Renting scooters is by far one of the most controversial topics about backpacking in Southeast Asia, before coming out we had people call us stupid for contemplating it, while others told us we couldn’t experience the countries truly without a scooter.
Now after half a year of exploring Southeast Asia, we will go through our thought processes and experiences when it comes to renting and exploring on scooters. We have explored on a scooter in basically every city we have visited so far and can honestly say it’s been one of the most fun and enjoyable parts of the trip, the freedom you feel while exploring yourself is unmatched.
Had we ridden a scooter before we arrive in Southeast Asia? Nope
Did we crash the first time we rode one? Yep
Would we still recommend it (as long as you personally feel safe)? For sure!
Our first experience was riding in Koh Tao, Thailand, with the two of us on the bike, turning can be awkward and we rode straight into a fence, bruising and cutting up our feet and legs, it was a stupid mistake and 6 months later nothing has happened since.
If you’re in a similar position, considering a scooter while away, then keep reading as we will go through everything you need to know.
- Why are Scooters so Popular In Southeast Asia?
- How to Rent A Scooter In Southeast Asia
- How much are Scooters in Southeast Asia?
- How Do You Get Petrol?
- Do You Need A Special License?
- Do You Need Experience To Ride a Scooter?
- Do You Need Insurance Cover?
- Leaving a Passport or A Deposit?
- Things to Remember
- People we Rented from and Trusted
Why are Scooters so Popular In Southeast Asia?
There are a ton of reasons why scooters are popular with tourists in Southeast Asia, the freedom, the cost, and the ease just being some. However they’re obviously not for everyone, the worst thing you can do is get in control of a scooter when you don’t feel comfortable or safe, even if the mass of travellers try to push you too.
Firstly, comes the cost of scooters, in Thailand for example, a scooter for a day will cost around 200 baht (£4.70), meaning you have a day to explore wherever you want, just paying for petrol. At one point in Koh Tao, we paid 80p to fill up our scooter and after 3 days of riding, we handed the scooter back with ¾ of a tank. On the other hand, a tuk-tuk, taxi, or grab is likely to cost you 200 baht for a one-way trip somewhere. With a tour costing you even more, in Luang Prabang, Laos for example, to go from Old Town to Kuang Si Waterfall (the main attraction in Luang Prabang) tours and taxi drivers wanted 200,000 Kip (£9.40) per person, one way, our scooter cost us 150,000 Kip (£7) between us for the whole day. This was not only cheaper but allowed us to head to Kuang Si Waterfall first thing in the morning while others showed up at mid-day with the rush of tour vans. They all arrived just as we were leaving and it was carnage, so having the scooter really improved our experience.
Secondly is freedom, you have the ability to pick and choose when and where you venture. As previously mentioned this can mean avoiding the crowds at popular attractions, completely improving your experience. You also get the opportunity to stop along the way, during the scooter ride to Kuang Si we saw a cafe on the side of the road that looked intriguing, so on the way back we stopped by and it was an amazing experience. It had great cheap food, delicious drinks, and a stunning view of a bunch of farmland. If you had opted for a taxi or tour, it is likely that you miss out on all of these hidden gems around Southeast Asia.
The next reason scooters are so popular is that they are simply quicker, cars in Southeast Asia are almost always in queues, stuck in traffic so journeys take far longer. On scooters you slip past cars and through traffic, saving so much time. If you opt for cheap taxis/tuk-tuks you will likely have to wait until the tuk-tuk is full, at one point in Koh Phangan we were waiting around 20 minutes because the driver wanted to fill his taxi and still have 2 seats left, this is a common occurrence and can turn a relaxed 20 minutes journey into an hour.
Finally, it is just so much fun! The feeling of riding through quiet roads, a breeze on your face, and stunning views to take in can not be beaten. Some of our favorite days around Southeast Asia have been the days we just explored on a scooter.
