Riding a motorbike in Southeast Asia is one of the greatest things you can do during the your trip.
The wind in your face and the freedom to go where ever you want is an amazing feeling.
It’s also a great way to save money so you don’t have to join overpriced tours or pay someone to take you to an attraction.
Driving a motorbike for the first time can be a little bit intimidating.
I know it was for me.
I first rented a motorbike in Koh Tao, Thailand.
The traffic wasn’t crazy, the roads were in good conditions, and there was a lot of the island I wanted to discover.
It seemed like the perfect place to learn.
I rented my bike, was shown how everything worked, and hopped on.
I went up and down the street a few times and it seemed like something I could manage.
15 minutes later I crashed.
Luckily for me it wasn’t bad.
I was slowly going up a hill, caught some gravel, throttled too much, fishtailed, and tipped.
Nothing was broken and I was only a little bloody, so I knew I couldn’t give up.
I got back on the bike, and for the next 12 months, I never crashed again.
Like most things, riding a motorbike just takes practice.
The roads, traffic, and lack of driving laws in Southeast Asia are also a factor.
But most accidents happen from inexperience.
I know mine certainly did.
Below is my list of the best places for beginners to learn how to ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia.
Kampot is an easy city to drive through.
It doesn’t take long to get out of the city and onto the open streets.
Many tourists in Kampot will want to visit Bokor Hill.
Renting a motorbike to go up there is the best option.
Some hostels do tours there, but it’s unnecessarily expensive.
Just rent a bike and do it yourself.
You’ll save so much money.
There’s not much traffic and the roads are in good conditions.
The drive there is easy and the ride up Bokor Hill is gorgeous.
The weather at the top is always changing, so be prepared to possibly ride in the rain.
The streets are not overly crowded.
There’s a lot of areas you can get to by using smaller, less traveled roads.
And the major roads are in good condition.
Nusa Penida has some of the best and worst roads you’ll experience.
The major roads throughout the island are some of the best I’d seen in Indonesia.
The small roads that go to most of the attractions(Kelingking, Angel’s Billabong, etc) are some of the worst.
The reason this is a good place to learn is because of both conditions.
You can get use to riding the bike on the good roads first.
Then when you think you’re ready for the challenge you can SLOWLY attempt the horrible roads.
Once you conquer those there’s not too many other places that have roads that fucked up.
If you do good on those paths you should be able to manage on almost anything.
Samosir Island is a very relaxing place.
You can cruise the streets as slow as you want.
Riding a motorbike here is perfect.
The roads are in good conditions.
There’s a lack of people, so you’ll mostly have the streets to yourself.
And the scenery all around Samosir is gorgeous.
It’s one of my favorite places to ride around.
Worst Places in Indonesia:
Any major cities like Jakarta, Medan, Yogyakarta.
Even Ubud is pretty bad.
The traffic there is horrible.
But the biggest concern are the police that target foreigners.
I heard stories about westerners getting pulled over only so police could bribe them.
It only takes a few minutes to get off the major roads in Vang Vieng.
Once you do you have so many open roads to learn on.
Most of the roads going to caves or lagoons are not paved.
But they are in good conditions.
Over 450 km of roads make the Thakhek Loop.
Almost all the roads are in great condition.
The main concerns you might have on this loop is your speed and large trucks.
The Thakhek Loop takes place on major roads.
So you might have to drive faster than some of these other places.
If you do drive slow just move over to the far right.
People in Asia have no problems passing someone they think drives too slow.
This drive might be long but it isn’t hard.
When I drove the Thakhek Loop I was in a group of 11 people.
Half of the group had never driven a motorbike at all.
By the 4th day they were all excellent.
The Pakse Loop starts out a little rough because Pakse is a busy place.
But once you’re out of the city and approaching your first set of waterfalls it gets much easier.
As you go north towards the Bolaven Plateau it’s mostly you and nature.
The roads are all in pretty good shape and there’s hardly any traffic once you leave Pakse.
