I Didn't Drive a Motorbike in Southeast Asia - Here's why

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It's a backpacker's right of passage to drive a motorbike in Southeast Asia. These electric, two-wheeled chariots are omni-present in the region. From the moment I stepped outside the airport in Vietnam, motorbikes swerved their way through every part of my life. Engines and honking were the soundtrack of my trip.

It's inevitable that most backpackers eventually find themselves in the driver's seat of one of these bikes.

Well, except for me. I stood firm that I didn't have any plans to drive a bike. Prior to arriving in Asia, I'd contemplated so many aspects of my trip - locations, accomodations, budgets - but deciding whether or not to drive a motorbike was the biggest decisions I never knew I'd have to make. 

But it wasn't a hard decision. I'm not coordinated and I've never done it before. Why would I start in a country where I didn't have health insurance? 

Don't get me wrong - I rode on motorbikes. I rode on more motorbikes than I could possibly count. I just never drove the bikes myself. Instead, I trusted a complete stranger (who speaks a different language) with my life. 


The first time I got on a bike was completely spontaneous. I had no idea a motorbike was in my future until I was two feet away, and someone was handing me a helmet. We were in a rush and I didn't have time argue - I just jumped on the bike and whizzed off. 

That first experience rapidly turned into my second, and then third. Sometimes I rode on for three minutes, other times for three days straight. 

Backpackers will tell you a trip to SEA isn't complete without driving a motorbike, and maybe that's true for them. Maybe it was the highlight of their trip. That's fine. That's GREAT. I'm so glad you had nice trip!

But that doesn't mean a motorbike needs to be my favorite part. 

I was anxious and disinterested about the experience. Plus I met far too many backpackers who had crashes. If you saw someone in your hostel with bandages, or on crutches, you didn't even ask - you knew what happened.

I went to the hospital in Southeast Asia. Actually, I went to the hospital twice. I didn't need need a hat trick in that department.  If someone is bullying you into driving a bike, tell them to buzz off. 

My final opinion on the matter?

They make your butt hurt.

Did you ride a motorbike SEA? How was your experience? Leave it in the comments below!

A photo essay on the motorbikes I've encountered:


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