Take a journey through the congested roads of Bali and you’ll notice a few things that make it an unsafe place to ride a motorbike. Narrow streets, unruly traffic and a huge amount of activity right by the side of the road (including dogs with death wishes) make it treacherous to say the least.
Despite all the dangers it’s common for western tourists to ride flimsy scooters, often helmetless, with little to no experience on roads like these (or no experience on a bike at all). This all adds up to scores of preventable deaths — hopefully if you’re reading this post it might cause you to rethink renting a scooter on your travels.
Rough Roads Aren’t Good Places to Learn
The wild roads of Southeast Asia are different beasts to ones you’ll find in the west. Road conditions and the driving style of the locals (especially truck / bus drivers) in places like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia make for some of the highest road death rates in the world.
Imagine learning to drive on the hectic streets of Chiang Mai or Bali — more stress than it’s worth I reckon! It’s not even just busy roads that you should avoid. Quiet islands with hardly any roads and traffic can be just as bad. Roads tend to be narrow and full of potholes and other obstacles, and speeding traffic (and roadside dogs) can be just as big of an issue. The roads are dodgy even for experienced riders!
READ MORE: Two-Week Bali Itinerary
At Least Wear A Helmet
Bali attracts a huge range of tourists. These days the most infamous are the influencer types who descend on places like Ubud and Canggu in droves. Many ride around in scooters and many (up to half in some places) don’t wear a helmet.
It messes your hair up and takes away from the image a little, and if that’s the most important thing to you then I guess you’d rather not wear a helmet. I’m sure you can see how irrational this sounds when reading it, but when you’re there it must be very tempting to throw off your inhibitions and look your best at all times — who needs a helmet!
The Influence of Others
If you’re travelling around Southeast Asia for any decent length of time you’ll eventually meet people (usually over a few drinks) who want you to join them on some big motorbike adventure. It could be a day trip to a waterfall or a weeks long trip from north to south Vietnam. It’s easy to forget our limitations (and things like travel insurance) when presented with exciting new experiences – at least wait until the alcohol wears off before committing!
Learn to Ride at Home
Riding a scooter or motorbike in Southeast Asia seems like a good way to get around at your own pace, whether it’s a day trip or you’re riding for multiple days between cities. If you’re to experience it you should get a licence in your home country, both for insurance purposes (see below) and so you’ve got a better chance of survival!
Travel insurance generally doesn’t cover unlicensed drivers when they crash, so if you don’t have a proper licence and you crash you’re screwed (not really these days I guess, just set-up a Give a Little page). Rental places, especially in small islands, often don’t ask to see a licence or insurance or anything, and quiet islands often feel like the last place you’d have a serious crash. I’ve also heard of motorbike scams a lot while travelling, usually revolving around false claims of damage (check your bike thoroughly before driving off).
Alternative Forms of Transport
For day trips it’s often possible (but much more tiring) to ride a bicycle instead. You can cover heaps of ground on a bicycle and it’s cheaper, safer and you’re far less likely to get scammed. It does make for some long days though – read this post about Paradise Cave in Vietnam for a good example.
There are also buses, taxis, boats, car rentals and tours — it may end up costing a little more but you should be able to get pretty much anywhere without needing to ride a motorbike. Of course whenever you take to the road, no matter the form of transport, there are always risks — it just seems like a motorbike is the riskiest of all!
Know the Risks
I know for a certain percentage of the population taking risks like this, especially while on holiday, is always on the cards (especially when meeting new people, drinking etc). If you’re that way inclined you’ll probably end up on a motorbike at some point on your travels, so take precautions, drive to the conditions, wear a helmet and try not to crash!
Do you ride motorbikes in Southeast Asia? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!
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