A few tips about motorbike riding in Southeast Asia. Actually about motorbike riding in Thailand, but most of this goes also for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And this is not about the legal view of motorbike riding but really about the riding itself. There are many things to consider, but looking around in places like Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya or Koh Samui it seems many tourists did not consider anything. My tips are based on more as as 10 year riding motorbike and almost 100.000 km in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. From riding on 125cc scooter to 650cc tour motorbike. If you like some help with organizing your holiday anywhere in Thailand send me an email at Chang Noi @ Traveling in Thailand.
You might notice I speak about "motorbike" not about "scooters", while the latter is what most people (tourists included) are riding. I do this because 99% of the scooters are motorbikes with engine of 100cc to 300cc and top speed of more as 100 km/h.
Riding a motorbike is Freedom. To go everywhere on your motorbike and scooters are cheap to rent. And lovely cool in your short and t-shirt. But remember asfalt is the best tattoo remover! Everybody who rents a scooter tells me "I am careful, I not ride fast". But the problem are the other people on the road and the high number of accidents on the roads. So what should you consider?
Are you ready?
If you have never been riding motorbike then Southeast Asian countries are not the best place to learn it. Why? Because driving and road conditions are different in Southeast Asia. And even if you have been riding motorbike, as said driving and road conditions are different in Southeast Asia. Are you ready for the chaos of traffic? If you are not sure then don't go riding or at least first test it for a day. And as always when you are going to ride any motorbike that you have not been riding before : Practice riding with your new motorbike. Feel how you motorbike is riding.
Is you motorbike ready for riding?
Always check your motorbike before riding.
- Are the brakes working? Test them!
- Are the tyres in good condition?
- Are all lights working? Test them!
- Is there gasoline in your motorbike?
Are you protected?
That means do not ride on your flip-flops, wearing a short and T-shirt. That also means use a good helmet. If you do not have a good helmet, buy one! Use a helmet with visor, so you face & eyes are protected from all the dirt on the road. Wear long trousers, real shoes and a jacket with long sleeves.
Me? I am always wearing strong leather mountain boots, jeans trouser, leather jacket, gloves and a full-face helmet. Hot? A little bit. Safe? Yes as without this all I would not be writing this. On longer trips I will wear real motorbike boots (higher), real motorbike trouser (with kevlar), full-leather jacket.
Roads are used by everybody and everything
Roads, small local roads or big provincial highways, are used by everybody.
- Nice SUV's and BMW's driving 150 km/h.
- Old bus with an old driver going 70 km/h.
- Old local farmer who is a little bit blind & deaf in his 30 years old pickup truck going 30 km/h.
- Mini Van drivers in a hurry overtaking everywhere, also in curves.
- Big touring busses with drivers that are doing 20 hours shifts.
- Grandma on her bicycle.
- Overloaded trucks and some of them are 30 years old.
- 12 years young kids on a scooter going to school.
- Motorbike groups who all think they are the best and using the road as race track.
- Scooters with side-cars (actually illegal) and sometimes transporting things in the side car.
- People crossing the road or walking along to the road.
- And the latter are not only people but also dogs, chickens, cats, cows and sometimes even an elephant!
The other road users
Thailand is called the land of the free and sure on the road they are. This is also contributed by the lack of law-enforcement of rules on the road so many people totally ignore the law.
- Drinking and driving? No problem!
- Driving against the traffic? No problem!
- Driving without insurance or driving license? No problem!
- Driving too fast? No problem!
- Driving without light in the dark? No problem! And ghosts can not follow you.
- Too you to drive? No problem!
- Parking on the road? No problem!
Road conditions & design are different
Be aware that road design and road maintenance in Southeast Asia is totally different as in your home country. In short, be aware of :
- Roads just ending (no signs)
- Roads badly damaged with put holes
- Slippery roads (due to sharp curves and heavy loaded trucks)
- But the most dangerous thing is the U-turns. They are everywhere and they are dead-traps!
That means ride sober, do NOT ride & drink alchohol (or any other things).
Do not ride when you are very tired, sick or just not in the mood to have 100% attention for riding.
Ride like everybody on the road is there to kill you. Ride like all other road users are drunk and not see you at all. So try to create a safety space around you, a place where no others are riding or driving.
Ride like all people along the road are going to cross the road and that they do not see you. Ride like there is no road after the blind curve. Ride like the car in front of you is going to stop in the middle of the road and when you have to stop that the car behind you is not going to stop.
General rule of motorbike riding : Whatever happens it is YOUR fault! Because a damaged car is shit but it is only a car. If as motorbike rider you have damage it will be YOUR body! When you are in a hospital (or worse dead) it does not matter who was legally right or wrong.