Learning To Ride a Scooter in the Philippines

learning-to-ride-a-scooter-in-the-philippinesWell, to begin with I’ve never ridden a motorcycle growing up.  So learning to ride a scooter in the Philippines was an altogether new experience for me to say the least.  When I was in high school I rode ten-speed for two years all over the place and got familiar with some of the basic dynamics, so that kinda gave me a starting point when I recently purchased a Honda Beat ACC110 here on Bohol for getting around town.

While I was living on Mactan I could just grab a hubal-hubal, tricycle, jeepney, v-hire, ferry or bus to anywhere I wanted to go simply by walking a block from my house.  But when I moved to the province of Bohol in March, 2013, the first thing I felt was ‘stranded’ away from civilization being out in the rural area outside of nearby Tagbilaran.

So, once I got my home settled, my first ambition was to see if I could walk the ‘jungle road’ from my place to town in the dark by myself.  Getting lost was my first concern.  Lunatic robbers spotting me in the middle of nowhere to rob me were second.  Ghosts, witches, zombies and cobras were the least of my worries.  So one ambitious day I asked the neighbor to drop me off in town and leave me there.  That way I’d have to choice but to walk home.  After they dropped my friend off at the pier they left me at the mall where I stayed until it got dark and then shot some video along the way as I made my way home in the dark.

Once I accomplished that I didn’t feel so stranded.  I hated to inconvenience my neighbor each time I needed groceries or just wanted to catch a movie in town so walking in both the heat of the day and the darkness of night became my normal routine.  Normal to me anyway.  The local people in the village began to wonder just what was wrong with me that I’d even consider doing that.  Mostly for fear that there are snakes and strange creatures in the jungle at night.  Well, most cobras here are in the trees and brush, not on the open road.  Not that anyone here could even recall the last time they even saw a cobra.  But the idea of robbers lying in wait kinda came home for me when I got mugged in Cebu.  After that I began taking a baton with me and would practice my strikes as I walked in the darkness along the road.  I got used to walking in near pitch blackness on nights without any moon because I didn’t want to give away my position.  After 15 minutes or so my eyes would adjust to the low light and I was fine.  I moved through the road just a shadow.. with a heavy stick, just in case.

But I knew I was pushing it and my luck o’ the Irish would only last so long.  I’d originally planned on getting a multi-cab but as I got more paranoid each night and began hiding in side paths in the brush whenever an evening passer-by came along.. I figured the dangers of a motorcycle or scooter were less than those of walking late at night 3 to 4 nights a week.  I kinda of liked the exercise and the view of the stars and fireflies on a pitch-black night my new rideaway from town is SO incredible, it’s hard to give it justice with mere words.  You just have to experience the stark contrast and sound of crickets in multitude to really know what it’s like.

But, it was time to get some wheels so.. after a bit of this and that I had picked out the Honda Beat ACC110 as the perfect sized scooter for me to learn on.  Not too much power or weight, fuel efficient, brand-new from the dealer and it extend my wandering radius.  

My very first afternoon I received the bike, I had about two hours to practice on it before needing to take my neighbor to work and then figure out how to ride it back home.. in the dark.  So I took inventory of the major buttons, brakes, mirrors and such and went for a quick, self-taught course around the country roads here in the jungle around my home.  I went down roads I didn’t even know were there before.  I didn’t have a helmet-cam figured out yet but I did shoot a little video that first day here..

Probably my best decision about all this is that I decided ahead of time that I would go with an Automatic rather than a Manual transmission.  I’d tried riding another scooter on Mactan and nearly crashed into both a wall and a tree in less than an hour.  I know how to juggle basketballs, but I’m not coordinated enough for playing drums or doing that whole clutch/gear-shift thing hidden down by the feet somewhere.  So, with an automatic I justRiding to the local mall. focus on the other hundred things like oncoming jeepneys, pot-holes and side-traffic.

As of this writing it’s now been a week that I’ve practiced on it and some of those moves I knew from riding 10-speed are coming back to me.  ‘Steering’ by using my weight, knees and tilting are becoming second-nature again.  It’s just like.. well, riding a bike.  It all comes back to you.  Up until a few days ago I limited my rides to just to and from the ICM mall.  I take the usual jungle-road in the day-time and I take the smoother road home at night.  But I don’t take the smoother road in the day-time because it goes along a winding road that leads to a nearby quarry.  Quarries attract cement trucks who really don’t give a damn about little things like scooters as they barrel down the 2-lane road passing buses or jeepneys.. using up the entire road.  It really sucks but, that’s the kind of traffic you deal with either in Mexico or here.  You.. small, They big.  That’s all that seems to matter around here.

NewScooter (9)But then starting a few nights ago I began exploring around town since there isn’t much traffic after 9pm.  Even on a Saturday night it’s minimal traffic around here.   Daytime it’s a total zoo, but not nearly as bad as downtown Cebu so, I’ve kinda got it easy here.   I took a ride Saturday night to the local pier where they have live music and lots of good BBQ along the pier road there.  I hung out there awhile, the band was playing some classic rock/punk so that was pretty cool.  Mostly high-school kids and a gaggle of expat bikers with their Filipina wives for the most part.  I then decide to start heading home and.. I got lost.  Again.

The first day I dropped off my neighbor at work, I then got lost for about two hours as I explored a huge patch of Tagbilaran.. twice.  I don’t know how I did it but I circled around everything twice that day.  Now, at night.. I got lost again.  But this time for only 45 minutes so.. I call that ‘improvement’.

On Sunday I took a new approach.  This time, in order to find the route from the ICM mall to the BQ mall.. I simply waited and followed one of the jeepneys on it’s route.  That worked like a charm.  I also uploaded to my phone some Google maps of Tagbilaran, which I can zoom in on in my photo-viewer and that helped me a bit too, even though most roads here either aren’t marked or lit up.  But by using the main roads a arteries I can make my way home now from both malls without incident.

