Beginner guide to driving a motorbike in Southeast Asia

I am pretty sure that everyone who visited Southeast Asia got surprised by the quantity of people, animals or objects being transferred on a single motorbike. It almost seems that a motorbike is a magical mean of transportation that can get anything (including sofas, grown-up pigs or 150kg of rice) anywhere at any time.

driver doesn't have to sit in the front

Driver doesn’t have to sit in the front

After 6 months traveling around Southeast Asia, we not only got used to driving a motorbike on an everyday basis, but we became part of this magical movement transporting everything we imagined. In this article, I would love to share with you a story of how an inexperienced motorbike users became pros of riding a motorbike in Asian style.

Locals can transfer everything on a motorbike

Locals can transfer everything on a motorbike

It all started pretty innocently in Bali 6 months ago when we realized that we are screwed without a motorbike.

14.10. 2016, Bali, Indonesia

2:00 pm: We just rented a scooter. It was our first time driving a scooter. Of course, we haven’t told this to the owner. The owner was pretty laid back. He didn’t want to see a driving license. He didn’t want any deposit. He didn’t know where we are living. He basically rented a motorbike for one and a half month to complete strangers.

2:02 pm: Martin is trying the basic stuff like using a gas and breaks on a scooter. I am watching. He seems to do fine. OK, let’s do this. Let’s drive home in crazy Balinese traffic, first time on the scooter and first time driving on the left side of the road.

2:03 pm: SHIT… This is crazy!! I am trying to help with bits of advice like slow down or use a light or you go to slow, but Martin seems to not appreciate those. OK, I am shutting my mouth and closing my eyes. I was thinking that its gonna help.

2:05 pm: Our first junction. No traffic lights, hundreds of motorbikes, at least a dozen of cars. No rules. Shitty road. Annoying honking.

No need to wear helmets

No need to wear helmets

2:06 pm: If we gonna wait any longer we will suffocate with exhaust gas. It’s time to go. Centimeter after centimeter we are getting into the middle of a junction. This is our moment, we have to cross. We are crossing and it seems we made it, but suddenly we are falling down. BUMP… But there is not the time for hesitating. Motorbikes and cars are passing by, if we don’t get up and move we will get hurt. Anyways, we only got some scratches, nothing serious.

2:07 pm: Did we just have an accident? After 6 minutes of renting a motorbike? Bali is going to be a lot of fun! Like my friend said, everyone, has to experience a proper Bali kiss.

15.10.2016, Bali, Indonesia

Most of the people don’t wear a helmet. There are no rules. Seems that the stronger or faster go first. Too bad we are not stronger or faster.

16.10.2016, Bali, Indonesia

A family of 4 members riding one motorbike just overtook us. A 12-year-old boy without shoes overtook us. A girl in heels and phone in her left hand overtook us. A motorbike with two tourists and their 2 backpacks just overtook us. The only thing that is on my mind is that I will NEVER ride a motorbike with 2 people and 2 backpacks on.



4.1.2017, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

7:30 am: We are renting another motorbike right at the train station to get to our hostel. Our backpacks are casually leaned against the wall and I am prepared to wait here until Martin takes one backpack to the hotel and returns for me and the other backpack. But this is not what will happen. The guy from a renting shop is being very helpful, showing us how to fit 2 backpacks and two people on a motorbike. He doesn’t seem to be worry that we will crash HIS motorbike at all.

7:35 am: One bag is in front of Martin, the second one is on my back. I have a phone with navigation in one hand and I use the second hand to somehow hold not to fall down. None of us has enough space. I am immediately thinking how locals can ride a motorbike with more than 2 people on it?

7:45 am: We are arriving at our hostel. We did it. From now on everything is possible. Of course except riding a motorbike in more than 2 people.

8.4.2017 Hanoi, Vietnam

6:50 am: We are waiting for a minibus pick up at a hostel, talking in Czech to Vietnamese owner, who studied in Czech republic in the past. The bus should pick us up between 6:15 and 6:30 and take us to the bus station for the bus that leaves at 7 am. Vietnamese owner doesn’t seem nervous about this delay. On the other hand, we are pretty nervous.

6:55 am: The owner got off the phone and told us that there is no minibus coming so he has to take us to the bus station on a motorbike. Ok, no problem, so I go first and then he will return for Martin.  Again, this is not what happened.

6:56 am: I put my backpack in front of the driver and sat behind him. He seems not satisfied, probably he has plenty of free space. So he tells Martin to sit as well. Ok… Look at the picture below, do you see a space for a third person? 🙂

Riding a motorbike with 2 70l backpacks

Riding a motorbike with 2 70l backpacks

6:57 am: We are going. I can hardly breathe, Martin is about to fall off the motorbike. Our driver laughs, saying that it is good that there are not so many people in the morning in a traffic. However,  we had a feeling that there is more than enough people on our motorbike. To add the authenticity of this experience, we didn’t wear a helmets, we were going constantly on a red light and about 70 % of a time we were driving in the opposite direction.

7:05 am: We arrived at the bus station to find out that the bus goes at 7:30. We had plenty of time to digest this experience.

Over the 6 months, we not only got really confident in a traffic, we also started to enjoy every minute on a motorbike. I stopped giving useful advises to Martin and have my eyes open to witness the beautiful scenery. Martin got used to the Asian style and he got very experienced in a honking and overtaking cars, motorbikes, people, animals and basically everything that appears on a road. Riding a motorbike with our 70l backpack became an ordinary thing to do and riding a motorbike with 3 people became one of the best experience.

Southeast Asia has so many beautiful routes to drive a motorbike,  that it would be a pity not to master the art of driving it. You can find some of the most epic routes in southeast Asia in this article.

Hope you liked the article. What is your favorite story from riding a motorbike? Happy Travels and don’t forget to share this post or PIN the picture below for later.

how to drive a motorbike in southeast asia



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