Beginners Guide To Renting Scooters On Holiday In Thailand / The Philippines
How to have an awesome holiday
if you are going on holiday to Thailand or the Philippines, renting a scooter is essential in my opinion. If you are anything like me, when abroad you like to make the most of it. Renting a scooter or motorbike and exploring lets you really see what the place you are visiting has to offer.
When I first started holidaying, I didn't do this, but as soon as I started, my holidays got approximately 100% more enjoyable. This article is for the people that want to ride a motorbike / scooter but are beginners so want a bit of advice on how to do it right and not end up in the hospital!
Scooter + beach = fun
I know it's fun. But what about the danger?
The first thing you have to get over when considering doing this is fear. The vast majority of people out there won't rent a scooter when abroad because they're scared. This means most people stay at the hotel, go on organised trips with a load of other sheep to the same old spots and basically don't have as good a time as they could.
I say forget this and get on a bike! You can then plan your own destinations and see the real side of the country rather than the same tired old tourist hotspots. Ok, there is some risk when it comes to riding around, but everything in life carries a risk and if you don't take any risks, then you will never have any fun. As with most things, as long as you take your time and are prepared then you'll be fine.
For the couples out there, you don't need to get a couple of bikes if one of you is worried about riding, get a motorbike / scooter between you and have one of you ride pillion. Generally this tends to be the man riding with the woman on the back, but there is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is fun in itself as you can easily talk to each other and the one riding doesn't have to worry about their other half falling off so can relax!
The first thing you need to think about is what sort of motorbike or scooter you are going to rent. For the people out there that hold motorcycle licences, this is usually easy, the biggest bike they can get! If you aren't an experienced rider though, you're probably going to want to start small. This can be with a 50cc, although personally I usually rent a 125cc. A 50cc Scooter will max out at about 30mph if you're lucky, struggles to carry two people and won't go up hills easily. A 125cc gives you that bit more power, lets you cruise at 50-60mph and as long as you remember the throttle goes both ways, you'll be fine.
Most countries will require a driving licence before riding, but not all. Of course if you have a driving licence then you're going to be at an advantage compared to non drivers anyway as you will (hopefully!) have some road sense.
Find out about local driving habits and laws
It's obviously a good idea to see which side of the road the locals are driving on.. Although it looks a bit strange at first if it is the opposite side to the one you're used to, then it doesn't take long to acclimatise. In the UK, we drive on the left, I have been to Turkey a couple of times where they drive on the right and the only places that I had to think about it a little were the first few times I approached traffic islands. However as you basically just do what the rest of the traffic is doing, then it doesn't take you long to get used to driving on the other side.
A scooter, yesterday
How do scooters work then?
Scooters / mopeds are basically the same thing, but mopeds refer specifically to under 50cc versions. From now on I'll refer to scooters, but I'm covering both. Most rental companies provide twist and go scooters, which are extremely easy to ride. The brakes work the same way as a normal bike, so the right is the front and the left is the back brake. You simply twist the throttle to go. Most of these will top out at about 100-110kph (60-70mph), although you really know you're doing it by the time you get to that speed as they're usually revving their hearts out. I find that I and the bike are more comfortable doing 60-70kph, which tends to be a bit more relaxing anyway when on holiday as I like to soak in the surroundings.
I have also been given geared scooters on hols before, clutchless but with gears. These are a bit faster so are more fun to ride, there isn't a clutch to worry about, but you do have to change gears with your left foot. It's very easy to do this though, there is usually an indicator on the instrument panel to show you what gear you're in, you can scoot up and down through the gears of which there are normally four in the same way you would in a car, or if you're lazy just leave it in fourth gear and ride around. It will be slower pulling off, but it will still do the job.
To start your scooter you need to insert the key, turn it and in most cases hold the left brake lever while pushing the electronic starter on the right. This will normally be shown to you by the scooter man, but it's always nice to have a bit of knowledge beforehand so you don't look like a complete beginner..
