Traveling by motorbike. Why you should give it a try.

Posted by on July 21, 2014
Motorbike Travcel-article-tips

Traveling by motorbike – one of the best way to really explore a place.

During my year-long journey all across Southeast Asia, I became a big advocate and fan of traveling by motorbike. I probably rode a bike at least once in every country I visited and every single time it made for a unique and unforgettable experience. I did several multi-day tours as well as numerous one day excursions. It is about the feeling of total freedom, of really immersing yourself in the scenery around you, about the sun warming your face, a cool breeze blowing through your hair and all those kind people you meet on the road. Personally I think it is one of the best ways to really explore a place and I can recommend everyone to at least give it a try. Here is why I think so:

1| You are in the scene

Some time ago a reader of my blog left this quote about motorbike travel which sums it all up very well: “The difference with motorbike travel and all other forms is that you are in the scene, rather than being a passive watcher through a frame (window).” When you ride a bus, a jeepney or a van, you are confined to this little space, almost like in a cage looking outside from the inside. When you are riding a motorbike, you are right there, in the middle of it all. You become part of the whole picture; you are not only passing by.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

My friend Dolf enjoying the view somewhere on Coron Island.

Motorbike travel put you right into the scene. Around Thakhek, Laos.

Motorbike travel puts you right into the scene. Around Thakhek, Laos.


2| Freedom and Flexibility

The freedom of traveling by motorbike is unmatched. You can do whatever you want and you are not confined to anyone’s schedule but your own. You can just take that interesting side road you just passed, you can have a snack at that unique road stop which you’d otherwise whip right past or stop to say hello to that group of smiling children who have been happily waving at you. You can eat where and when you want, you can stop as often as you want and you can pee when you want to pee. Once you have arrived at your destination or overnight stop, you can easily check and compare different guesthouses before choosing one. Once checked in, you can go and explore that new town and its surroundings on your own. Who knows what you might find?

Motorbike Travel-Cambodia

Stopping to say hello to this group of smiling children. Along the Mekong in Cambodia.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

Free to stop wherever you want. Somewhere in Laos


3| The views

The vantage point from a motorbike gives an unobstructed 180 degree view wherever you go. You can see the road in front of you and the beautiful scenery to your left and right. The view through the window of a bus or train just doesn’t compare to this.

Motorbike Travel-Thailand

Enjoying the view along the Mae Hong Song Loop, Thailand.


4| Take better photos

Everyone probably knows this situation. You are riding on a bus and you pass this amazing photo opportunity – a crystal clear lake, a gushing river or an incredible viewpoint on top of high road pass. You are trying to snap some shots out of the window, feeling already lucky if you can open the window. I have been there myself… several times. If you are on a bike, you can just stop, get off, take out your gear and take your sweet time to get that amazing photograph your friends will later talk about.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

After the storm. If it wasn’t for traveling by motorbike, this shot would have been impossible. Flores, Indonesia.


5| Getting off the beaten track

As you might know by now, I love venturing off the beaten track. Traveling by motorbike makes this very easy. You will pass side roads which you can go down, you will spot signs pointing to an interesting site not mentioned in your guide book or you will pass interesting little villages where you can just hang out a bit. Some of my best off the beaten track experiences were only made possible because I was traveling by motorbike.

Get off the beaten track. Easily done when traveling by motorbike. Laos

Get off the beaten track. Easily done when traveling by motorbike. Laos

Get off the beaten track easily. Took a side road into a remote village and got invited for lunch. Vietnam

Took a side road into a remote village and got invited for lunch. Somewhere in Vietnam along the Chinese border.


6| Meet the locals

Traveling by motorbike enables you to interact with locals. You can ask for directions, chat with people at a local road stop or you might even get stranded at a local repair shop because of a flat tire. That actually happened to me countless times. You will also be able to observe how people go about their daily lives. I have seen peasants farming their fields, roamed around busy markets or coffee farmers drying their produce on the side of the road. Traveling by motorbike will give you the chance to really immerse yourself into the local cultures.

Friendly locals at a waterfall which I discovered while doint a day tour in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Friendly locals at a waterfall which I discovered while doin a day tour in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

A farmer ploughing his rice field. Bicol region, Philippines.