How to Rent A Scooter In Southeast Asia
So, if you’re feeling confident, here is everything you need to know about the process of renting a scooter and filling the tank with petrol.
Renting is incredibly easy, in most countries there will be multiple renters on every street, however, some are better than others. We always chose who to rent from online recommendations and Google reviews, this way you can basically trust that you will not get scammed or tricked with fake damage charges. (this has never occurred to us, however, we have heard that some other travellers returned their bikes to be told a scratch was new and charged upwards of £50, even though the scratch was already there.) We will recommend all the places we hired from here.
How much are Scooters in Southeast Asia?
Price completely depends on the country, but from our experience, they all seem to charge fairly similarly. The most we ever paid for a scooter was 200 baht (£4.70), that’s for a 150cc that could handle the two of us smoothly. Sometimes it would be 250 baht and we haggled down to 200 baht, sometimes it was simply 200 baht from the start, always see if they will go cheaper, especially if you are somewhere for a few days, most places will discount for multi-day renting.
We did see some places charging 500 baht in popular tourist spots like Phuket, and although that seems ‘cheap’ in UK terms, it is incredibly expensive, just walk away, either they will go cheaper or another place 2 minutes away will charge half that.
How Do You Get Petrol?
You might laugh at this question, and the fact we think there is a need to answer it, but you’ll be surprised how many people don’t know how to fill up or how many options there are for petrol in Southeast Asia.
Firstly there are multiple places to get petrol, the big petrol station, smaller hand pumps or simply ‘wine’ bottles of what is called “gas” on most side roads. Obviously, the one you want to stick to whenever possible is the big stations, you simply pull up, tell the attendant how much you want, lift your seat and they will fill it up for you. Not only is this the easiest way, but also seems like the most ‘legit’ way.
Our first time riding, we used the bottle of gas a stall was selling, we paid 100 baht for two bottles and it filled up 2 out of 5 bars on the scooter, the next week we went to an actual petrol station, filled the scooter completely and it cost 80 baht and lasted so much longer. So avoid bottles unless absolutely necessary (sometimes you are forced into it because the scooter will be empty when you hire it so putting one bottle in is good to ensure you can make it to a station to fill up.
The hand pumps are good options, again if you’re desperate, from what we found they cost a similar amount to the big petrol stations, just you do it all yourself.
Do You Need A Special License?
This is by far the most controversial question we see about hiring scooters, we see so much misinformation on this topic, potentially getting fellow backpackers in trouble because they trust the influencer that has told them incorrectly.
So what you will see a lot is “you just need an International Driving Permit”, this is wrong, and if you believe this and end up arguing with a police offer because you believe they are scamming you, then you can end up with far worse than a fine. We have seen people on TikTok outright claim this and say the police scammed them when in fact, the TikTok creator just had the wrong information themselves.
So we will explain the actual law for most Southeast Asia countries, Thailand specifically, if you’re from the UK, yes you will need an International Permit for each country you plan to drive in, but you also need a FULL motorbike license to actually be legally driving. Obviously, this is uncommon, and most backpackers won’t have it so when these content creators tell people, “just get an IDP”, they are giving false confidence that the riders will not get in trouble.
In fact if stopped by the police, even after showing your IDP, you can still be fined, it completely depends on the police officer, whether they check (you need the ‘A’ stamp on it) or whether they just see the IDP and move you along. This can occur, and we have seen it happen where police will pull people over, see you flash your IDP, and as long as you were riding safely, with a helmet they will move you along. However, we have also met many people who have been fined even with an IDP, specifically because they do not have a FULL UK motorbike license, and therefore no ‘A’ stamp on the IDP.
So just know, you can always be pulled over, and can always be fined, don’t feel unstoppable because you have an IDP. Ride safe, wear a helmet, and if you get fined, accept it as a risk you know could be possible. The fine is usually around £12, so it’s not going to break the bank.
Do You Need Experience To Ride a Scooter?
