I've wanted to write about renting a moped or motorcycle abroad for a while as it turns out there is quite a bit to know. Renting a moped abroad is something I've done several times now; from on the tiny Thai island of Koh Tao to the bustling beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Mopeds rule the roads of Southeast Asia and renting one gives you the freedom to travel independently. Plus, it's fun to do with a big group when everyone has their own bikes!
While prices vary around the world, renting a moped is incredible cheap in Southeast Asia- I usually paid 100 baht ($3) for a 24 rental in Thailand and about $6 in Cambodia.
Aside from checking to see if your travel insurance covers motorized vehicle hire (most don't), here are some other ways to safely rent a moped or motorcycle abroad.
On a moped in Thailand and a motorcycle in Vietnam.
1. Bring your passport and cash
When renting a bike abroad you will always pay the full price upfront in cash. While in some countries the bike shop owners will want a cash deposit as collateral, in Southeast Asia they will keep your passport until you return the bike.
Also bring enough money for gas, snacks and maybe a little emergency money in case you need a bike repair.
And normally in Southeast Asia the rental shop owner will ask to see your visa too, to make sure that you are legally allowed to be in the country. A friend of mine with dual-citizenship brought his non-visa passport to the rental shop and he wasn't allowed to rent!
2. Read the fine print before you sign
Before riding, always check how much you will be charged in the event the bike is damaged, lost or stolen. I've heard horror stories of tourists being charged upwards of $300 USD for only a few scratches, and I met one girl who was charged $600 for totaling the bike even though a brand-new 125cc motorbike costs around $250-300!
When choosing a bike consider how much horsepower you need the engine to have. Most bikes are 125cc, which means the engine is pretty small- getting up hills will be a challenge, or in some cases, impossible. And make sure you know what kind of transmission the bike has: automatic, semi-automatic or manual. As an American I definitely prefer automatic!
3. Take photos of the bike
Before hopping on the bike, make sure to photograph every inch of it including the license plate. I've heard stories of rental shop owners accusing riders of damaging the bike when it was really damaged all along!
Safety is not always attractive.
While many foreigners and locals alike may be riding without a helmet, don't do it. Every time I requested a helmet I was given one free of charge.
Also make sure the rental shop owner gives you a lock for the front wheel. And before you leave, agree on what time you're bringing it back- most rentals are for 24 hours.
And never, never lock up a bike outside overnight even if you lock the front wheel. As you may remember my friends had their bikes stolen in Sihanoukville!
5. Fill up!
The bikes always come empty so make sure to fill up right away. Gas is very inexpensive in Southeast Asia and will only cost you a couple of bucks.
6. Take it easy if you're a beginner
Dirt road in Otres Beach, Cambodia.
Dirt road on Koh Tao, Thailand.
When renting a moped or motorcycle in a non-western country, remember that the driving conditions are not optimal; roads in the developing world are often dirt, full of potholes or barely existent.
And the flow of traffic may be on the opposite side of the road- for example, in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia they drive on the left side of the road, and in Cambodia and Vietnam they drive on the right.
Also, you shouldn't ride with someone on the back if you're an inexperienced driver. Having an extra rider changes the weight distribution and can throw you off balance.
Finally don't take on a challenging road if you're a beginner. Many dream of the road between Chiang Mai and Pai but personally I know I'm not up for the task!
Consider a guided tour
I had an excellent time with my EasyRiders Tour in Vietnam, as I got to sit on the back and soak up the scenery without stressing out about stick shift. While it's not for everyone, a guided tour is a good option for those who aren't comfortable behind the wheel. Plus, having a local guide offers you insight into the local culture.
Consider buying a motorcycle
In order to avoid the rental scams and other dangers, consider buying a bike. My friend Victoria bought a motorcycle for less than $300 USD in Saigon and spent two months driving it up Vietnam- I was so jealous of her photos! It's best to do research ahead of time and check out bikesales to find a used motorcycle which is usually much cheaper.
Here are some other resources on renting or buying a motorcycle and riding it on a long trip:
Have you ever rented a moped or motorcycle abroad?
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