Motorcycle Travel Guide: Southeast Asia

Welcome to Southeast Asia! It’s one of the best regions in the world to travel on a motorcycle. It’s gorgeous, filled with incredible people, jaw dropping scenery, ancient culture and out of this world riding. This packed ultimate guide explains everything you need to know about riding a motorcycle anywhere in Southeast Asia. 

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

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Motorcycle Travel Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the most beautiful places on earth to ride a motorcycle. Tropical jungles, misty mountains, gorgeous beaches, wonderful people and more adventure riding than you could possibly wish for. It’s vast and varied, relatively cheap and easy to travel through too – making it a must for every adventure bike rider.

This guide aims to create an overview for travelling in Southeast Asia on a motorcycle so you can quickly and easily get your bearings. It’s also packed with loads of links to more in-depth guides on specific countries, routes and info for when you’re ready to dig deeper.

You can always jump ahead by checking out the Destinations section for all our guides on SEA countries. But for now, here’s what you need to know about riding in Southeast Asia in general.

READ MORE: Country Guides for Southeast Asia

Motorcycle paperwork for Southeast Asia

Paperwork requirements vary from country to country throughout Southeast Asia. You’ll find exactly what is required for each country in the dedicated country guides. But to make it easier, we have listed the most important paperwork requirements below. For more info on paperwork for motorcycle travellers in general, have a read of our Paperwork guide and check out the Admin pages.

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Visas

Each country in Southeast Asia has its own visa requirements and rules. And those requirements are different dependent on your citizenship. You will need to check with each country you plan on visiting and make sure you have the appropriate visa in place in your passport before you travel to the country. Bear in mind, that some visas take time to process, even if done electronically, so make sure this is done in good time and before you land at an airport or arrive at a land border.

It’s also usually straightforward to extend a visa once in the country. This can be done at immigration centres. For help finding a centre, try the iOverlander app. If you can’t extend while there, you may be able to leave the country and return shortly after (a visa run). Either way, never stay in a country on an expired visa. 

Motorcycle insurance

Motorcycle insurance is again dependent on which country you are travelling through and whether you are on a foreign, purchased or rented motorcycle. For example, if you’re riding in Thailand on a rental bike you can easily get damage waiver insurance from your rental company. But if you’ve bought a bike or shipped your foreign bike there, then you will need to buy your own insurance in your name (very easy to do). Buying insurance in Malaysia is trickier for your own bike and is compulsory, and it’s very difficult in Vietnam unless you have a licence. Each country has their own rules that you will need to look into. You’ll find this info in the motorcycle travel guides of each country under Destinations.

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

Personal insurance

Personal travel insurance is not compulsory, but is incredibly important. This will cover your medical bills should anything happen. Riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous, and Southeast Asia is not a particularly safe place to ride with high numbers of traffic collisions. Please get personal insurance.

You’ll need to make sure your insurance actually covers you to ride a motorcycle too. There’s lots of sneaky info in the fine print, for example, you might not be allowed to ride anything over 125cc, or not as your main mode of transport or not a rental etc. Check carefully and ensure you’re covered.

For a complete guide on what to look out for, have a read of this guide.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Motorcycle Travel Insurance Guide

Driver’s licence

This is an interesting one. Firstly, you need a valid driver’s licence to legally ride on the roads in Southeast Asia. Additionally, if you crash a bike and don’t have a licence then your travel insurance will be invalid. And finally, because a licence shows that you actually know how to operate the motorcycle. Your licence must be valid for the cc of bike you are renting or riding too.

However, unfortunately you’ll find sections of Southeast Asia full of tourists renting bikes with no licence – and often no riding experience at all. It’s interesting because most of these people would never ride a bike in their own country because “It’s too dangerous” but are happy to ride around in flip flops, shorts and t-shirts in SEA. The sheer amount of people hobbling around with painful gravel rash and large chunks of skin missing from their arms and legs is testament to this. Get a licence, carry it with you and ride legally.

International Driver’s Permit

Aside from a valid licence, quite a few countries in Southeast Asia require an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). These permits are just translations of your licence into other languages so police and officials can check that you’re legally allowed to ride abroad.

You will need to check which countries require it, and importantly which convention they require as there are two IDPs (1968 and 1949). This page on the UK Gov website has a complete list of the countries that require an IDP and which convention.

IDPs are easy to get and very cheap. If you’re from the UK, it’s about £5 from the post office and takes five minutes. There are also websites you can get an IDP from.

