When it comes to cheap thrills in developing countries, it’s hard to do better than a motor scooter. During a recent three-month trip through south east Asia, I found no greater pleasure than blasting past villages and farms, taking in the menagerie of smells and seeing the countryside as many locals see it - from the saddle of a step-through motorbike.
It's not hard to see why scooters are so popular in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. They’re relatively inexpensive, easy to park, great for weaving through diabolical traffic jams, and amazingly versatile. Who needs a family sedan when you can fit a family of four on a 50cc Super Cub?
For travelers who don't need to transport a family to school or take two full size pigs to market, scooters are a great option to get you off the tourist trail and exploring the sights outside of cities and towns. For less than US$5 per day, a scooter can take you places a bicycle can't or a tourist bus won't.
Of course, like many activities (especially those in the third world) there are risks. As anyone who's tried to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City or experienced Bangkok traffic jams will know, Asian roads are not for the faint hearted.
I'm happy to confess my own scooter riding was typically confined to smaller towns and rural areas where traffic was light. In the bigger cities, I preferred to go on foot or let motor taxis drive me.
But piloting a scooter need not end in tears. With an understanding of local road rules, patience, an insight into the Asian psyche, and a little bit of luck you can get your motor running and get out on the highway.
Staying safe is largely due to common sense. Always wear a helmet. Watch out for vehicles entering the flow of traffic - in many Asian countries they have right of way. And remember to take it slow – as most of the locals do. Narrow roads busy with bicycles, livestock and pedestrians aren't suitable for trying to ride like Valentino Rossi.