As we mentioned, we personally had no experience before renting and riding scooters around Thailand, do we recommend that? Honestly, No. If we were to go back and start our initial planning again, then doing our CBT in the UK and getting some experience riding would be on the top of our lists. Don’t get us wrong, you can learn in Southeast Asia as we have, and for us, we became quickly comfortable when riding, however, that’s not the case for everyone, and having that experience before coming out, would have prevented us from crashing the first time we rode one and made us feel comfortable quicker.
So if you’re even questioning it, and you have enough savings to backpack Southeast Asia, then pay the £100 to get your CBT and get more confidence.
Do You Need Insurance Cover?
This is another issue that we continuously see, many people recommend travel insurance and tell you that covers you for riding a scooter… as mentioned in the last chapter, you need a full motorbike license to legally ride a scooter, so no, your travel insurance won’t cover you if you crash and do not have a full license. Think of it from your home country, if you had no car license, jumped into a car, and crashed into another driver, would you be covered? Of course not. So don’t expect your travel insurance provider to cover you if you choose to scooter without the full license.
Check out our Travel Insurance post on who we recommend when backpacking and see if they will cover you.
Leaving a Passport or A Deposit?
This was an issue we were worried about before coming out, we had heard that most companies request your passport while you rent, then when you return the bike, they claim damage and refuse to return your passport until you pay.
However, with almost 6 months of travelling and riding scooters, we can gladly say that has never happened to us. The only places that have requested only passports have been hostels/hotels, places we trust as we are staying there, so we have given them and had them returned without issue. Some other renting companies have asked for passports but most will give you an option, passport OR passport copy and deposit. We obviously always choose the deposit option and have always had it returned without issue. We also brought our UK Driving Licenses with us, and some renting companies accept that instead of a passport, so we happily give that as if they did refuse to return it, it wouldn’t ruin our ability to travel.
Just use recommendations and refuse to ensure you are hiring from companies that don’t have a habit of scamming backpackers.
Things to Remember
Document the bikes damage INFRONT of the renter. Take a video or photos of the scooter before you drive off, this will make a potential scammer second guess trying anything and will ensure you have proof if they do try to say that you damaged it.
Beeping is likely not the same as in your home country. In Southeast Asia, beeping is simply a way of saying “I’m coming past”, it is simply a warning to ensure you stay to the side on the scooter while the car overtakes. It is not an angry driver mad at you like in the UK.
Check what side of the road you drive in each country. Depending on the country the side changes, Thailand is left, Laos is right, and Malaysia is left for example. Ensure you know before you even start the scooter.
Be wary of pedestrians. Paths in Southeast Asia are almost non-existent, which means you will see a lot of people walking on the side of the ride, at all times of the day. So keep an eye out and give them a lot of space when you pass.
Turn the bike without someone on the back. The first mistake we made that caused us to crash, was trying to turn around while both on the bike, the weight and balance make this much harder. So have your partner/friend get off, let you turn around, then jump on.
If you don’t feel confident, then just don’t drive at all. One of the most common accidents we see is people not confident simply falling to the side while riding too slowly, this obviously causes the least damage but can seriously hurt with the weight of the bike landing on you. If you do not feel confident riding, then just stick to taxis/tuk-tuks, it’s not worth the risk.
People we Rented from and Trusted
Koh Tao – Chalok Travel (next to Sandwich Lady) – Took passport but is very trustworthy and was recommended to us by a Koh Tao Local. & Summer Guesthouse – Rented while staying at the hostel, didn’t ask for anything.
Phuket – Travel Agency next door to Bloo Hostel – Didn’t ask for anything in return for renting.
Koh Lanta – Lanta Tour (near Lanta Happy House) – Took Driving License and 2000 baht deposit.
Chiang Rai – B-Rider – Took Driving License and 1000 baht deposit.
Luang Prabang – Rattana Guesthouse – Rented while staying there, took passport but had no issues returning.
Vang Vieng – Rock Backpackers – Rented while staying there, and didn’t ask for anything.
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