Temporary import paperwork

Both the carnet de passage and temporary import sections below are for foreign registered motorcycles only. They are documents that state you are only allowed to keep your bike in that country for a specified amount of time in order to avoid paying import duties and taxes. Your motorcycle must be taken out of the country before the expiry date on the carnet or TIP or else you will be fined. Do not risk it and overstay these.

Carnet de passage

A Carnet de passage (CDP) is like a passport for your motorcycle (a very expensive one). Some countries in Southeast Asia require a CDP for you to cross enter with a foreign registered motorcycle. Indonesia is a carnet country for example and you will not be allowed in without one. Thailand on the other hand, is not a carnet country, but you might be able to wangle your way in with one if they don’t let you in using a temporary import.

We’ve explained in detail what a carnet is in the below guide. Note that you will only need a carnet if the country you are visiting requires it and if you are bringing a foreign registered motorcycle in. Check the paperwork section of each country guide to see if it requires a CDP or temporary import. 

READ MORE: Carnet de Passage Explained

Temporary Import

Some countries require a CDP and some will let you in with a temporary import (TIP) instead. This is a far easier way of entering a country with foreign registered motorcycle. You simply turn up at the border, fill out the TIP paperwork, pay a small fee and you’ll typically get a TIP that allows you to stay in the country for as long as your visa is valid or 30 days. TIPs can often be extended at customs houses dotted around the country for a small fee. They can only be extended for as long as your visa is valid though. Do not overstay your TIP.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Travel Paperwork Explained

How to ride a motorcycle in Southeast Asia

You have three options here: take your own foreign registered bike, rent a motorcycle or buy one. Which you go for greatly depends on how long you’re going for and where you want to ride.

READ MORE: Should I Ship, Buy or Rent a Motorcycle

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Laos

Taking your own motorcycle into Southeast Asia

To take your own motorcycle into Southeast Asia, you will either need to ship it to one of the countries or cross a land border. Here’s how to do either.

Crossing a land border into Southeast Asia

If you’re crossing a land border to get into Southeast Asia, it’ll be via India and Myanmar or China. To get across Myanmar on a foreign registered motorcycle, you need to pay a company for a guide to escort you through. This was the most popular way of entering, but unfortunately since covid the borders have been shut and you’re currently not able to pass through this way.

China is another country that requires an organised tour and guide to get through. A common route through China goes into Laos. Check out this page for more info.

READ MORE: How to Transit China on a Motorcycle

Overstaying your Motorcycle Temporary Import TIP in Thailand

Shipping a motorcycle to Southeast Asia

Shipping a motorcycle to Southeast Asia is straightforward provided you have the correct entry paperwork for the country you’re entering. The same goes for shipping out.

The most common points of entry with shipping are:

  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Sihanoukville, Cambodia
  • Bali, Indonesia.

Personally, when shipping our motorcycles to and from Southeast Asia, we shipped from South Korea to Cambodia and then from Bali to Australia. You’ll find dedicated guides in the country pages. 

Shipping a motorcycle in and out of Southeast Asia is a good idea if you are on a very long-term trip or are riding around the world and want to travel with your own bike. But bear in mind that you can not take a foreign bike into Vietnam, Indonesia requires a carnet and you will also have to consider where you’re going to ship out from and how you’ll get there.

If you’re on a shorter trip, it may be a better idea to rent or buy and save the hassle of paperwork.

Visit our shipping pages below and you’ll find companies we recommend in Southeast Asia who will be able to assist you with shipping.

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Indonesia Motorcycle Shipping Guide

Renting a motorcycle in Southeast Asia

This is by far the easiest and most popular option. Your bike is provided for you and should have all the required paperwork in order. So all you have to do is turn up, pay your money and ride.

However, consider that it is a rental bike and that you are responsible for it. So it’s best to make sure it is fully insured, pay extra for the damage waiver and only rent from reputable and established companies.

We’ve collected a list of great motorcycle rental and tour companies throughout Southeast Asia here.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Rental Companies Finder

Buying a motorcycle in Southeast Asia

Buying and selling a motorcycle in Southeast Asia is growing in popularity. It’s a great idea if you’d like to take an extended trip and really get to explore a country. Dependent on which countries you want to visit, you may be able to take your bike across the border too with far less hassle than if you were using your own bike.

We have a dedicated and packed guide explaining how to do this below.

READ MORE: How to Buy and Sell a Motorcycle in Southeast Asia

How to Buy and Sell a Motorcycle in Southeast Asia

How to get to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is easily accessible from near enough anywhere in the world. Millions of tourists flock to SEA each year, flights are cheap and affordable and so is the accommodation and food, which makes getting and holidaying there a doddle.

