Scary Reasons Tourists May Want To Avoid Renting A Scooter In Southeast Asia

Private motorcycles are the most popular mode of transport in many countries across Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia. In Vietnam, private motorbikes make up 80% of the country's transportation. A scooter offers tourists the freedom to explore without relying on others. For just a few dollars a day, you can get your own set of wheels and scoot around in popular Southeast Asian cities and more underrated destinations.

However, renting a scooter doesn't come without risk, and horror stories abound. It's heartbreakingly easy to find news stories of tourists crashing their scooters and suffering life-threatening injuries. Hospitalization for non-critical injuries is also not uncommon. Blogger, Just a Pack, recounts spending Christmas Day in a remote Vietnamese hospital after skidding into a ditch. A poster on the subreddit r/Bangkok forum writes about three incidents, two of which happened when driving a little too fast on rough roads. On one of these, she was knocked unconscious and sustained injuries that still bother her 13 years later.

"Lucky" tourists who fly off their scooters get scrapes and burns. Blogger Jodi from Legal Nomads tumbled off her bike down the side of a cliff in Thailand, emerging scratched and bruised. That Backpacker tells of seeing tons of tourists covered in scrapes and burns after coming off their rented scooters.

Why is it so dangerous?

Accidents can happen anywhere and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it's the fault of other drivers. In the subreddit r/Bali, a user tells of a car crashing into them from behind and a scooter colliding with them. However, many accidents are due to road conditions and inexperienced tourists. Southeast Asia has its share of dangerous roads that can be picturesque; not knowing how to drive on them can cause accidents. 

Blogger Just a Pack admits that she was driving too fast on a not-so-smooth road and had an accident that was "completely and utterly self-directed." Amateur scooter rider Young Adventuress accidentally pulled the gas before slamming on the brakes and flying over the handlebars into a ditch in Bali. Nattie on the Road writes of driving too close behind the car in front and having to slam on their breaks before skidding out.

None of us drive perfectly all the time. The consequences of our or others' errors are magnified while driving a scooter on unfamiliar, sometimes rough roads. So, you might want to avoid renting a scooter in Southeast Asia.

How to get around Southeast Asia

There are plenty of other ways to get around in Southeast Asia without risking life and limb. Firstly, tuk-tuks are ubiquitous in many Southeast Asian countries. Tuk-tuks vary from place to place, but they're usually three-wheeled motorized vehicles with open sides. Like motorbikes, they can weave through traffic more quickly than cars, but as they have three wheels, they are more stable than scooters. Someone else will be driving, too! You can hire tuk-tuks to take you wherever you want to go.

In Vietnam, you'll find cyclos — cycle rickshaws. These three-wheeled bicycle taxis are used by tourists more than locals nowadays. Songthaews are popular ways to get around in Thailand and Laos. A songthaew usually has two rows of seats facing each other in the back of a truck. They act like buses and follow pre-determined routes. Jeepneys, which you'll find in the Philippines, are similar. Finally, you can use a ride-share app if you want to go by private car. Grab is one of the most popular in Southeast Asia and operates in over 500 cities and towns across the region.