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Best practices for motorcycling through Southeast Asia

Buy a bike, get a helmet, find a map and plan your trip

Traveling in Southeast Asia seems to have become a staple for many young backpackers. With its beautiful, diverse landscapes, cheap prices and gaggles of other, young backpackers, the entire region screams, “visit me!” With many people giving into this desire, finding adventure and less touristy sights is becoming harder and harder to find. While this could appeal to some travelers, it leaves others underwhelmed. For those wanting a new take on Southeast Asia, the best way to do it is by motorcycle.

Though many people have rented scooters or done some of Asia by bike, the fact is, adding your own transportation brings a whole new dynamic to the trip. Being able to pack up and head to your preferred destination becomes incredibly easy, and the only one stopping you from visiting a new place is you. Bikes are readily available, roads are decently paved, and petrol is dirt cheap compared to home.

The first rule to biking through Southeast Asia is to find a motorcycle or scooter with Vietnam plates. Bikes with Vietnam plates are allowed to cross over the boarder of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Cambodia. They also are easily transferable (which you really don’t even have to do), and are everywhere. Aging Honda Win’s can be found for as low as $100, and bike shops all over Asia can fix any ailment that pops up for a few bucks. Make sure you are given the green identification card, or else you can be hassled by police.

After finding your bike (and hopefully investing in a good helmet), getting maps and planning out your trip is very important. While it isn’t necessary to have a strict plan, knowing that bikes can only be sold in Cambodia and Vietnam is helpful. If you bring a bike into Thailand, your visa will be registered with the bike, and you will be charged a big tax if you leave without it. Laos is less strict, but will still give you problems if you don’t leave with the bike you came in on. Thailand also only allows for you to have 30 days with your bike in the country. While it is legal to cross the borders on your bike, be prepared to pay “taxes,” to corrupt border guards, especially while entering Laos and Cambodia. Asking for a receipt and badge number can often save you from paying a made up fee.

While driving in Asia can be dangerous, the fact is, if you avoid big cities and drive at a reasonable speed, the risk isn’t all that large. Make sure you have previous knowledge of riding a motorcycle before you come, because if not, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Ride safe and enjoy the beautiful, diverse landscapes of Southeast Asia.