We recommend using sitescanner.net to book your flights to SEA. When you do, select flexible dates and click whole month and it will show you in green the cheapest days of the month to travel and you’ll make decent savings. 

What motorcycle to ride in Southeast Asia?

This depends on which country you’re riding in, the type of riding you’re doing, for how long and if you’re buying, renting or taking your own bike. For example, in Thailand you can pretty much get any bike you like with major manufacturer dealers throughout the country. The roads are in good condition and big capacity fast machines are common here. Compare that to Vietnam where you’ll struggle to see anything over 250cc. A 150cc motorcycle is considered a big bike here and is more than enough for Vietnam’s roads.

A small capacity motorcycle is often all you need for Southeast Asia, something like a Honda CRF250L for example if going on a big tour. For shorter tours, a 125cc bike is perfect. Either will allow you to explore off-road tracks and trails, which is one of the biggest highlights of riding in SEA.

Alternatively, if you’re not that fussed about off-roading and have plenty of time on your hands, an even smaller bike or scooter like a Honda Wave is just as fun. You won’t stick out like a sore thumb and attract loads of attention either.

Importantly, consider using a commonly sold and used motorcycle, that way you’ll be able to find spares and mechanics throughout the region that are able to work on your bike.

For more info on choosing a bike, check out our adventure bike guides.

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Thailand scooter coronavirus mad or nomad

The best motorcycle rides and routes in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is brimming with out of this world rides, routes and tours. There’s so many to choose from, but if you’re after some of the best, have a read of the below guide showcasing our five absolute favourites.

But also flick through each of the country pages we have for Southeast Asia as you’ll find loads more great motorcycle routes in each one.

READ MORE: The Best Motorcycle Routes in Southeast Asia

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

Where to ride in Southeast Asia

The most popular countries in Southeast Asia for motorcycle travellers are Thailand and Vietnam. Next up are Laos and Cambodia, then Indonesia and Malaysia.

We have specific motorcycle guides for these countries and landing pages packed with info on how to ship a bike there, rental and tour companies, things to do, routes and more. You’ll find all of the guides we have in the Southeast Asia section under Destinations. But we’ll explain briefly the pros and cons for each below.

READ MORE: Destinations: Southeast Asia Country Guides

Thailand

Thailand has become more difficult to enter with a foreign registered motorcycle over the last few years. Technically you need to be part of an organised tour, but lots of riders get in either using a carnet or by finding a quiet little border that’s not as strict with the rules. If you’re buying a bike in Vietnam and hoping to cross to Thailand, this can be done if the bike is registered in your name. 

It’s a beautiful country for motorcycle travel and has one of the best rides in Southeast Asia (the Mae Hong Son Loop – more on that in our Thailand guides). Renting a bike here and joining a tour is incredibly easy. Buying a bike is also doable, but not as easy as in Vietnam for example.

READ MORE: Thailand Motorcycle Travel Guides

Thailand Myanmar border

Vietnam

Vietnam is a mecca for adventure motorcyclists. You won’t be able to take your foreign registered motorcycle here. But it’s exceptionally easy to rent and buy and you can even ride out of the country into Laos and Cambodia with ease.

Make sure you check out our Ha Giang Loop guide in the Vietnam guides – it’s an absolute must and a highlight of Southeast Asia.

READ MORE: Vietnam Motorcycle Travel Guides

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

Laos

Laos is next up for motorcycle travellers, not as touristy as Thailand and Vietnam, a little more rugged and raw, but still insanely beautiful. All the good riding is in the north, but the beautiful 4,000 islands are in the south if you’re going that way.

Not as easy to rent and definitely not as easy to buy either. Most rentals here are in and around Luang Prabang and only used to explore the surrounding area.

READ MORE: Laos Motorcycle Travel Guides

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Laos

Cambodia

Even less explored than the above three and that makes Cambodia one of our favourites. Motorcycle travel isn’t as common here, so you can find yourself riding off-road tracks and exploring abandoned temples with nobody else in sight. If you really want to explore the country, it’s easiest to buy a bike in Vietnam and ride it to Cambodia or ship your own bike here to Sihanoukville.

READ MORE: Cambodia Motorcycle Travel Guides

Cambodia Motorcycle Travel Bayon Temple

Indonesia

Indonesia is incredible! Java especially was an insane place to ride a motorcycle. We shipped our motorcycle over from Borneo and loved riding the stretch of this island. It’s manic, busy, boiling and hard going at times, but it’s a real cultural immersion and you’re unlikely to see any other tourists until you hit hotspots like Bromo.

Bali on the other hand is a mad and hot mess of tourists crashing into each other on rental scooters and a completely different experience to Java – they may as well be different countries the difference is so stark.