A local road stop for lunch. The locals invited me for a few shots of rice wine. One of these experiences ... (Vitenam)

A local road stop for lunch. The locals invited me for a few shots of rice wine. One of these experiences … (Vietnam)


7| It’s cheap

Renting a motorbike (I am talking about the typical 125cc bikes, found everywhere around Asia) is usually around five to ten dollars per day plus gasoline. I think that’s a good deal for all the benefits that come with it. If you own a bike, even better.

Spending the money on motorbike rental is usually always worth it.

Spending the money on motorbike rental is usually always worth it.

8| Explore and discover 

Traveling by motorbike enables you to discover places which you most probably would have missed otherwise. Tour buses mostly visit the well established sites and also stick to the main paths. With a bike you are free to roam around and you can visit those lesser known places that no tour company will head for. Who knows, you might even discover a hidden gem that no one else has ever been to.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

Just passed this place incidentally in Bali.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

A hidden gem of a beach which I found after a motorbike odyssey in Coron, Philippines.

9| Say hello to Adventure

The final argument and probably one of the most important ones. Traveling by motorbike is all about the adventure. You will have to sort out a lot more things on your own. You have to find your way, you might get lost or you might end up with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. All of that happened to me. But it never posed a real problem that I couldn’t fix. And in the end, it will make you end up with many colorful tales to tell when you’re done. As I always say, adventure might be just around the corner. And by motorbike, it is a lot easier to discover.

Dolf waiting to get his exhaust fixed at a local repair shop in Laos. Shit happens.

Dolf waiting to get his exhaust fixed at a local repair shop in Laos. Shit happens.

Motorbike Travel is about the adventure!

Motorbike Travel is about the adventure!

Motorbike Travel-Tips

Adventure might wait behind the next bend. Go and find it.


 A word about risks

Motor biking can be dangerous, especially if you are very unexperienced. But if you act smart, don’t push too hard and use common sense, then you can minimize the risk. I have covered several thousand kilometers during my trip and never had more than a busted tire. I have worked my way up and by now it has become like second nature. To me the reward/risk ratio is clearly in favor of using a motorbike. But that is a calculation that each one of you guys has to do on their own.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

For me the rewards outweigh the risk. But that is just personal.


Tips and advice

To help minimize those risks and maybe help to take that ambiguity away, I’d like to give you some tips and advice which I came to learn during my travels.

1| Orientation
If you don’t know the area, get a map. Especially important for multi-day tours. Book stores usually have a number of maps and for Southeast Asia the best maps I came by are published by GT Rider. You can find their link in my links section. Before taking off, have your smartphone cache a map of the area. You can then access it on the road without needing internet access and you can even use it with your GPS. I found that very handy.

Good orientation is the key for a successful motorbike tour.

Good orientation is the key for a successful motorbike tour.

2| Get confident
If you are not familiar with riding a motorbike. Get some practice before heading out on that big tour. Have someone teach you, most of the rental places even offer that service. Don’t start out in a super busy city but rather a sleepy rural village in the countryside. Learning to drive in Saigon or Phnom Penh will for sure end up in disaster.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

You don’t want to learn how to ride a motorbike here. Hue, Vietnam.

3| Check your rental bike
Take your sweet time to thoroughly check your rental bike. Walk around it and try to look skeptical. Even if you are not an expert (like myself). Then take pictures of the bike with your camera and make sure the sales person sees you doing it. You want to avoid them charging you damage that has been there before. Make sure lights are working, brakes and most important in Asia…the horn.

Check your bike before leaving the rental place.

Check your bike before leaving the rental place.

4| Wear proper clothes
This is an important one. Even if it is super-hot out, wear long pants, a long sleeve and proper shoes. It will save you from severe road rash if you fall. Road rash is not serious but a nasty injury which will take a long time to heal and which will keep you from swimming in the sea for a while. Long pants will also keep you from getting burned on your own or other bikers’ exhausts.
Don’t wear flip flops but sturdy shoes. For the same reasons as above but also because you never know what you might encounter. You might pass a hidden cave or an intriguing hiking trail. Good shoes will help you exploring these.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

Proper shoes and long pants are the minimum of precautions to take.

