South East Asia is a well-travelled area that offers much for all sorts of travelers. There is an abundance of things to see and do in this region whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or family. It boasts stunning countryside, ancient temples, perfect beaches and some of the world’s finest cuisine. From the exotic bustle of big cities like Hanoi or Bangkok to the relaxed beauty of the Thai islands, there is something to suit every taste.
It’s cheap too. Budget airlines abound and living costs when you arrive are relatively inexpensive. You get a lot for your dollar when it comes to food, accommodation and travel and it’s easy to get around. Tourism has boomed over recent years and so many tour operators have sprung up to help visitors find their way round the region.
That said, the infrastructure is still way behind what you might expect in western countries. Be prepared for cramped bus rides along ramshackle roads and slow train journeys in hot carriages. All of which adds to the charm, of course. You know you’re somewhere very different to home when sharing a bus trip with friendly local families and their chickens.
Sometimes it can be rewarding to get off the beaten path too. Motorbikes are a cheap way to delve deeper into the rural areas and see things that haven’t yet made it onto the tourist trail. Scooters and motos are ubiquitous here. They are the main form of travel for the vast majority of people and transport whole families, livestock and household goods – even wardrobes and fridges.
Many tourists buy a bike and tour from country to country with backpacks strapped to the pillion, which is an incredibly satisfying way of seeing the area. But if the idea of riding a two-wheeler for long periods of time doesn’t appeal then you can rent them by the day in most towns you visit. They are cheap, super-fun to ride and perfect for excursions to more secluded locations.
But there are pitfalls to renting and driving motorbikes. There are plenty of stories of injuries and tricks involving travelers and scooters. Let’s look at some tips to help avoid accidents and have a scam-free experience.
Renting a Bike
There are many places to rent bikes throughout SE Asia. Most reasonably sized towns have them and there are even some tour companies that allow you to rent them in once place and return in another so you can continue your onward journey. It is essential to know who you are renting from and what you are getting though:
• You will most likely have to leave your passport as a deposit so make sure that the rental place is reputable. Look for some kind of online presence before renting – a Trip Advisor or Facebook page – so that you can see what experience other people have had.
• Look over the bike to make sure it is safe to drive. Test-drive to check brakes, lights and indicators are working. Take photos of any damage that already exists so you don’t get charged for any previous damage.
• Make sure you are given a helmet. Most countries have introduced fines for driving without a helmet and it is also MUCH safer to drive with one on.
• Ask if they have a lock too if one is not provided – moto theft is a big problem in many areas and you don’t want to pay for the whole bike if it does go missing. Ideally keep motos inside overnight but if you can’t then lock it up.
Riding a Bike
You may have experience of riding bikes back home or you may not. Either way, be aware that driving in Asia is very different from the West. Follow these guidelines and keep yourself safe.
• Observation is key. Traffic comes at you from all directions in Asia. Drivers can often be on the wrong side of the road or pull out in front of you unexpectedly.
• There is a tendency to go for every space and overtake, even on blind corners. Try and keep a consistent speed and people will drive around you.
• Use the horn. Use it to let people know where you are when overtaking or approaching a busy junction. It’s not considered rude to beep.
• Make sure you have plenty of supplies. Carry a spare bottle of petrol for long trips. Water and food too. It gets hot out on the road and you don’t want to break down without provisions.
• If you are a novice to driving, find a quiet spot to practice first. Though scooters are simple to drive, traffic can be overwhelming so it’s best to build up your confidence.
• Make sure you follow the rules and regulations when riding bikes. The last thing you want is a brush with the law.
• Make sure your insurance covers riding scooters. Many travel insurers have policies that specifically rule out injury or damage claims as a result of bike riding. It’s worth paying a little extra to be covered before getting on a bike.
• Make sure you wear a helmet and that your driver’s license is up to date. Get an international driver’s license before travelling. Though the laws in some SE Asian country can be a little lax about licenses, often the police try and earn money out of you with legally dubious on-the- spot fines.
Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.for-sale.ie