READ MORE: Indonesia Motorcycle Travel Guides

Indonesia Motorcycle Travel Guide

Malaysia

Malaysia is not a popular country in motorcycle travel communities. It’s a wonderful place with lovely people, but it doesn’t offer the same sense of adventure as its neighbours. You’ve got Penang and Langkawi if you’re in the area. Other than that, it’s mainly visited for the major shipping port outside of Kuala Lumpur.

READ MORE: Malaysia Motorcycle Travel Guides

Motorcycle Travel Borneo

Philippines

The Philippines is made up of 7,641 islands – so not the best place for motorcycle travel either. It’s not worth shipping your own bike there or even buying one unless you want to spend all your time on one island. But, it is very easy to rent a motorcycle in the Philippines, so we’d suggest flying in, catching boats between the islands and renting as you go. We did just that while we waited for our motorcycle to be shipped from Bali to Melbourne and loved it.

READ MORE: Philippines Rental and Tour Companies

Motorcycle Travel Philippines

Borneo

Borneo is not a country, but an island shared by three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It’s an awesome island with some of the world’s best scuba diving, deeply rooted ancient cultures and endemic wildlife. It’s a fun island to travel around, but it is massive. It’s easier and far more cost effective to use fly around the island (flights are insanely cheap here) and rent as you go dependent on which places you want to visit.

It is, however, a commonly used route for overland motorcycle travellers who want to get from Malaysia to Java. You’ll find detailed guides on the ferry routes and more in both the Malaysia and Indonesia pages and below is a link to our Borneo guide.

READ MORE: Borneo Motorcycle Travel Guides

Motorcycle Travel Borneo and orangutans

Myanmar

As mentioned above, Myanmar is a transit route for overland and round the world travellers riding from India to Thailand. The route has closed down since covid and has become increasingly difficult. But, that difficulty is specifically for overland riders travelling with foreign registered motorcycles. So we would recommend renting a bike there instead.

READ MORE: Myanmar Motorcycle Rental Companies

Our motorcycle travels in Southeast Asia

We love riding motorcycles in Southeast Asia. We first rode in SEA around 17 years ago and were immediately hooked. We loved it so much that on our round the world trip we spent over a year exploring the region on our motorcycle. 

As well as producing travel guides, we also wrote blogs and features on our experiences there. So if you’re wondering which countries we loved the most and what it was like for us riding there, have a read of our adventure blogs below.

READ MORE: 

Motorcycle Travel Indonesia Guide

Travelling between countries in Southeast Asia

How to cross between countries in Southeast Asia is a commonly asked question. But the answer is dependent on so many variables. It’s easy to travel between countries in SEA, but you must bear in mind that every country has it’s own entry rules – such as visa requirements. Additionally, if you are travelling with a motorcycle, then it completely depends on where that bike is registered and what paperwork you are using and are required to have to take it into the country. 

If it’s your own bike from outside of Southeast Asia, then the dedicated Motorcycle Travel Guides we have on each country will explain what the paperwork requirements are. If it’s a rental bike, then contact your rental company. If it’s a bike you’ve bought in SEA, then check our article on how to buy a bike there. 

Alternatively, if you’re travelling in without a bike then you can just fly or take public transport across the border.    

Adventure bike riding gear for Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has a tropical climate. You could ride through scorching heat and stuffy humidity in the morning and get stuck in a monsoon rain storm in the afternoon. And the temperatures and climate vary so much from country to country.

Regardless of how hot and humid it is, it’s always worth wearing the appropriate motorcycle gear all the time for your safety. Accidents happen and Southeast Asia can be a dangerous place to ride.

However, due to the heat you’ll need to carefully consider the type of gear you wear. We recommend wearing an ultra-lightweight mesh jacket and trousers with zero waterproofing. You’ll want this gear to be as vented and packed with mesh as possible for maximum airflow.

Then, pack cheap waterproof throwovers in an easily accessible bag on your bike and just chuck them over your gear if the heavens open up. Also pack a warm jumper or compressible down jacket in case you head into the mountains because the temperatures can quickly drop. This type of layering system allows the best ventilation, versatility and protection for a region with a constantly changing climate.

Additionally, make sure all your riding gear (especially your helmet) is fully safety approved. We recommend taking your gear from home, but if you’re flying in and buying gear, inspect it well and buy from a reputable store because knock offs are very common and extremely unsafe. For more info on riding gear and our recommendations, have a read through the riding gear guides below.