A major part of controlling your scooter properly is braking. The last thing you want to do is lock the front wheel, so never grab or snatch the front brake, instead squeeze it gently. Brake evenly with both brakes but if the road has loose gravel, then be very careful with the front brake as if your front wheel locks up then it's not good so in some cases you may be better not to use it. Of course the front brake does the majority of the braking so if the road surface is loose, ride slowly to avoid having to brake much, or slipsliding away.
A lot of countries I've ridden scooters around, which include Thailand, Philippines, Spain, India, Antigua, Turkey etc are ok about you not wearing a helmet. Well, the advice is normally that you should wear one but when you start riding then no one else on the road ever seems to wear one. This is personal choice, I never used to wear a helmet, but as I get a bit older I have started to feel a little bit more sensible and the last holiday I went on I wore the helmet the whole time. It is a nice feeling to go without though, just try not to headbutt the kerb if you fall off..
What about falling off?
My advice here is simple. Don't fall off. I have never fallen off, or come close because I have two simple rules.
The first involves being careful around corners. I have seen people fall off their scooters / motorbikes by not doing this, some of which were supposedly experienced riders. The best bet is to take care all the time. You can still have fun exploring and sometimes riding quickly if you're in the mood, just whatever you do don't try to push the limits round corners if you're not used to riding as falling off and spending your holiday either in the hospital, or more likely with a dressing over an injury has never looked like much fun.
The second rule I employ is to be very aware of other road users and give them plenty of space at all times. In foreign countries sometimes the road rules are a bit different, just make sure you're aware of this before you start. I always give other vehicles plenty of room and never take anything for granted. If you ride cautiously around other road users, you ride safe and still have an awesome time. I have ridden fast down country lanes in the middle of the night, but even then I did it safely and didn't fall off as I rode fast when there were no other vehicles around.
A man (not me!), getting fuel, in Thailand
I have found in all countries I've been in, even if I can't speak the lingo, that pulling up to the pump, saying hello (hopefully in the local language) and asking for 'full' while gesticulating wildly always works.
Don't run out ideally, although I did do this in Thailand. Thankfully a couple of local boys came up, I showed them I had no fuel by tapping the gauge and gesticulating and they scooted off, fetched me some and filled the bike up for me, I gave them some money, handshakes and high fives and I was on my way again.
How to plan and travel around away from sheep
I always buy a travel guide for the country I'm in and read that while at my hotel/hostel/whatever to plan the next days trip. I have found that most people that go on holiday don't buy a guide book and stay by the pool while often moaning about how boring the place is. I have seen some awesome places by simply reading up about what is around the area and jumping on the bike to go there.
Most places that don't have tours are usually quiet. I remember when I was in Thailand with my friend we rode to a place called Crystal Lagoon. It is one of the most awesome and beautiful places I've ever been. It's not on any tours and we had a brilliant day with practically no one else around there other than a few locals. I recommend finding any waterfalls in your guide book that don't have tours visiting them and try and get around to those, that's one of my favourite holiday pastimes along with visiting anywhere locally that sounds good. I've visited abandoned cities before that were deserted because tourists either didn't know about them, or.. in fact the only reason they were abandoned is because most people don't bother to read up on the place they're visiting so miss out on amazing stuff that is often only a motorbike / scooter ride away.
I've also had some of my best meals by riding past restaurants that are only frequented by locals and calling in for some food. In my experience they're usually grateful that a foreigner wants to try them and they usually pull out the stops to try and impress you. Not always of course, but it has happened a lot in my experience.
I'll summarise by saying, to those who haven't thought of renting a motorbike / scooter on holiday, or maybe have thought about it and have just discounted it as being too dangerous etc, then give it a go! Take your time and go out and explore. It can be really awesome and as long as you don't go crazy, then you will be absolutely fine. Happy riding and make sure you take some photos of the awesome stuff you see that most people don't.
if you have any comments please leave them below. Thanks!