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Self-Drive Holidays in South East Asia – What Do I Need to Know?

Are you planning a self drive holiday in South East Asia? Take a look at our current Asia travel deals or contact us for more information.

Self-drive holidays are ideal for those looking for more freedom and independence while on a holiday in South East Asia. But is self-driving in this region really safe? To make your driving adventure memorable for all the right reasons, the following tips will help you have fun and stay out of trouble.  

1. What Vehicle Should I Hire?

In South East Asia, your main vehicle hire options are either a motorcycle or a car. Since the majority of locals use motorcycles to get around, they make a great option for tourists and offer more freedom for driving off the beaten track. However, if you prefer ultimate safety, a hire car may be your best bet, but bear in mind that car journeys can be a little slower due to traffic congestion.  

You should also beware of scam artists when renting your vehicle and never leave your passport as a deposit for the vehicle hire, as you may not ever get it back. Before setting off, you should also ensure your vehicle runs properly and give it a thorough check for nicks, scratches and dents. Take pictures of imperfections if you can, as this will improve your chances of getting your deposit back.

2. Will I Require a Licence?

Your Australian licence might be sufficient in some places in South East Asia, but in others you will need an International Driver’s Permit. Licensing requirements vary between countries, so you will need to check the rules of each destination you want to visit before you leave for your trip.  

3. How Easy Is Driving in South East Asia?

Driving on your South East Asia holiday will be quite different to driving in Australia! Road rules and markings can often be absent or ignored, congestion occurs often and drivers can be aggressive. Sometimes, driving in South East Asia is considered similar to moving in ‘groups’, rather than adhering to lanes or road markings, and so accidents can be common. Hence, you’ll need to be on your toes when behind the wheel. Before you go, read up on the major traffic regulations and stick to them for your own safety while driving – but don’t be surprised if the locals disregard the rules completely.  

4. Should I Get Insurance?

Holidays in South East Asia usually require travel insurance and if you are planning a self-drive holiday, you should consider insurance mandatory. Before you leave home, talk to your insurance provider to ensure you are covered should you have a driving accident. You may also need to upgrade your policy to include third-party damage and vehicle breakdown coverage as well. A reputable car rental agency should also offer you additional insurance when you hire the vehicle.  

5. What Happens If Police Stop Me?

Almost every tourist driving a vehicle will get stopped by police at some point – it’s part of the South East Asia driving experience! You can avoid any hassles with police by paying the fine and moving on. Some travel sites may recommend that you attempt to bribe the police officer, but this could be asking for serious trouble. As long as you follow the rules, stick to the speed limit and carry a valid licence, there shouldn’t be any problems.

6. What if my Vehicle Breaks Down?

Breakdowns are a common part of any self-driving holiday adventure, so don’t panic if it happens. In South East Asia, there is almost always a friendly local willing to help you out or at least help you get to a mechanic. Fixes shouldn’t cost you too much, but beware of any upselling. Be wary if you are driving into a rural area, however, as assistance and mechanics can be few and far between.

7. Are There Areas That Should Be Avoided?

While most of South East Asia is generally safe for travellers, there are a few specific places you should try to avoid, such as the island of Mindanao in Philippines or parts of Indonesia experiencing periodic civil unrest. As always, make sure you do your homework on the places you are travelling to, regardless of whether you plan to drive or not.

In general, South East Asian cities tend to be quite safe for driving, as do most rural and country areas. However, if you are self-driving out into the country, it is recommended that you take a local guide with you, as medical and mechanical help won’t always readily available if you get into an accident. Guides can also help you navigate any troubles with locals or police and can assist you in avoiding other dangerous rural areas, such as certain fields in Cambodia that are still populated by landmines.

8. What About Theft?

Petty theft is common in South East Asia, so it is vital that you keep all your essential belongings, including your passport, with you at all times; don’t leave them with your vehicle. When parking your car or motorcycle, always make sure you leave it in a highly visible area where it can’t be stolen without getting noticed and be sure to take the keys with you, rather than leaving them in the vehicle.


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