So you’ve touched down in South East Asia and you’re ready to hit the streets. Maybe you are planning on exploring further afield a little later on, and you have heard of other foreigners renting motorbikes (or scooters) and you’re wondering about it yourself. Is it legal? Safe? Expensive? All of these are valid questions that we will cover in this short guide to renting a motorbike in Asia!
Is It Legal?
Yes! 100% As long as you don’t drive like you have something to prove and you take your bike back when you are supposed to, you should have absolutely no issues renting a motorbike. Foreigners and backpackers, tourists of all kinds frequently rent motorbikes in Asia with no hassle or problems at all. Just use your common sense, pick a reputable rental place (like the one all the foreigners go to!) and you should be fine.
Is It Safe?
As with driving everywhere, it’s only as safe as you make it. Drive slow, the road are in significantly rougher shape in South East Asia than they are back home. Be prepared that you will experience potholes that make potholes back home look like a minor nuisance. Obey the rules (what few there are) and signposted (if any) speed limits. Essentially watch what everyone else does and pay attention to where people are going and what they’re doing. The most important thing is to take it slow – even if you do have a small accident or fall off then it’s nothing more than a scrape and a bump and off you go again.
It’s equally important to remember that the bikes available, especially in rural places will be driven to hell and often are missing things like speedometers, gear identifiers and sometimes even ignition, meaning you will have to kickstart your bike every time. Check a bike thoroughly before you rent, and if you aren’t happy with the state of the bike, you’re well within your right to ask for a different one. You may even ask to test drive it before committing to a rental.
Do I Need A License and Insurance?
No, not always. Many places are happy to rent to foreigners without any kind of previous license of any kind. You may be offered a five minute crash course in how the bike works and then sent on your merry way to figure it out as you go. This is part of the fun, but if you aren’t sure, ask. Your travel insurance should cover any injuries you sustain from riding a motorbike, but it’s useful to check in advance. Some policies may not cover anything to do with motorbiking, especially if you aren’t licensed.
Is It Expensive?
Different countries will have difference prices for bike rentals. The average is around $20USD per day, and some places can hammer out a longer term weekly rental if you are going well and truly off the beaten path. It’s important to understand here that the company or guesthouse may keep your passport a collateral OR ask for a damage deposit up front. Check in advance and ask around, especially if you aren’t happy leaving your passport as collateral (many people aren’t).
What About Buying One?
This is where it gets tricky. Buying a bike is as simple as can be. Many people come to the area, buy a bike for the month or two they’re in the region, then sell it on. This can be a really cost effective way to have your own bike while you’re in a country, with some people selling decent bikes for around $200USD (that’s only 10 days of rental, by the way!), so it’s easy to see why buying can be the best option.
The issue is taking the bike across other borders. There has recently (as recent as 2016) been new stipulations over “foreign” bikes crossing Asian borders and the hassle can be enormous. Enormous enough to consider selling your bike and just buying a new one in your next country. Check online and in foreigner expat groups for details as they had been only just coming out slowly in the summer of 2016 regarding Thailand and Laos instituting new taxes, stipulations and halts on foreign bikes coming into their countries. It honestly is easier to just sell your bike off in one country then buy a new one in the next, especially in Laos in the southern city of Pakse, where it seems every restaurant has an advertisement for a bike for sale.
So there you have a quick beginner’s guide to renting (or buying!) a motorbike in Asia. Remember that a motorbike can be a dangerous piece of equipment and always take it slow and steady when first starting out. Enjoy!