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Self-drive holidays in SE Asia – Top tips

Self-drive holidays in SE Asia – Top tips

Self-drive holidays are ideal for those looking for more freedom and independence, but many travellers would avoid it in South East Asia. Is self-driving in this region really safe? Yes, if you use common-sense and follow these handy tips…

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 when driving off the beaten track. However, if you prefer to feel really safe, a hire car is your best bet. Just bear in mind that car journeys can be a little slower due to traffic congestion.  

You should be aware of scams when renting your vehicle and never leave your passport as a deposit for the vehicle hire - you may not get it back! Before setting off from the hire place, you should ensure your vehicle runs properly and give it a thorough check for nicks, scratches and dents. Take pictures of any imperfections, as this will improve your chances of getting your deposit back when the vehicle is returned. 

Do I require a licence?

Your Australian licence might be sufficient in some countries of South East Asia, but in others you will need an International Driver’s Permit. Licensing requirements vary for the type of vehicle being hired, so you will need to check the rules before you leave for your trip. To obtain an International Driving Permit, please contact the relevant authority in your state such as RAC, AANT and NRMA.  

How easy is it to drive in South East Asia?

Driving here will be very different to driving in Australia! Whether you are in Thailand, Vietnam or Malaysia, road rules and markings can often be absent or ignored, congestion is common and drivers can be aggressive. Sometimes, driving in South East Asia is considered similar to moving in a group, so accidents can be common. 
You’ll need to be on your toes when behind the wheel, so 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, just don’t follow their example.  

Should I get insurance?

Yes! If you are planning a self-drive holiday anywhere in the world, you should consider insurance mandatory. Before you leave home, talk to your insurance provider to ensure you are covered should you have an accident whilst driving. 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, just remember to read the small print.  

What happens if the police stop me?

Almost every tourist driving a vehicle will get stopped by the police at some point – it’s part of the self-drive holiday experience. You can avoid any hassles with police by paying the fine and moving on. 
Some travel websites 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. 

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 countries such as Laos, Vietnam and Singapore 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, and be wary if you are driving into a rural area. Assistance and mechanics can be few and far between, and prices will be higher. 

Are there areas that should be avoided?

While most of South East Asia is generally safe for travellers, there are a few places you should try to avoid, such as Mindanao in Philippines, or parts of Indonesia when they are experiencing civil unrest. As always, make sure you do your homework, whether you plan to drive or not - a visit to the DFAT website before you travel is highly recommended.

If you are self-driving out into the countryside, it is recommended that you take a local guide with you, as medical and mechanical help won’t always be 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 areas of Cambodia that are still have landmines. 

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. 

As in most situations, common-sense is essential, and it will ensure you have a self-drive holiday to remember – for all the right reasons!

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