READ MORE: Adventure Riding Gear Guides

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Laos

Accommodation and costs

Southeast Asia is incredibly easy and cheap to travel through as it’s so well setup for tourism. Finding accommodation is a doddle with websites like booking.com and airbnb.com. You can always do a search for hotels on Google Maps, Maps.Me and iOverlander and you’ll find options that aren’t listed on the big hotel sites too. Food, drink and activities are also very cheap in Southeast Asia, as is finding petrol. It’s one of the easiest and easiest places to travel through in the world on a motorcycle so don’t get hung up or worried about finding places to stay or expenses. 

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

Health and safety

Personal health

You should ensure you are fully vaccinated to travel in Southeast Asia. Each country has its own recommendations for travel vaccines. Check out the Travel Health Pro and Fit for Travel websites for more info on specific countries. Dependent on where you travel, you may also need malaria tablets. It’s important to be fully vaccinated as the last thing you want is to fall ill in a foreign hospital and ruin your trip. Have a read of our health article below for more advice.

READ MORE: How to Stay Healthy While Motorcycle Travelling

Motorcycle travel Vietnam Ha Giang Loop

Staying safe

Of course, there is crime in Southeast Asia. But for the most part, it’s a very safe region to travel through and the people there are incredibly kind and very welcoming to tourists. But, crime does happen and you need to always keep your wits about you. Have a read of our staying safe article, and also check out our dedicated guide on keeping your motorcycle and riding gear safe too.

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Land mines

Land mines and unexploded bombs are a serious concern, especially in Laos and Cambodia. Laos is actually the most bombed country in the world due to the US secretly dropping over 2 million tons of bombs on it. Unexploded bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people and are still a serious threat today. Be careful where you ride, look out for signage and stick to marked and obvious trails.

Bribes

You may have heard horror stories about how you’ll have to deal with bribes on a daily basis in Southeast Asia. But don’t let that put you off. Chances are this will not happen to you at all. We spent a year motorcycling through Southeast Asia and never had a situation like that once. Riding in very touristy areas with no protective gear, no licence, riding like an idiot may attract the wrong attention and you may end up being bribed, but for the most part, ride safely and legally and you’ll be fine. Most police don’t want to deal with you and are there to help if you need them. Should it happen though, have a read of this guide.

READ MORE: How to Deal with Bribes on the Road

Road and riding conditions

Southeast Asia is a dangerous place to ride a motorcycle – especially if you are travelling through countries and touring. You should have experience and a full licence before riding a motorcycle in SEA. The roads can be treacherous with huge potholes, gravel, sand and sand on corners, other drivers can be dangerous too, there’s wildlife in the road, slick conditions, rapid weather changes and the ‘rules of the road’ are very different to western countries.

Take your time and get used to the road and riding conditions in Southeast Asia before setting off. It’s extremely rewarding and a beautiful place to ride, but know the dangers and be on alert and concentrate on the road at all times. Treat everything and anyone on or near the road as a threat. If there’s a dog sleeping by the side of the road, consider that he might wake up and run out into the road and chase you, the car in front of you might slam his brakes on, as you go round a blind corner someone might be in your lane or there might be sand there etc. Ride defensively, be smart and be safe.

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Laos

Mobile phone coverage

Mobile phone coverage tends to be pretty good throughout Southeast Asia. Having a local SIM card is a very good idea for keeping in touch, but also for staying safe, letting people know where you are, contacting emergency services if needed and also for navigation.

We recommend buying a local SIM card when you get to each country. A dual SIM phone makes life a lot easier for this. Alternatively, if your phone allows eSIMs then this is a far easier and less time consuming method of getting local data. Especially as you can set it up before you even arrive in the country.

If you’re going with an eSIM, we recommend using Airalo.

A quick word on navigation. We used a burner mobile phone with an eSIM to ride through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and it worked perfectly. We suggest using an old phone or buying a cheap one to use as your sat nav (keep your personal phone safe in your jacket pocket), download an eSIM, buy a mobile phone mount and use either Maps.Me or Google Maps to navigate. It makes life so much easier on the road.

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Weather conditions

As mentioned in the adventure riding gear section above, Southeast Asia has a tropical climate that ranges from extreme humidity and heat to constant torrential rain. You will need to check the best times of year to travel to each country separately and make a judgement on when is the best time to visit. Consider that the weather can change drastically dependent on elevation and pack accordingly.

Koh Chang Motorcycle ride

Read more on motorcycle travel in Southeast Asia

Thanks for checking out the Motorcycle Travel Guide: Southeast Asia. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycle travel in Southeast Asia that we recommend you read next. 

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Are you planning a motorcycle trip in Southeast Asia? Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below. 

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