Myanmar still doesn’t allow tourists to freely drive throughout their country.
So don’t expect to rent motorbikes here.
But in Bagan you’re allowed to rent electric bikes that don’t go much faster than 30mph.
The electric bikes don’t have much power at all, so Bagan is a great place to learn.
The streets around Bagan aren’t too crowded and they’re decently paved.
The paths towards temples are all dirt.
So you have to be a bit more cautious with turns and speed.
Some less traveled paths don’t have compacted dirt, so it can be easier to lose control.
So just be more cautious.
Being there during a rainstorm might make driving a difficult and muddy adventure.
All the islands I went to in the south were chill.
Learning to drive on Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangnan(not during the Full Moon Party) should be an easy experience.
Even though I wiped out on Koh Tao I still think it’s a good place to learn too.
The roads are good, there’s not much traffic, and island life is relaxed.
Which means so are the drivers.
Worst Places in Thailand:
You’d have to be a maniac if you wanted to learn how to drive a motorbike in that city.
Phong Nha is an easy village to ride in and it only takes a few minutes to get out of.
Once you’re out of the village you’re surrounded by jungle all around.
The main challenge in Phong Nha is going down hills.
You descend deep into the jungle and some of the hills are STEEP!!
Make sure you have good back brakes before you start your journey.
Ninh Binh has a good mixture of different types of roads.
The area where my hostel was had gravelly potholed roads.
But once I was out of there the roads were quite nice.
The roads are very wide and not crowded.
Driving around Ninh Binh was easy and made going to Tam Coc seem not as bad.
Tam Coc is definitely more populated.
Cat Ba was one of the funnest places to rent a motorbike and cruise around.
Cat Ba has a mix of perfect roads with great views and gravelly potholed roads.
The potholed roads are mostly around the town(where the hostels are).
The great roads are throughout the rest of the island.
Worst Places in Vietnam:
Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.
I thought Vietnam had some of the worst driving I’d seen in Asia.
The shitty Vietnam driving comes in 2nd place behind China.
Renting A Motorbike In Southeast Asia.
When renting a motorbike you should first take photos or video of the entire bike.
If anything looks wrong make sure to point that out.
Make sure you have both side mirrors.
They’re more important than you might think.
Check the tires to make sure they’re not bald.
Bald tires are a huge cause for most accidents.
Also make sure the tires are full of air.
As you test drive the bike make sure the speedometer works.
I tested a lot of bikes that didn’t have working speedometers.
Test out the front and back brakes.
A lot of front brakes will work well compared to the worn out back brakes.
Also try to notice if the steering is aligned.
Make sure the steering isn’t pulling to one side.
The first place you’ll have to drive to once you pick out your bike is a gas station.
As most bike rental places give you bikes with an almost empty tank.
Not learning how to ride a motorbike would have been a real disservice to my travels.
There’s so much I would not have seen or done if I didn’t drive myself.
It really heightened my experience in Southeast Asia.
Just like many things it takes time and patience.
Especially when it comes to driving faster.
It took me about 5 months before I felt comfortable going 80-90 kph(49-56 mph).
But you know yourself better than I do.
If you’re really uncomfortable about driving you can always find ways around it.
I met a lot of girls that would find guys to join and hop on the back of their bikes.
If that’s the technique you want to use, go for it.
Personally, I’d rather be driving.
It seems safer than trusting that someone else knows what they’re doing.
Have you learned to ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia?
What was your experience like?
Let me know in the comments below.
My name is Jeremiah and I'm a photographer from Arizona.
I'm always in search of picturesque landscapes and adrenaline pumping adventure.
Follow me as I show you What and What Not to do when visiting new places in search of Cheap Travel and Cheap Thrills.
Latest posts by Jeremiah Cooper (see all)
- 3 of the Best and Least Touristy Places in Japan. - October 16, 2019
- 11 BIZARRE INDONESIAN FOOD MYTHS. - October 9, 2019
- BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SOUTHEAST ASIA: What to expect when you arrive. - October 2, 2019