Why I am NOT Renting a Scooter or a Motorbike in Southeast Asia

Renting a scooter in Southeast Asia is so easy!

For only $5 a day you can ride a motorbike through the countryside.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how, you can practice driving it in the parking lot!

Why I am NOT Renting a Scooter or a Motorbike in Southeast Asia

Pshh, you fools! Except I too was one of those fools…

Before I came to Southeast Asia, I had these romantic ideas of exploring places on the back of a motorbike. Wind blowing in my hair, rice fields as far as the eye can see, stopping in rural towns along the way for a little break…

I know, I know, I think back now and shake my head at that girl with those naive ideas. If she only knew back then what driving is really like in this part of the world…

Renting scooters is something that Sam and I went back and forth on for a while. I wanted to ride a scooter around northern Thailand; he kept telling me how dangerous the roads were and how drivers (in bigger vehicles) had little regard for measly scooters on the highway. I, of course, thought he was being overcautious and scoffed at his lack of adventure.

Well, yesterday sealed the deal for me. I’ve been travelling around SE Asia for four months now and I’ve seen my fair share of hazard on wheels, but it was yesterday’s trip from Chiang Mai to the Thai-Burmese border, that really made me see how reckless it would be to ride a scooter along the roads we were travelling on.

I was travelling in a 14 person minivan and I basically spent the entire journey holding onto the hand rail in front of me for dear life.

Our driver sped uphill, downhill, around curves, onto oncoming traffic, nearly nicked a motorbike, passed trucks and buses as he continued speeding down the wrong side of the road, braked last minute tossing us into the seat in front, nearly nicked another vehicle…

I knew I wasn’t overreacting when the laid back German backpacker in our minivan decided it was time to strap on his seat belt, tight.

It was four hours of torture there, and four hours of torture back.

The signs along the highway which stated ’40 km/hr’ and ‘use low gear’ were invisible in his eyes, as was the yellow line dividing oncoming traffic.

Sure, seeing the countryside by motorbike sounds like a great idea, but the problem is that in a place where drivers don’t follow rules, THEY are putting YOUR lives at risk. You might think riding a scooter looks easy as pie, but what about the other motorists around you? They’re not going to be looking out for you and slowing down just because it’s your first time riding and you want to have a nice holiday.

And then there’s the girl I saw a yesterday returning a motorbike at a rental shop in Chiang Mai with the nastiest burns and scrapes ALL OVER HER BODY. She had clearly toppled over and you could tell it was a nasty skid by all the marks on her forearm, elbow, shoulder, calf, and knees. But she’s not the only one. If you’ve spent any time in SE Asia, you’ve seen them too – travellers with bruises, exhaust pipe burns on their legs, bandaged elbows, and even arm casts.

Chances are that was a motorbike accident.

I’m not trying to scare you into not riding a scooter or motorbike around Southeast Asia, but the reality is that a lot of travellers get hurt every day, so don’t go into it blindly thinking it’ll be like getting on a bicycle.

Riding a motorbike can be trickier than it looks, so do yourself a favour, if you’re really keen on doing the motorbike thing, take a few lessons back at home. That way you’ll at least know how to deal with sharp curves, gravel, wet roads, and you’ll know how to kick the bike away should you fall while riding. Also, wear appropriate clothing – shorts, flip flops and a sleeveless shirt aren’t going to do you any favours.

Sure, maybe I am being a bit too ‘safe’ and I’m missing out on having a great time, but at the end of the day, I know I don’t have the skill to ride a scooter or a motorbike on these roads. Plus getting on a highway where people are driving like it’s NASCAR would be asking for trouble.

What are your thoughts?

Have you traveled on a scooter/motorbike around SE Asia?

Do you have any tips for people who want to do so?