor-less, or extremely dirty. We always use our sunglasses to protect our eyes when riding.
Research your route
Let’s be honest, if you’re riding a scooter in Southeast Asia, you probably aren’t familiar with the roads. Using google maps and street view to plan your route is an invaluable tip.
If we’re going on a long drive, then we always use street view to plan our journey. It can help us to remember where to turn off and check the road conditions. It’s so helpful knowing ahead of time if you’ll be driving on a busy 4 lane high way or quiet country road. This foresight helps us stay calm and not run into anything unexpected.
Think about the weather
Check the weather forecast before you set off on an adventure. You don’t want to get stuck in a heavy thunderstorm when you’re 1-hour away from your accommodation. Driving in such conditions can be very dangerous.
Likewise, if it’s sunny, plan ahead. You might feel cool when you’re riding but you’re still getting burnt. Apply your sunscreen so that you don’t ruin your day.
Find out which side of the road they ride on
This might sound like an obvious tip but research your destination and prepare yourself accordingly. Riding on the opposite side of the road to your native country takes some practice.
Take your time and practice on some empty roads to get the hang of it. Feeling at ease whilst riding will make your adventures so much safer!
Keep to that side of the road!
The locals (including authorities) who ride motorbikes in Southeast Asia will often ride on both sides of the road. The correct side or not, they’ll ride wherever they see fit, even down narrow one-way streets.
Don’t try to copy them, they’re used to it, you’re not!
Keep far left/right
In the UK we’re told to stay in the middle of your lane. In Southeast Asia, we advise keeping as far to the side of the road as possible. If they drive on the left, keep left and vice versa.
Other drivers, big cars and lorry’s included, will overtake you at every opportunity and only give you an inch of room. Keeping yourself to the side of the road puts you at less risk as they have more room to speed past.
Research local driving habits
One way to keep yourself safe in Southeast Asia is to research the local driving habits. Understand what you’re up against before you set out on the road. In some countries, the local’s beep (a lot) to simply let you know they’re overtaking you.
Each country has its own habits so try your best to learn them, it will help you to stay calm.
Go with the flow of the traffic
Some destinations have a ton of traffic. It’s usually slow moving and not as scary as it first looks. Just take your time and go with the flow of the traffic. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to speed.
The locals are experts at navigating this kind of traffic. In most situations, you’re the main risk. Remember this and don’t do anything unexpected.
Keep an eye on the fuel
The lack of fuel in your tank can catch you by surprise. This is especially true when your motorbikes fuel gauge doesn’t work as it should. Always keep an eye on how much fuel you have before you set off on an adventure.
The last thing you want to do is to break down with no gas station in sight.
Trust us. It happens.
Get familiar with having a passenger
If you’ve never had a passenger before, get one and practice somewhere quiet. The weight distribution of the bike changes, making it harder to turn corners or come to a stop. It’s not hard to get used to but definitely worth getting comfortable with.
Find somewhere quiet to practice and get a feeling for how the added weight feels.
Use your mirrors
Your mirrors are invaluable, especially when there are 1000 other vehicles around you. The roads can be chaotic and you’ll have people riding right behind you, in front of you and either side of you.
Always check your mirrors before changing direction or overtaking, it sometimes feels like other vehicles have appeared from nowhere!
Our honest opinion on riding 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.
Our final thoughts
It’s true that many people learn to ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia and have no problems. However, there are thousands of travellers who have accidents. These range from minor injuries to fatal crashes. It’s very common to see backpackers walking around with bandages on as a result of a motorbike accident.
If you do have an accident, you could find yourself seriously hurt and not covered by your travel insurance. You’ll likely not just damage yourself but the motorbike too, which you’ll be liable for. This really isn’t a situation you want to find yourself in.
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?
Do you think we are over-cautious or offer good advice? Have you got any tips that you think are worth noting but we missed? Write them in the comments below and let us know your thoughts.