In many parts of SE Asia, the roads are full of scooters and motorbikes, some even being driven by children! Spend time in a country such as Thailand or really any other country in Asia, you will see scooters for rent everywhere! While a scooter can be a great way to explore the island or city, it can also potentially be a source of your biggest nightmare. Without scaring you completely out of your well-laid plans please just consider a few realities of the risks when scootering around.
Motorcycle and scooter crashes represent almost 70% of all road deaths in Cambodia while the number is higher in Thailand and Laos.
In Vietnam, motorcycles outnumber cars 57 to 1.
Thailand is the second most dangerous place to drive according to the World Health Organization - with the Dominican Republic number one.
The Philippines has over 16 000 deaths per year from scooter and motorcycle crashes.
That said, renting a scooter in a foreign country can often be the best way to escape the tourist crowds and make it easier to explore the less travelled paths at your own pace. It is something we do whenever we get the opportunity, but it does come with its own set of risks.
Are you comfortable riding a scooter? Learning to ride a scooter is not something that is recommended in a foreign country where you are not familiar with the driving rules, driving style and local ways of road use. You should be very comfortable riding a motorbike or scooter before attempting to do so in a foreign environment.
Get an International Driver’s License (IDP). Make sure that you are aware of the local laws and evaluate your risks accordingly. For instance, in Vietnam, you are legally required to have a local driver’s license.
Make sure you obtain the necessary vehicle papers from the rental company and carry them along with your IDP at all times.
Make sure your travel insurance covers you riding a scooter should you be involved in an accident.
Wear a helmet. Yes, you might not look cool wearing one but trust me it will come in handy when you get cut off by a car and wind up in a ditch.
Inspect the vehicle and take photos (and make it obvious that you are doing so!) to record any existing damage and the overall condition of the vehicle. Read the rental documentation and make sure you understand it. Consider the deposit/excess required by the rental company.
Make sure everything is working, lights, brakes etc! Pay attention to tyre tread and pressure, type of brakes (disk brakes are worth a lot more than simple drum brakes and ABS is obviously most preferable) especially in wet conditions. Just because the scooter is available for rent, does not make it safe to ride!
Pay attention to online reviews of the rental company. Often you are better off paying more to rent from a reputable company with good insurance in comparison to a cheaper unknown source which may take advantage of you.
If possible, it is usually best to arrange vehicle rental from the place you are staying at as they are less likely to take advantage of you. Avail yourself of rental prices as a comparison though.
Don’t give your passport to the rental place. Some places will want your passport as collateral. Don’t do it. If they won’t take a copy or honour your International Driving Permit then find another place.
Don’t drink and don’t speed. Always obey the traffic laws and pay attention to where you are allowed to park or stop.
Consider which side of the road you will be riding on and pay particular attention at intersections and traffic circles (roundabouts).
Remember when you rent that scooter that a fun day touring the island can turn bad quickly. If you think it won’t happen to you think again.
All the above being said, we LOVE bikes and we also rent scooters all the time when we travel. Once we bought a 125cc motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City and rode it all the way to Hanoi! There is nothing like enjoying the open air and cruising on some road on a tropical island. You see more things than you would in a car or bus. Pay attention and just be aware of your surroundings, more than you would normally do.