I have a confession to make.
It’s kind of embarrassing really.
Ok, here goes
I don’t have a motorbike license.
In fact, I can’t even ride a real motorbike properly at all.
For someone who enjoys the freedom of road trips as much as I do that is pretty pathetic, but the good news is that once I come back to SE Asia it really doesn’t matter at all.
Because here, it’s all about the scooters.
Even better, minor details like a motorbike license are … well … optional. Some hirers don’t require any sort of license at all, while others will glance quickly at your car / truck / hairdressing license before sending you on your way. Typically a passport and a few bucks is all you need.
The first thing that anybody says when I mention riding scooters in this part of the world is “Oh, it’s so dangerous. The traffic over there is INSANE!“. Yes, with capital letters. And in bold. Sometimes even more than one exclamation mark.
And yes, it’s hard to argue that in places like Saigon and Bangkok the traffic can be kind of nuts. Outside the largest cities though, the insanity level drops from ‘certifiable’ to merely ‘sometimes drools on self and shouts at lampposts’. Much more manageable.
The fact is though that I’d ride a scooter anywhere in SE Asia before attempting it back in Australia. There’s a total safety in numbers thing going on here. Cars, songthaews, tuktuks, whatever – drivers know to keep an eye out for scooters, and actually drive slow enough to do something about it when they do see them.
Back in Australia you’ll just get run off the road without a second glance for having the temerity to drive anything smaller than a 20 tonne SUV (with only one person in it, naturally).
It’s the freedom that gets me though.
Just being able to hire a bike with minimal hassle and head for wherever takes your fancy is incredibly liberating. You’re so much closer to the sights and smells of daily life on two wheels than when you’re peering out a dirty bus window or having your eardrums assaulted by a badly-tuned tuktuk.
Plenty of places will do multi-day and one-way hires, so as long as the roads are up to it you can go pretty much anywhere. There’s no point being in much of a hurry – it just makes the ride less enjoyable and more dangerous – so kicking back and enjoying the view kinda happens by default.
Some of my favourite memories of Asia come viewed through the bug-stained sunglasses of a long scooter ride. The Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos was an incredible journey, and the 300km round trip from Hoi An to Hue ranks as the most fun and ridiculous trip I’ve ever done on two wheels. Even the ride on the dirt tracks around Koh Tao was amazing – well, until I ended up in a metre-high ditch, anyway.
Even the shorter trips are so much fun they should probably be illegal. A couple of days ago I hired a bike from the shop down the road, convinced a friend that she’d love to come with me (yes, she’s nuts) and headed up Doi Suthep. There are plenty of songthaews that will happily overcharge you for the pleasure of a trip up the mountain just outside Chiang Mai, but riding a scooter just seemed like it would be a whole lot more fun.
And it was.
Traffic was light, the road was good, the scenery was stunning and my friend didn’t even fall off the back. Perfect. Sure the wat at the top was worth visiting as well – so shiny! So golden! – but it was all about the ride at the end of the day. Back down the mountain, a lap around the old city just because we could, and home in time for yet another awesome dinner.
I totally love my life right now.
I just love it even more when I’m sitting on a scooter.