 5| Check your helmet
A good helmet can save your life. Make sure to get one which is high quality and fits you well. If this is not the case, ask for another one or even ask the guys at the rental place to fetch one from another rental place.

Motorbike Travel-Tips

Make sure to get a proper helmet. If it’s matching your bike, even better 😉

6| Know your skills
Always ride according to your skills. Don’t speed or engage in risky passing maneuvers. You can end up in sketchy, potentially dangerous situations quicker than you might think.


Last thoughts…

Motorbike travel is awesome, especially in Southeast Asia. I really got addicted to this type of travel and I will do it again whenever there is a chance for it. I hope I was able to get you guys interested in it. And if you try and still feel unsafe and unsure, don’t force it. Maybe it is just not for you, and that is totally ok. Try finding a partner who lets you ride as passenger or join one of these easy rider tours, most popular in Vietnam, where an experienced rider takes you along with him.
Are you also into motorbike travel or are you considering it? Let me know what you think of it and feel free to share your own experiences.  Philipp (Pipoy Palaboy)

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48 Responses to Traveling by motorbike. Why you should give it a try.

  1. Fox

    “Free to stop wherever you want” —> right! … great photos!

  2. Sanjita

    You definitely convinced me! I love this freedom you gain when you take the motorbike.
    Thanks for your advice and sharing your thoughts.
    I’m always excited reading your blog! Cheers!

    • Phil D.

      Glad you liked my article Sanjita. Let me know if you need any more tips or advice. Have a great week ahead! Phil

  3. Rachelle Nessia

    Now, if only I knew how to ride a motorbike. Great post Pipoy! I believe this is what most tourists are curious about, how to go around touring places using motorbikes.

    • Phil D.

      Hi Rachelle, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the post. I could teach you riding a motorbike one day 😉

  4. J.Gi Federizo

    Really helpful, not to mention convincing, article! I’m kind of scared of riding bikes, though, even as a passenger, but that’s just, as you said, personal. The best part for me are the tips you gave — practical and wise.

    • Phil D.

      Hi J,
      thanks for stopping by and your feedback. It is, as you said, personal and there is no need to force it. Gotta feel confident. But a little excitement is also good hehe. Let me know if you need more tips or advice, Pipoy

      • J.Gi Federizo

        I have a sort of unrelated question…What did you mean by “Pipoy”? LOL!!! Here, it is a nickname, he he

    • Phil D.

      This my nickname. I had a poll on My Facebook Page where people could vote for a Pinoy nickname. Pipoy got the most votes… Hence I signed the comment with “Pipoy” … 😉

      • J.Gi Federizo

        I thought so! Well, for your name, closer would be “Pilo” but that actually sounds older. “Pipoy” is for every age and sounds more fun. So from now on, I will call you Pipoy 🙂

        Thanks for explaining, Pipoy!!! 😀

    • Phil D.

      No problem J. You can call me Pipoy or Phil or Philipp. All work for me 😉

  5. Bianca

    Riding a motorbike just might be a life skill I should learn. Cheers Pipoy!

    • Phil D.

      Hi Bianca, I think you can learn if you want to. And afterwards it’s like riding a bicycle…you’ll never forget …. All the best! Pipoy

  6. broadcasting

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!

  7. ohnelvillafranca

    I feel honored after reading your blogs and there’s this signature at the end (Pipoy, Pipoy Palaboy). Thanks Philipp for using a nickname that is truly Pinoy.

  8. dines jansen

    Had a few experiences with riding a motorbike when my husband and I were on vacation (Marmaris and Ibiza). As much as it was good, I found it a bit terrifying as Hans had a tendency to drive harder than I wanted him to do! I often missed a heartbeat or two! I rather stick to a small scooter that rides a maximum speed of 45 km/hr 🙂 But you were right on so many points: that travelling with a motobike puts you on the scene, offers you flexibility and freedom and you have the opportunity to take more wonderful pictures, as you can stop whenever and whereever you want.. And you have made quite wonderful pictures Pipoy! I see them all here in this post. Really breathtaking..And the pics with the kids, all cute 🙂

    • Phil D.

