Asia is home to many different cultures, beautiful white sandy beaches, thousands of ancient temples, delicious street food and epic motorbike routes. Foreigners traveling here for the first time usually rent a scooter or motorbike at one point or another whether they have little to no experience in riding. While a lot of people are simply making use of the relaxed riding laws, the fact that anybody can ride a motorbike in some parts is not always a good thing. I have ridden motorbikes in pretty much every country in Southeast Asia and have seen my fair share of accidents. These are the two reasons why I felt the need to write this beginners guide to riding a motorbike in Asia. Throughout the rest of this article, I am going to assume you have little or no experience in riding motorbikes and will give you all the important basics.
Think: Do I Want to Learn How to Ride?
The first thing I will say is really think about it if you want to learn how to ride. I mean it’s pretty dangerous, especially if you haven’t done it before. One of the most popular spots to learn in Thailand is a beautifully hippie like place called Pai. The locals there have had enough of foreigners who renting a bike and crash it within the first day. There are even signs saying, “Can’t ride? Don’t ride! Save Pai Kids”. I don’t want to sound like your mum but yeah, think about it first. If there is someone experienced who you can ride with, do that. You will save money and possibly a few bones. Also check out the country laws. As mentioned most are relaxed but some do require a international drivers license. In some countries like Singapore it is totally illegal without the proper license.
Selecting a Motorbike
Ok enough of the serious stuff, now onto the fun stuff! If it’s your first time, rent an automatic scooter first. Just because you can walk into a bike shop and can rent a 600cc Yamaha doesn’t mean you should!
If you have ridden an automatic scooter a few times and want a bit more control (and fun) opt for a semi-automatic the next time.
If you are thinking about riding in Vietnam, you’re feeling brave, cocky and you don’t really give a shit about the safety advice I am giving then you could rent or even buy a classic Honda Win manual. Riding a motorbike across Vietnam was my best experience to date so you can trust me when I say, if you do this, you won’t forget it.
Essential Motorbike Gear
Helmet – Do not ride without one. Just don’t. In Vietnam I saw a local guy fall off his scooter at around 30km/h. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and ended up smashing his head against the street floor, splitting it open. With blood gushing from the head, I had to carry him to the hospital as he was unconscious.
Most people don’t wear these in Asia but if you want to be extra safe and sensible make these decisions:
- Swap your singlet for a motorbike jacket
- Swap your flip-flops for motorbike shoes
- Swap your short shorts for jeans
But like I said, almost no one does this in Asia. I highly suggest wearing good protective gear if you plan on renting a big bike.
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Tips for Your First Day of Riding:
- Don’t carry a passenger
- Take your time
- Don’t drink and drive (Duh!)
- Try to do your first test ride a place with no traffic and good roads.
If you can get someone with experience to teach you, then do it. DIY doesn’t exactly apply to riding motorbikes.
Popular Motorbike Routes in Asia
As I said at the start of this article, Asia is home to some epic motorbike routes. Too many to fit into this article, which is why I wrote a full complete article on that topic alone. Feel free to check it out over at Epic Motorbike Routes in Asia That You Shouldn’t Miss! But for you beginners these would be my top picks:
The Mae Hong Son Loop, Northern Thailand
The Mae Hong Song Loop is one of the most scenic motorbike routes in Thailand. Despite being famous for its 1865 curves, it is a favourite amongst beginners. If you do the loop clockwise you will hit Pai first. Some people with no experience even skip riding the first part from Chiang Mai to Pai, rent a bike in Pai, learn where it’s quiet, then continue the rest of the loop, returning the bike in Chiang Mai. The ride to Pai is stunning but the loops and curves along the way often turn off first time riders. Pai however is a great place to learn if you are worried about learning to ride in the busy old city of Chiang Mai.
The loop will take you into the more remote parts of Northern Thailand offering a lot of highlights and diversity. I did the loop on my first trip to Thailand with a girl I met in Pai. The girl didn’t have much experience riding but nevertheless did the whole loop and loved every second of it.
Related: Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop Review
The Thakhek Loop, Central Laos
Another popular one amongst beginners is the Thakhek Loop in Laos. The route is less distance than the Mae Hon Son loop so it is a little easier. The Thakhek Loop will take you through incredible landscapes which again are very diverse. The popular cave along the route named Konglor, is among one of the most impressive caves in Southeast Asia and is definitely worth visiting. If you are like me and think you have seen enough caves, do yourself a favor and still check this one out. Not only is it a pretty epic cave but the final hour drive towards it is pretty amazing.
Read: Planning Your Dream Trip to Laos
Ha Giang Province, Northern Vietnam
If you have done the first two above, I would no longer class you as a beginner. So if you have time definitely do the Ha Giang route. Less distance than both the Mae Hong Son and Thakhek route, but is definitely a lot more challenging. I say this because at some points the quality of roads aren’t great with some of the mountain parts being tough. However, despite this, the Ha Giang route has to be my favorite of three. Although the landscape in each of these rides are beautiful, this particular route was actually stunning enough to almost make me cry. However, don’t just take my word for it. Get a bike and go freaking do it!
That’s it, that was my Beginners Guide to Riding a Motorbike. I hope it helps you get on a bike and ride. The memories you will create doing this will last you a lifetime. If you take anything from this article I hope that it is to wear a helmet at all times, don’t carry a passenger on your first day and ride as many of those loops above as you can.