Guys and girls, let’s talk about renting a motorbike in Asia.
If you’ve travelled or are planning to travel to places like Vietnam, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia (the Asia list is endless), you’ll have heard that some of the greatest spots can only be reached by two wheels. Asia has some of the worlds best and most scenic motorbike routes for all to enjoy and with the rise in tourism over the years, it’s easier now more than ever, to rent a motorbike to explore. If you’re new to riding a motorbike or just plainly want to understand the expectations and risks of riding a motorbike in Asia, then lucky for you that I have compiled this beginners guide based on my own experiences.
Should you learn to ride a motorbike beforehand?
OK, this is the million dollar question, ‘should I learn to ride a motorbike before trying in a foreign country?’ In an ideal and pre-planned situation my answer to that question would be a big ‘YES’. However, we all know that when travelling we often live on the edge or in the moment, so pre-planning for this can be tricky. My advice to you if you’re a complete beginner to riding and want to rent a motorbike in Asia, is to take a bike for a ride on a quiet road before committing. You can always ask a friend who is more experienced to ride with you on the back until you get to a quiet spot. Also, if you ask the rental company if they know anywhere that they can recommend and then you can mark on a map and take the bike for a spin.
For the planners out there, book up your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) or equivalent in your location before you leave for your travels. The test is reasonably priced and takes a full day of practicing with a qualified rider with you eventually riding on the road and at the end you’ll be given a certificate that is valid for two years. You can choose to ride up to a 125CC manual motorbike or an automatic moped legally – read up before to see what you fancy based on your travel plans and confidence level.
What’s the best motorbike to rent?
You are usually given a few bike options in the motorbike rental shops. Choose wisely, just because they offer you a 600CC motorbike, doesn’t mean that you should rent it!
If you are a beginner rider, I would suggest renting an automatic bike as they are easy to manoeuvre and not too powerful which enables you to control the bike in a much smoother manner. My favourite is the Scoopy 125CC automatic motorbike or scooter as they are commonly known. If you can comfortably ride a manual bike then go for a 250CC or no more than 400cc as you don’t really need more power than that if you’re just exploring the local tourist spots.
If you’re planning to go off-roading, I would suggest that you have a few days riding experience under your belt beforehand. A dirt bike is not a machine to be taken lightly, I was keen to have a go on one that we rented in Cambodia and tipped into a bush with the bike landing on top of me!
What you need to know before renting a motorbike
I am sure that you have read some backpacker horror stories about renting a motorbike in Asia. To prepare you to have a smooth experience, I have prepared a list of things you need to do before signing on that dotted line.
- Choose a bike rental service that includes insurance
- Take photo ID (passport) with you to the rental shop
- Take a copy of your passport if you can – DO NOT leave it there!
- Test ride the bike before you sign any paperwork
- Check over the bike and take photos and mention any damage before you sign any paperwork
- Check the fuel level before taking the bike away as you will normally have to bring it back with the same amount
- Carry your driving licence with you – just in case you’re asked to show it
General advice for beginner riders
With riding laws being so ambiguous and loose in Asia, you hear of more and more accidents amongst tourists happening and most of them are from bad decisions being made. As a beginner rider you will need to be more cautious and riding safe will enable you to gain the most out of your riding experience.
- Do not carry a passenger if you’re a new, inexperienced rider
- If you’re in a group, do not race others as this can cause accidents
- Move out of the way (as much as you can) of the coaches, buses and cars
- Fill up with ‘real’ fuel from the petrol stations rather than cheap bottles from the roadside – it tends to last longer
- Ride at a pace that you feel safe and comfortable
- Always wear your helmet – I know I’ve mentioned this twice but it’s most important
- The most obvious one – don’t drink and drive!!!
Essential Motorbike Gear
It’s all to easy to wear shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops when you’re riding in direct sunlight and the hot temperatures in Asia. This to me seems unequivocally stupid, as the roads in Asia can be more dangerous than the western ones that we are used. I follow three basic safety rules for riding a motorbike in Asia.
- ALWAYS wear a helmet
- Cover your skin
- Do not ride in flip flops or thongs (as the Aussies call them!)
Awesome Motorbike Routes in Asia
Asia has a whole host of beautiful motorbike routes for you to explore. Each has its own difficulty level and challenges for any rider but the views and experiences are second to none. Riding a bike across these foreign lands can be tough but provides you with the most liberating feeling, one that will live with you forever.
Mae Hong Son Loop, Northern Thailand
This route is famous for its 1865 bends and is a comprehensive way to discover one of Thailand’s most authentic provinces in the North. You’ll navigate through villages untouched by tourism, waterfalls and pools where you can swim, plus some of the scenic views you will encounter will take your breath away.
Starting in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, ride through the mountainous National Park into Mae Sariang, following into Mae Hong Son and then on to Pai. As a beginner I would advise that you take the clockwise route meaning that you end in Pai as the last stretch is the hardest. The North of Thailand is less touristy and if you are out of season, you may be the only tourist in some of these smaller villages!
Route Distance: 600km
Time: 4-7 days
Hai Van Pass, Vietnam
As seen on Top Gear back in 2008, this route is one of the most famous roads in Vietnam. Providing a short ride up and around a mountainside, you’re provided with breathtaking sea views below and not to mention, it’s a whole heap of fun to navigate around the windy bends.
The Hai Van Pass is a great road trip linking the popular central Vietnamese destinations of Hoi An, Danang, and Hue. Starting in either Hoi An or Hue, you can choose to ride this as a day trip or over three days on your own rented bike, or you can book on a tour from either starting destination. This route enables you to experience green mountainous paths, ocean views and a part of Vietnam that strays away from the usual backpacker route taken by bus or coach. We rode this as part of our 2000km from North to South of Vietnam and it was incredible.
Route Distance: 165km (the Hai Van Pass is only 21km)
Level: Intermediate (some prior riding advisable)
Time: 1-3 days
The Southern Loop, Cambodia
We loved exploring the South of Cambodia with its petite white, sandy beach in Kep, Pepper plantation in Kampot and long stretches of beaches in Sihanoukville to break up the hustle and bustle of both Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap. This route is not for the faint hearted as the roads are dusty and long but excitingly you’ll cross through thick jungle and quaint fishing villages.
Starting in the Phnom Pehn, ride roughly 150km to Kampot, then continue on a short distance to Kep where you can enjoy their crab speciality. If you have time, catch a boat over to Rabbit Island for the night as it was our highlight of Cambodia. Next ride the easy road to the beach town of Sihanoukville and it’s here you can catch a boat across to Koh Rong which I have heard is spectacular! Sihanoukville to Battambang crosses through the stunning Cardamom Mountains but it’s a lengthy journey so pick a local village and stop for the night. After Battambang, ride to Siem Reap which is where the marvellous Angkor Wat temple is located. You can choose to end your journey here or ride the loop back to Phnom Pehn.
Time: 14 – 21 days