Best Way to Explore a Location in South-East Asia? Rent a Motorbike!
If you’ve never ridden a motorbike before then you might be a bit skeptical about our suggestion. But don’t worry — just two weeks ago both Katja and I were in the same position and now we are fully convinced!
Having rented a motorbike on four different islands (twice in the Philippines, twice in Indonesia), we are convinced that this is the perfect way to explore your surroundings after you settle into an area for a few days.
Motorbikes and scooters have semi-automatic or fully-automatic gearboxes, so they are very easy to drive. We learned to operate all levers and buttons in less than 5 minutes and felt reasonably comfortable on the bike after 20–30 minutes.
- Be mobile. You can usually reach most tourist destinations by public transport, but once you get there, you are usually left with three alternatives for exploring the place: go by foot (limited reach), hire a taxi (expensive) or rent a motorbike (perfect).
- Go anywhere, stop anywhere. When you are the driver you make all decisions: when to leave, which road to follow, where to stop and for how long. These are great advantages for any traveller, but especially for photographers, since we are visually driven. So if you see an interesting village, an animal or find yourself in amazing light just pull over and shoot away.
- Explore to your heart’s content. Since you don’t travel very fast on a motorbike you’ll notice a myriad of small roads and paths. Narrow streets, sandy passages, bad or steep roads are significant obstacles for a car, but just a minor inconvenience if you are on the back of a motor bike.
- It’s very inexpensive. In the Philippines we paid 400 pesos (7 EUR = 9 USD) and in Indonesia 50000–60000 rupiah (3,55 EUR = 5.65 USD) per 24 hrs, and it’s even cheaper if you rent for a whole week. Note that you’ll have to pay for gas too, but motorbikes are very fuel-efficient, so fuel won’t add much to your costs.
- Renting is easy and uncomplicated. If there are many people traveling by motorbike and there are tourists around there should be many possibilities to rent a motorbike: ask at your hotel or guest-house, at the closest restaurant or market, or check for rental signs on the street. In some cases you don’t have to do anything since the locals will approach you and actively offer you a motorbike for rent.
- Motorbikes are part of the local culture and the most common way of transportation, so you’ll be accepted much more easily, and you’ll see a lot of friendly faces on the side of the road.
- You can’t get lost. If you are unsure where you are or which way you should turn just stop and ask the locals. They are very friendly, and even if they don’t understand English, they’ll still be able to help.
- I don’t know how to drive a motorbike / don’t have a motorcycle drivers license. If you have a car driver’s license, you are probably allowed to ride scooters and small motorbikes, but check in advance. If you have no experience with motorbikes but are willing to learn, then rent one and ask the owner to spend half an hour with you. Try it on a quiet road and you’ll be surprised how easy it is.
- It’s dangerous. It’s probably more dangerous than riding in a car, but please follow our suggestion only in rural areas where traffic is light and riding a motorbike is the usual mode of transportation. If you wear a helmet, watch your mirrors, don’t drink and drive and don’t speed, you’ll probably be fine.
- You cannot transport much luggage. True, but we only recommend renting a motorbike for exploring the places where you are staying for a few days. Take a car or a bus when you switch locations and need to carry your backpack from A to B.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Wear a helmet. This is the number one safety precaution, so be smart and wear a helmet even if you are the only person on the street to do so. In many countries it’s mandatory and you might have to pay a fine if the police stops you. The person renting you the bike should provide 1 or 2 helmets at no extra cost.
- Don’t drink and drive!
- Don’t speed and don’t try to keep up with the locals. They have a lot of experience on their own motorbikes and they know the roads. They also know where the police is hiding and you don’t.
- Carry your international driver’s license. he person renting the bike to you probably won’t care to see it, but the police, if they stop you, definitely will.
- When you rent the motorbike:
- Be sure to get one helmet per passenger, the bike’s registration papers and the mobile number of the owner.
- Check the brakes, the horn, the lights, the turn signals, the fuel level.
- Check for prior damages (scratches) and point them out to the owner. Document with your digital camera or mobile phone.
- Agree on the return time and be prepared to pay in advance.
- Return the motorbike at the agreed place and time with about the same amount of fuel as when you rented it.
On the Road
- Use your horn like the locals. In some countries the horn is used quite seldom (Philippines, Indonesia) and in some countries quite a lot (India, Vietnam). Sounding your horn is not rude — it means any and all of these things: “careful, I’m next to you”, “please make space for me”, “careful, I’m passing you”.
- Don’t worry if there aren’t that many gas stations around, since fast every house along the road has gasoline for sale. In the Philippines the gasoline is ruby red and sold in 1,5-liter Coke bottles, in Indonesia it’s pale yellow and sold in 1-liter Smirnoff bottles.
What if Something Happens?
- Accident or injury: call the police and/or an ambulance. You should know those numbers and have them ready even if you are not renting a motorbike.
- Mechanical problems: call the owner. If you are not too far away he or she will come and take care of the problem. If you are too far away they’ll probably hang up the phone, find a repair shop for you and negotiate a good price for the repair. You will have to pay the repair shop, but unless you caused the problem, the owner should pay you back. Talk about this on the phone before the repair.
- Flat tire: don’t drive further. Stop and ask the locals where the next repair shop is. Probably it’s close by, so you should be out of there and rolling again in less than 20 minutes. Ask about the price before the repair begins and try to bargain down to about the daily rental rate of the motorbike.