      HI Dines, it is cool though that you tried. I didn’t know that Hans rides motorbike…and is such a reckless driver hehe. I myself can’t ride big bikes..I usually rent those typical Hondas with 125cc. Those are good and go quite fast. Thanks for liking my pics..that is always good to hear and great feedback. I also should get back on the bike again…about time. I actually thought about getting my motorbike driver’s license here but it is sooo damn expensive that I won’t do it. I will just keep on renting whenever I am abroad ….

  9. dines jansen

    Ja Hans had a Yamaha motor before and he used to brag about his motorbike riding experiences escpecially in Germany’s autobahn. Also with the car, he has the tendency to overspeed. Luckily he can not do that anymore with the camper 🙂
    Motorbiking is fun, but also terryfying, as one is exposed to the traffic around. We had wonderful moments with it, but I was also very thankful when the day is over and that I was still in one piece!
    Maybe you own a motorbike soon . no, if not in Germany, then somewhere else 😉

    • Phil D.

      My type of riding is rather cruising and more relaxed. I don’t like speeding so much as I am also aware of the risks involved with riding a motorbike. But owning a small bike one day, being able to go places whenever I want, that would be great. We will see …

  10. jajit

    I so agree with you! My husband and I did a three day motorbike ride in Vietnam a few years ago with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures and it was amazing! The freedom is gives is so much more satisfying than sitting in a car, bus or any other form of transport. Though I was pillion, I was able to take video and photos whilst in motion. There’s nothing like the wind in your hair and the sun beating down on you whilst you explore and discover a country. It’s like you become part of the landscape!

    • Phil D.

      You summed up it up nicely and you are right, exploring a place by motorbike just puts into the scene and you become part of it all. It’s great and I will surely do it again in the future. I was even considering getting my license here back home but for now it is too expensive…. Maybe one day. Thanks again for stopping by…. Have a happy new year …

  11. shikha gautam

    Such an interesting read Phil.
    Great photos and I agree that the pros of motorbike travel outweigh the cons. Kashmir to Ladakh and return via Manali in India is my dream motorbike trip. This summer probably!

    • Phil D.

      Hi Shikha, glad you liked the post and that you shae my passion about motorbike travel. I think India must be the perfect country to do it. Please keep me updated if you push through with your trip to Ladakh. It’s also one of my dreams, buy an old Royal Enfield and tour Ladakh…I’d also like to walk the ice river up there. India is definitely high on top of my list ….. 😉

  12. shikha gautam

    You’re welcome Phil.
    I love motorbikes over any other sort of transport anyday. It’s way more thrilling and relaxed at the same time; you become one with the landscape. Ladakh on a motorbike has got a cult following and I’m quite keen to do it this year, once the mountain passes open. Lots of rental points, and yes Royal Enfields are a rage here. Got to get one for myself someday soon (will have to learn more on biking though)! Chadar trek (the ice river trek) is also thrilling, you will love it a lot it seems.

    Let’s try to head to Ladakh together; one crazy adventure. Will keep you updated about the plans.
    Cheers 🙂

    • Phil D.

      Hi Shikha,
      do you have an idea where it is good to rent a bike there and how much that costs these days? Just wondering and to get an idea. Also, would you know how much one would have to pay for buying an Enfield?
      Ladakh is like a dream destination for me. Touring by motorbike, hiking the mountains and eventually heading cross boarder into Nepal. What is the best time to explore Ladakh in your opinion?

      Would be great to do it together some day. I am not sure if I will make it over in June but maybe later that year ;).


  13. shikha gautam

    Hey Phil
    The best time to head to Ladakh is from May to September. It gets bitterly cold after that and the road from Manali is cut off because of heavy snow. It’s possible to catch a flight or go via Kashmir though. Moreover, the high lakes of Pangong and Tso Moriri too get frozen and are not as delightful as they are in summers.

