Here’s the thing, if you know me at all you’d know that I love driving. I got my G1 (learner’s permit in Canada) on my 16th birthday and have been driving ever since pretty flawlessly. With no accidents on my record for a solid 8 years, I was confident in my ability to ride a scooter in Asia. Maybe a little too confident. Join me for a wild journey and some tips to stay safe when you rent a scooter if you choose to!
After a long journey to get to Moalboal in the Philippines, I decided I wanted to make the most of my time there. Renting a scooter seemed like the easiest way to do so. Or so I thought …
I had a bad feeling on the morning I had planned on hopping on a scooter to go explore waterfalls with some fellow backpackers. You know, the type of feeling where you stop and think “I probably shouldn’t do this”. That feeling soon passed and the daredevil within me came alive. After all, I had just done the Nevis Bungy in New Zealand, so surely I could handle getting on a scooter in the Philippines. That’s what I told myself at least.
At around $10 CAD a day and the convenience and freedom of being able to go from place to place, it was too difficult to resist. So we got our scooters and our day began. Excited to be able to drive (as I had been living in Australia for the previous year without a car), I jumped on without hesitation. We took off and after a few minutes I was already feeling comfortable. Not having driven a scooter or motorbike of any sort beforehand, I had no clue what I was doing. My first mistake was acting like I had been driving this thing for years when it had been less than an hour on the road.
The accident itself was nothing short of the cliché you hear time and time again. We were heading from one waterfall to the next and it started raining. With less than ideal road conditions and lack of experience riding a scooter, we can chalk it up to the classic tale of losing control and skidding out into a ditch. The only difference is that there was someone’s home below the ditch and the only thing that stopped me from breaking through it was a tree that broke the fall and ultimately broke in half itself!
It left me pretty banged up with bloody legs and a busted hand. At the time I could’ve sworn I broke my hand but the adrenaline had kicked in. At that point I somehow managed to ride to the next falls that were nearby. When leaving the second falls I knew the 2 hour ride back would be excruciating, especially since it was dark and the rain had picked up.
The worst part wasn’t the accident itself but the aftermath. I had to pay nearly $200 CAD to fix a broken piece of plastic on the bike, putting a pretty substantial dent in my budget. It also became a heck of a lot harder to get around after that. Eventually I made it to a hospital on my own. Luckily I had the support of friends and family over the phone but it was a lonely time.
The physical damage wasn’t pretty
I found out it wasn’t a break but most likely torn ligaments and was given a pretty flimsy brace and some pain meds for the next 3 days. Finding ice was a struggle and getting to and from new places was difficult.
As I continued on to new islands, I found myself surrounded by people with almost the exact same story as me. Everywhere I turned I saw someone with a brace, cut up legs or other similar injuries all from, you guessed it –riding a scooter.
Ultimately, after this experience I’ve personally decided that I’ll never ride a scooter in Asia again. I was extremely lucky that the accident hadn’t been more serious and I’m not looking to risk my life!
Tips for renting a scooter in Asia
1. Don’t let them take your passport
Most rental places will try to take your passport off of you. They use this tactic to make sure they get their scooter back in the right condition. The only problem is that you don’t always know how reputable these places are. I don’t know about you but I don’t let any stranger hold onto my passport!
You can avoid the potential danger of a stranger having such an important document by giving them your license instead. If they still aren’t having it, I’d find another place. Tell them you don’t give your passport out and if they won’t take another form of ID you’ll take your business elsewhere!
2. Check for existing damage
Whenever I rent anything, I always check for existing damage. I’ll take pictures right when I get it in case they try to charge me down the line for damage I didn’t cause.
3. Take down contact info
It’s always a good idea to write down the location and get a contact number for the rental place. You may get lost or have a problem where you’d need to get in touch and it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
4. If inexperienced opt for an automatic
If you don’t typical drive a manual car at home, always choose to rent an automatic scooter. Riding a scooter in Asia is much different than driving any vehicle in a first world country. Keep that in mind when you’re making your decision!
5. Don’t leave it unlocked in a spot where it could easily be stolen
This is one of those tips I personally wouldn’t think twice about or follow because realistically, where is backpacker going to get a chain to lock up a scooter for the day?
Unfortunately, it probably comes down to having a scooter stolen while you’re renting it for you to take this one seriously. But you need to keep in mind what would be covered by your travel insurance and make your decision based off that.
How to stay safe when you ride a scooter in Asia
1. ALWAYS wear a helmet
Seems like a given but you’d be surprised how many tourists I saw riding around without one! If I wasn’t wearing a helmet during my crash, I may not be here to tell the tale today.
2. Protect your eyes
If there isn’t a front shield on your helmet, make sure to wear some sunnies! This will protect your eyes from dirt and other debris that may fly into your face while driving. If you can avoid a potential accident you may as well!
3. Avoid rainy conditions
Rainy conditions change everything when you’re on a scooter. Even if you’re a confident and safe driver, anyone can loose control!
Take it slow and be more aware of the changing conditions as you’re driving.
4. Go light on turns and breaking
If you don’t typically drive a scooter or motorbike, it may be hard to get a handle on the turns and breaking right off the bat. They’re a lot more sensitive than cars so just keep that in mind when you take one for a spin!
5. Pay attention to fuel
Always pat attention to the fuel! Most places will expect you to bring the scooter back with the same level. It’s also important to keep an eye on how quickly it goes down and where there are spots to fill up. You won’t want to be left stranded without gas!
Most fuel stops in Asia are full service with no expectation of a tip.
6. Mentally prepare the driving conditions
Chances are that driving a scooter in Asia will be busier and more chaotic than driving at home. People don’t tend to adhere to the rules too strictly and there’s a lot of honking! If you get nervous driving in those conditions, it may be worthwhile to think about before you hop on the back of a scooter.
A lot of insurance companies don’t cover accidents if you don’t have a motorbike license in your home country. It may be a good idea to think twice before renting a scooter in Asia if you don’t have the proper coverage.
A good alternative is to hire a local driver to take you around on the back of their scooter. This will offer a similar but more enjoyable/safer experience!
Have you had a similar experience with scooters? Leave a comment below or connect with me on Instagram!