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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Biking in Southeast Asia

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Traveling to Asia you will find bikes to be ubiquitous. Bikes are a cheaper form of transportation in terms of initial cost and operating cost. Other than Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and China, the income of the people is low. Also, in densely populated areas, it's easier to get around on a bike as more can fit on the road.

One of the big things to get used to in many Asian countries is road rules. Or I should say lack of rules. Bikers do what they want. If you're in a car they will pass you on either side. If there is room between two cars, they will go between, even in the tightest of spots. If you stop at a red light, be prepared for five or six bikes to go in front of you.

I especially had to get used to exiting my vehicle after parking. Opening a door, even on the sidewalk side of the car, can be dangerous as a biker may be passing driving on the sidewalk! It can get crazy.

I've driven both cars and motorbikes in Asia. But I should clarify what I mean by a bike. I don't mean the larger ones driven in America. The bikes used in Asia are much smaller in comparison. Typically 125 cc bikes are the biggest bikes you'll see. As crazy as the driving can be, I'm glad they're smaller!

Me in the countryside with my bike:

This is big enough for me at my age. I recall one of my earlier experiences on a larger bike with my good friend Roger (a reader here). We "stole" his brother's bike when we were teenagers and took it for a joy ride on the highway. I can remember topping it out over 100 mph that day, only to "dump it" at 5 mph going up a small hill. We were lucky to survive our youth I think. We were also lucky to survive the ire of his brother, Rick.

But I'm not even safe these days on a smaller one. On a rainy day at an intersection in Malaysia (I think), I took off at a green light and the tires slid out on me. I dumped it in the middle of the intersection. I was a little bruised and cut but not nearly as bruised as my ego! It was so embarrassing with people stopping to see if I was alright. I got up quickly and drove away with my pain.

Biking can be an adventure not only in the city but also the countryside. That's where I love it best. Driving through the small villages and open country roads. Here's a short clip of me driving through a small village:

As I mentioned in a previous post ( driving can get challenging in the country, not only avoiding the rice drying on sidewalks, but also free range and roaming animals. Here I am going through a herd of water buffaloes:

With my driving I'm not sure who was in danger here, me or the water buffaloes.

Renting a bike in most Asian countries is cheap. Often in the $10 per day range. Although technically most countries require an international driver's license, this is seldom enforced. But you can be checked if driving on the major highways as police checkpoints are very common. As a westerner I've never had issues at these checkpoints and generally just get waived through.

What do you think? Does bike riding in a foreign country sound fun or dangerous? Or both?

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