    A Royal Enfield 500cc is upwards of Rs 1.5 lakhs, while a 350cc starts from Rs 1 lakhs. Would suggest you to place an order beforehand, as Enfields usually have a long waiting time. Other than buying one, you can also take it from one of the many rental points in Manali or elsewhere. Renting an Enfield costs around Rs 1500 per day. I know of some rental points at Manali, can put you guys in touch.

    I hope this helps.

  14. Phil D.

    Hi Shikha,
    thanks for the tips. Do you think it is nice to take the trip from Kashmir? Starting from manali seems to make the most sense but yeah, I’d like to see anything that is worth exploring.

    I am really surprised by the price for buying an Enfield. That is pretty expensive actually but if that’s the price. I guess it is a numbers game and depends for how much you will be able to sell it again after the trip. Renting for 1500 per day isn’t really cheap either … I guess that’s about 20 Euros.

    Is your trip in June all set? If so you gotta keep me updated …. Thanks again for the valuable input. I was already researching Ladakh roadtrip itineraries today lol

  15. Marco .

    Hi Phil, thanks for the article. I do have a short question about renting a scooter in Thailand. Do you have one of the German motorcycle classes A1, A2 or even A or only a “normal drivers license”? I only have B, M and S – which is car, moped and tractor (hehe). This license, however, doesn’t allow me to ride a 125cc scooter, it would only allow me to ride a moped. I read that many backpackers in Thailand simply drive without the appropriate license and just pay the officers 400-500 baht when being held up for driving without license. However, I also read that this might have changed now as police controls are more rigid and often. Could you share your experience with this?

    Danke und immer gute Reisen!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hallo Marco,
      ich habe ebenfalls keinen Motorradführerschein aber in Thailand und anderen asiatischen Ländern gibt es so etwas auch nicht. Ich hatte nie Probleme, weder beim Mieten noch bei irgendwelchen Kontrollen. Also würde ich mir darum keinen Kopf machen. Was du machen kannst, obwohl ich ihn brauchte, ist einen int. Führerschein zu beantragen. Kostet 15 Euro und kann im Zweifelsfall etwas bringen. Aber wie gesagt, während eines Jahrs in Asien und vielen Mopedtouren musste ich den Schein nie herzeigen. Von daher denke ich, dass du keine Probleme haben wirst.

      Wo gehts denn hin wenn ich fragen darf?


      • Marco .

        Hi Philipp,

        hab Dank für deine Antwort! Ich wusste nicht, ob ich aufgrund deiner Leserschaft auf Deutsch fragen sollte und hab’s so auf Englisch probiert. 🙂 Ich will von Chiang Mai den Mae Hong Son Loop mit meiner Freundin machen, allerdings müsste sie bei mir auf dem Scooter sitzen, weil sie gar keine Erfahrung mit Motorrollern hat. Hab nur von ein paar Reisenden gelesen, die Ende 2014, Anfang 2015 auf der Route kontrolliert wurden und die Polizei hat wohl nichts außer Motorradführerschein im int. Führerschein akzeptiert. Hm. Weiß noch nicht genau, was ich jetzt mache, mal schauen. Danke für deine Antwort und bon voyage!

  16. DK

    Phillip thanks for the great blog! I was wondering what you typically do with all your backpack/luggage when you go on these motorbike journeys

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi DK, I usually leave my big backpack at the guesthouse or hotel and only take a small daypack along. Then, upon return, I check into the same place and pick up my stuff. Always works well.

  17. Jeanne

    Hi Philipp !
    I arrived on your blog thanks to your interview of Rehahn, and then I couldn’t leave it!
    I am in Vietnam right now, and I plan to go from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi in July… The fact is that it’s likely to be my 1st “long” trip alone, and I am quite worried! I read some of your articles and I this one caught my attention… I totally agree with you, motorbike looks like the perfect solution to visit some parts of Vietnam, but alone and with no experience, wouldnt be a little bit risky?

