So you have made it to SE Asia, perhaps you’ve seen the big sites and cities. Now, it’s time to get of the beaten track. Renting a scooter in SE Asia couldn’t be easier! As you have already noticed the locals use scooters to get around everywhere. You can see small villages, eat amazing local food, and most importantly get away from tourist mayhem. The scooter will give you freedom to make your own plan and at your own pace you can drive the numerous scooter loops. Although it’s easy and cheap to rent a scooter, there are a few rules that you need to know:
1) Take a Picture
It sounds simple, but missing this simple step can cost you a hassle at best and lots of money at worst. Taking a detailed picture with your phone or camera documents any scuffs or damage before you rent the scooter. So when you bring it back you ensure that you will not be taken advantage of. Show the picture to the proprietor so that she or he knows you are documenting it ahead of time, this avoids any weird business from the get go. Encourage them to take pictures too so everyone has an honest record.
2) Get Insurance
This is your #2 protection from getting taken advantage of. Not to mention if you have accident you have little or no financial liability. Make sure that you read the fine print, like literally, read it! Different companies will have various coverage plans. Some only cover the scooter in the city that you rent it from, others will pick you up if you break down in another province with a concierge service. Some places like Laos may not have insurance, in this case negotiate the price of any damages ahead of time. The cost of repair can be very cheap in places where no insurance is available. Make sure you discuss this with the rental company ahead of time.
Besides getting insurance on the scooter, consider getting travel insurance that specifically covers scooter accidents. Not many do so read the fine print here as well!
3) Negotiate Your Deposit
Deposit can vary wildly. Our team has seen prices as high as the cost of the scooter and as low as nothing at all, there’s always room for negotiation. One thing you keep in mind is never give your passport as a deposit. We cannot stress this enough. Most countries require everyone to carry identification, for you that means a passport. If you get stopped by the police without yours, it could make for an terrible situation. Also, if you get hurt you should go to Thailand or Europe for treatment. Instead get a state issued ID before you leave home. Give that and some cash for a deposit.
4) Get an International Driving Permit
All countries require that you have one if you drive a scooter. In practice most travelers who don’t get one may have no issues. If you have an accident you could be in trouble without one. Same if you get pulled over. You can get an international driver’s license at your local AAA for $15. You need to have your driver’s license in addition to have the international one be valid. Stay smart, and ahead of the game.
5) Start in a Rural Area
If you have no or little experience this is especially a good idea. Traffic in SE Asia is a bit more hectic than at home. Try to cross the street in Bangkok and you will get a good feel for it. That said most drivers are very attentive. They’re used to scooters buzzing around, tuk-tuks trying to go faster than the speed of light, and bigger cars having the right of way. If you start driving in a small town, or island like Koh Lanta, Thailand, it will be easier. You want to get a feel for SE Asian driving with a wide margin of error at the start.
6) Get a Helmet
Although most people in SE Asia won’t wear one, and will do daredevil antics that defy the laws of physics. You will be best served by having one. The hospitals are typically not to Western standards, and outside of Thailand’s cities many doctors won’t speak English. A Truly Traveled Travelbassador has seen an accident with the driver not wearing a helmet. An ride to the hospital in the back of a pickup was necessary. Tourist get hurt without helmets every day. We like our heads, we assume you love yours. Stay safe, stay smart.
7) Partner Up
When scootin’ around SE Asia it’s best to have a partner. It’s way more fun and safer! You can even travel in a scooter gang. Having other people around makes things easier. If you get a flat tire you won’t be stranded. Same thing if you break down. You can also team up with a riding in the back. This technique is for advanced riders only, do not learn how to ride a scooter like this! Being on the back of a scooter is the best sightseeing you will do. Grab a camera and snap or video away!
8) Check Your Tank
When you get your scooter the tank will be nearly empty. This is normal. Many proprietors make extra money by siphoning most of the fuel left in the tank. Honestly, it makes sense as many people in SE Asia make way less money than we do. So ask where the nearest gas station is. You will have enough gas to get to the nearest gas station.
9) Drive Safely
This may be super obvious but it needs to said. SE Asia has a high rate of accidents but you can avoid these easily. Pay attention. Yes, in Thailand they drive on the left so take your time and stay focused. Stay on the side of the road and don’t go too fast. Chances are you won’t have protective clothing, don’t go over 60 Km/h. Drive during the day. You will be able to see everything, sometimes scooter lights aren’t great. Take short trips. Even when doing a longer tour, take frequent rest breaks. This will keep you refreshed.
OK. So now you have the quickest steps to stay safe and have fun in SE Asia. This is the single best way to get off the beaten path in SE Asia. You won’t regret it! It may be the best part of your trip. As always let the Truly Traveled Team know if you have any tips in the comments below. Safe Travels!