What to Know Before Riding a Scooter in South East Asia

Riding a Scooter or Motorbike in South East Asia - What You Need to Know

Scooter in Vietnam

Riding a Scooter in SEA

I have to say in advance, if you are looking for an expert rider with technical tips, that’s not me. I have always rented a scooter because a motorbike is much harder to handle and typically easier and cheaper to get. However, since I have had my first accident with a scooter and since I have gotten up and taken the courage to continue riding, I guess I have some, both good and bad, experiences and some advice what NOT to do, and how to do it better than I did (Wish someone had given me that advice in advice in advance. Smh)

1. Always, Always Keep Some Spare Change (Less than 10 or 20$) at Hand, Without Having to Reach into Your Backpack. 

Many countries in South East Asia have a corrupt police. A lot of these officers do not make a lot of money and abuse their small power wherever they can. I have heard horror stories from friends in Cambodia who got hold up on their way to the beach and got into a verbal fight with around ten police officers - scary if you are all by yourself, right? Some spots are even known to Hostels and Airbnb’s, so maybe ask in advance if they know places where the police picks out tourists to fine them for something hideous or something that they did not commit. 

Often, giving them what you have at hand will make the issue go away. However, if you pull out your wallet they will know how much money you have and will not let you leave until you have given them everything. Simply claim that you did not bring any more money. Always remain calm and friendly and observe the situation but remain insistent on not bringing more money. 

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Getting onto a scooter or motorbike for the first time and already throwing yourself into bad traffic or onto rocky roads can literally be life-threatening. Practice on safe and easy roads before you get out there. Get accustomed to the traffic and driving on the left, if necessary. Before getting on a scooter observe locals and their own rules. Only if you think you know exactly what to do in turning situations or on busy crossroads you may get on that thing. Every backpacker I have seen so far has had a minor or also a mayor accident with a scooter. Just last time in Indonesia my boyfriend and I encountered to girls that slipped with their scooter on Nusa Penida This can ruin your whole vacation so practice, practice, practice in advance. 

3. Use the Back Break!

Using the front brake while going down a rocky hill, literally could have killed me. A friend of mine had the grand idea of us going to the Batur Hot Springs on Bali a day after I had started riding a scooter. I was on that thing for about an hour when we reached a road with small stones and sand on it that had a notable slope, and of course, in my panic, I tried to hit the front brake (right hand). At the same time I turned the gas a little… and there I was falling for what felt like seconds, chin first, across that rocky road, even taking my body down the street a little. NOT fun. Fortunately, apart from a bruised and bloody chin, and completely ripped legs, nothing happened to me. Wounds in these countries take forever to heal due to the humidity, though. I actually had to get antibiotics and couldn’t bathe for a while. So try to avoid that. 

In these kinds of situations only using the back break and therefore controlling the scooter much easier, is the best way to go. Remain calm, and with some practice, you should be fine!

4. Check the Functionality Before You Go to Remote Areas

That same day I had the accident we tried to get back to Ubud, Bali where the hospital was at. It was already dark, my chin was dripping blood. OF COURSE I was crazy scared to get back on the scooter, however, it was not like I had a choice. Suddenly my scooter stopped working and continuously got slower. I was confused and then angry about my bad luck. Now the scooter was broken in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. GREAT! However, the scooter was not broken, it simply needed gas. The gas indicator worked the other way around. The right hand side was empty, not full. Just like you had to drive on the left side, not on the right. Who would have guessed? I did not check the gas tank thoroughly which is why I had not noticed.

Therefore, check your scooter before you hop on, get accustomed to at least the basic technical things, so you do not end up like me!

5. Get an International Driver’s License

Depending on where you are from, it should not be hard to get an international driver’s license for a small fee. This might avoid some difficulty with the police aforementioned in #1. The missing international driver’s license is often a reason for them to fine you (even though I doubt that some of the locals actually own a driver’s license at all).

6. Watch Out When It Rains

Wet streets can also be very dangerous on a scooter or motorbike. I avoided riding a scooter altogether when it rained. In the rainy season, monsoons will turn some streets into small rivers and rid you and your bike off any grip completely. Sometimes you get into a rainfall and simply have to deal with it. Then ride EXTRA carefully. You might be able to handle the rain well, some others might not!

7. Do you need a specific license?

To know if you need a license check this article on world nomads. They are certain things you need to keep in mind when not having a license; like travel insurance etc. It is always best to get an international driver´s license, however if you want to ride an actual motorbike, not a scooter, you sometimes need a motorbike license at home, as well. 


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