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Jeanne and welcome to ESCapology. I am happy you found your way here. So may I aski if you have ever ridden a motorbike or scooter before? If not, I would not recommend doing this. The safety issue is basically just about the bike riding as the roads are hilly and curvy and do require at least a bit of experience. It is not the place to get started in my opinion. Maybe you can find someone who you can team up with. If not, a guided tour might be an option. I hope you will find a way to make it work. Keep me posted and let me know if you need more help. Cheers and thanks again for stopping by, Philipp

      • Jeanne

        Hey thanks for you fast answer!
        So yes, I used to ride a motorbike when I was younger, but it was in France so… I guess I’ll decide when I will be travelling, if I feel able or not. Because as you say, it offers a lot of advantages that I’d like to enjoy…
        And if I’m lucky, I may find a partner to travel to share all these experiences ! 🙂

  18. Vasco

    Hi Philipp

    Great pictures and what a great experience! I will go in a few months and probably rent a motorbike as well in Vietnam, particularly around Da nang (Hai van pass and Hoi an). What is your experience on that particular matter?
    Also, I am safe of my driving skills and the risk is also worth the benefit in my case.In your experience, what are the odds that not having a motorbike license “actually matters”? Did you find any police control ?

    Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi vasco, what kind of trip have you got planned and where will you go? Sounds like a nice plan, no matter what. Here is my kickass recommendation for ya. Rent a bike in Hue…. Go to Mr. Cu’s café and tell him your plans, he can make all the arrangements. Please have a look at my blogs “Vietnam Diaries”. Him and the whole route ar emntioned there. First of all, renting in Danang doesn’t make sense, because the Hai Van Pass is away from Hoi An, going to Hue. You wanna come from Hue, arriving in Danang. Coming from Hue, you can stop at a few of the old temples and tombs which are on the way. Then you push you through to Danang. A big stretch is on Highway 1 which is not so pleasant but then you make it up the hill, the Hai Van Pass. Awesome. When you are on the top, going down and seeing Danang, you have a cool view. Also, make sure to read about the history about the path… it’s crazy and will give you a whole different experience. Then you are in Danang, nice city. Not touristy. Keep the motorbike. Cruise through town, eat good food chill out. Then you finish your trip in Hoi An…. Easy half an hour ride from Danang along the coast. You should stop at marble mountain on the way. That’s nice. Then, drop of your bike in Hoi An and you are good.

      That is my recommendation…. It’s a really nice and easy to do trip. I didn’t have a motorbike license, just my international drivers license. Never gt stopped or checked. Just do it man. How I wish I could join you… Riding in Vietnam kicks ass…. Make sure to read my other posts about Vietnam, especially the Ha Giang area 😉

      Cheers bro ….


      • Vasco

        Thanks for the response. We were planning to rent in Danang for practical reasons, since we arrive by plane and plan to spend only 4-5 days, leaving by plane again from Danang. We are on a tight schedule and our main points of interest were hue, hoi an and the route itself on the way there.

        Thank you anyway for your suggestions, they were very helpful and we will make sure to follow them!

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Let me know how you liked Danang. I personally lovd it there…. much more authentic than the almost artificial looking Hoi An…. although it is very pretty at night there … Cheers Philipp

  19. Dave Stewart

    Phillip thanks for an inspiring article and useful info on routes. I usually ride a bicycle but due to time constraints we are going to do a motor bike for about a week in an Asian country somewhere within reach of Hong Kong. What can you recommend.

    I would also like more advice on what clothes and equipment you take, I looked at your pictures, you seem to put everything in a small back back? How do you secure it? Do you ride with it on your back? In the pictures you seem to have it secured in front of you?

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Dave, if you need some inspiration about routes, just check the category motorbike on my blog. You will find all my articles including routes and advice. I personally liked the trip in Northern Vietnam best. Make sure to check the season though.

      Clothes: Long pants, sturdy shoes and even if it is hot, a long sleeve. I usually ride with a small backpack which I put in front of me. With the usually 125cc bikes, that fit very well. If you have a bigger bike or a bigger backpack, you can easily put it on the back of your seat and secure it with a piece of rope or heavy duty bungee cords. But yeah, if you ride with someone else, you wont have this option if you ride on the same bike. Then both of you should use small backpacks, which should be fine.

      I hope that helps a bit. Let me know if you need any more input, Cheers Philipp

  20. haim katzav

    We are operating big bikes tours in Manila to all other Philippines, do you have any schedule to be in mnl? we also offer 4×4 and some dirt bikes.