My favorite thing to do anywhere I travel is to explore the new terrain on a motorbike. The freedom and the access you obtain when riding a bike is phenomenal. The ability to explore untraveled terrain (or at least less traveled). The fun of seeing locals surprised to see you in outskirt towns. The sheer joy of scenery and mountain turns! Get on a bike and ride anywhere and everywhere in Asia!!!
If you’re headed to Chiang Mai click over to my Chiang Mai: Motorbike Rental Guide
First things first!!!! Do be very careful!!!!
There are so many people walking about Asia with scrapes, burns, bandages, or even crutches. Almost always this is from biking accidents. The US Embassy also states that the number one killer of US tourists in Thailand is motorbike accidents. So please be careful, do not get cocky, and drive with mindfulness/awareness.
- No drinking and driving!
There are so many parties here, it’s easy to drive to a bar or club, have a few drinks, and drive home. A lot of people do it and they’re fine, but you’re adding a lot of risk to your life this way.
- Take it easy, don’t feel pressure to do anything you’re uncomfortable doing. If you feel pressured, you’ll feel nervous, and we do not make the best decisions or movements when in this state of mind. Try your best to feel confident in your personal comfort zone.
- I recommend wearing shoes or well strapped sandals when riding. You’ll be putting your feet down a lot while you ride. Either to back up the bike, catch your balance, making a sharp turn. I’ve ruined many a flip-flops and have since only worn shoes while riding.
- Wear Sun Protection! – I always wear long pants and long sleeves when I know I’m riding more than 30 minutes. When you’re on a bike, you’ve got ZERO protection from the sun. If you’re doing something like the Mae Hong Son Loop, you’ll be burnt to a crisp without proper care. Wear super lightweight pants and a super lightweight shirt. You’ll be a little hotter, but so thankful!
- Have an international license. There are police checkpoints in several countries in Asia, but I’ve only had problems in Thailand. If you don’t have an international license and you are pulled over in Thailand, you will be fined 500THB.
- Have yourself some health insurance as added precaution.
Here’s What Your Typical Motorbike Will Look Like
The ones shown here are photos taken in Thailand (the parking lot of my apartment building), but they are very similar in design everywhere I’ve been in Asia.
My personal favorite small bikes to ride are the Honda Click and Honda Wave (seen below).
What To Look For When Renting a Motorbike
When you walk into a shop there are a few things to be aware of before riding off with a bike.
- You’ll wanna check the bike over for scratches. Take pictures of anything at all – Every nick and mark and scratch. Some places will try to do-you-over when returning, pretending scratches are new when they aren’t.
- Check the Fuel – they will often give you a full tank and you’ll have to return it full. But turn the bike on, check the fuel gauge and make sure they know where it’s at before riding off.
- Test Drive the Bike – give it a ride around the block while they hold your passport or your partner is standing there. Make sure it’s running ok, the brakes work, there are no obvious problems.
- Wear a Helmet! Better yet, one with a visor (or sunglasses) – there is so much dust (especially during the dryer high season). This will great protect your eyes and mouth from all of that. I’ve been smacked in the eye by a giant bug before going 80km/h – felt like I had been rocked in the face by a muay thai fighter! Since then it’s sunglasses or visors for me!
These are some of the main pointers I took away with me when I took my motorcycle license course in the USA. Very basic and very useful 🙂
- Avoid riding too close to curb. The side of the road is where all of the debris collects. Loose dirt, gravel, leaves, whatever will reduce the friction your tires have with the road. Less friction means less grip, means more likely for tires to spin. This is most important when going around turns as you are literally sideways at this point.
- Avoid riding on the painted lines. Similar to the debris – the yellow and white road lines are a bit more slick, there’s a bit less grip, and that just adds a bit more risk. So just avoid riding on it, especially during turns.
- Go Slow -> Fast around turns. When you are going into a turn, you always want to start slow and come out of the turn faster than you entered it. Maintaining your speed or accelerating through a turn allows your bike to stay upright. If you ever need to slow down during a turn, straighten out the bike first.
These are some basic and key ideas about making riding that much safer. I’ve been riding throughout Asia for 5 years and (knock on loads of wood!) I’ve never had an accident. And I’ve ridden with 2 people, with 3 people, in the rain, in the mud, on a ferry, all over 🙂 So don’t worry to much, just keep your head straight.
Other Asian Countries
Some of the other Asian countries I’ve driven in are Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. The main difference I notice in other countries, when compared to Thailand, is that they are typically older bikes and more likely to be manuals instead of automatics.
Manuals are easy enough to learn once you’re comfortable riding an automatic. But I would highly recommend learning by riding with someone who knows how to ride a manual or figure it out on very quiet streets giving yourself plenty of time to get comfortable. It is very dangerous to have your mind focusing on how to shift gears, while riding in a foreign country with very hectic traffic patterns. You’ll want to keep your focus on the road 100% of the time. Please, always be smart and safe <3