As for any ‘close-calls’ so far.. nothing too major.  I got the crap scared outta me when an ambulance zoomed up from behind me on the main road with no siren.  The irony of an ambulance causing an accident seemed on par with life here.  I also hit a pot-hole faster than I preferred and almost lost control.. but if that Filipina along the roadside hadn’t been looking so cute it never would have happened in the first place.  Those women really should come with some kind of warning label or something.

My next order of business was to have some custom decals made for my helmet and bike.riding a scooter in the philippines  I found a place at the BQ mall where a guy uses a cutter-printer on vinyl to make what I wanted.  I got ‘REEKAY’ for both sides of the bike and one for my helmet, along with a Batman sticker (I’m a long-time Batman fan since way before the first cinema movies came out).  The Batman sticker also makes it easy to spot my bike in the lot from the mall window so I can be assured it hasn’t been stolen yet.

That’s been my chief concern now as I go places.  Secure parking.  For now only at the major malls near security or along places where I can see the bike the whole time from where I’m eating.  I lock the steering wheel, use the key-lock cover but someone determined to steal a car or bike will do so.  Main thing is to keep the thing parked somewhere in the open near security.. and even then it’s no guarantee.  I’ve had my car stolen twice in the States, once it was the morning of my birthday.. so I know that feeling, and it sucks.  The word I got here is some gangs from Manila have come south to steal Reekays Ridecertain motorcycles to sell off the motor for use in making small boats, then selling off the rest in parts.  If I ever come out and find someone messing with my bike.. I will be in their face pronto.

I’ve just been waiting for better sunshine days to do some video and day-trips to Alona Beach on my new wheels.  There’s been a heavy storm here for about two weeks so I’ve ridden home twice in the rain.  I had bought a plastic poncho but.. I forgot it at the house.  Now it’s under the seat in a compartment.  (duh)   Today I plan to get some clear safety goggles for evening rides.  Daytime I use my sunglasses but the other day around sunset I was riding along.. everything was fine when… the LAST thing I saw before getting blinded was a flying bug going straight for my eye.  Damn!.. that hurt.  I didn’t panic though.  I always hit Rear-brake first, Front-brake second with no major movements to the handlebars, letting go of the throttle.  That bug decommissioned me for about 3 minutes as my eye turned all red before I got it out.  So.. clear safety goggles is next on my shopping list along with some riding gloves.  I’ve also started wearing shoes again, I have no interest in riding the bike with sandals even though that’s pretty common here.  Lots of people here don’t even wear helmets.  Then again, they’ll have four people including a baby dangling on the side.  Again, pretty common sight here in daily traffic.

Time for me to take another trip into town.  For now here is my test-video of the helmet-cam.  I’ll do some nicer rides later leading to Alona Beach when I can.  Meanwhile, keep me in your prayers as I’m still quite a newbie to this whole 2-wheeled transportation gig.

Henry ‘Reekay’ V.


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Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. Hi Henry, You’re doing great! I’m really getting a kick out of all your escapades, and am always checking in to see what new adventure you’re experiencing.
    Keep having fun, but please be careful in those muddy spots! I always say a little prayer for you anyway, just in case:) Take care! Queenie

      1. Henry, this comment is likely misplaced. I could not see how to reply to your YouTube video in which you said you were sick for a week on arrival.

        Yes, the plane can do that. The defense is easy and usually works (not always).

        Simply, don’t sit in the back. Some of your vids showed out the window scenes and the wing was visible, so you were in the back.

        Air flow in passenger cabins is front to back. Back there you breathe every single passenger’s exhale. Always, always go for seating as far front as you can. Most airline websites permit seat selection. Of course if it’s full, you can’t avoid it.

          1. Nod. I spent my career as an executive in airplanes. This is real. After a while, elite status gets one first class often, but not always, and when it does not . . . ask to be far forward. The Exit row is overrated. I would say sacrifice that in return for no week-long flu symptoms. The only risk is a full flight can fill your overhead before you get to it (rear of plane boards first). This is very rare and should be risked.

  2. Keeping you in my prayers Henry…I think you`ll need it (as we all!) Drive safe and watch those girls while not your Honda engine is paused and off , ok?

            1. They re-charge and xfer data thru the USB cable. When mine was new it could record full color video and very good sound for up to 12 hours. Now the battery is dying so it lasts about 30 minutes. But I’ve had it for about 3 years or so.

  3. My hat’s off to you, sir, for being a traveler and not just a tourist. I appreciate how you truly dive into the life of being IN the place; experiencing and learning, and, most importantly, enjoying what the place has to offer. Your narrations are better to me than those in “A Year In Provence” because I know some of the Philippines myself.

    Keep posting, as there are many of us who live vicariously through your senses.

    I am planning on retiring somewhere in the Philippines in about 4 years. I will keep my condo in Manila as “home base,” and ROAM until I find a spot to my best liking.

    About the bigger rigs on the road not caring about the smaller vehicles on the road in the Philippines: too true! I sorta cringed at some part of your helmet-cam video even in just the “normal” traffic there. Best wishes on your safety.

    1. When I was taking my walks into town for several months, it was kinda sobering to come across spots in the road where bits of motorcycle housing were shattered and swept along the roadside. I keep my eyes peeled and stay within my riding limits. Like Clint Eastwood says, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” 🙂

  4. Thanks for posting that. It sure seems to cut down the time for you to get to ICM. And I see you really do have to pay attention on the secondary roads…could be tricky….take care

  5. Great post, Henry, about your experiences in Bohol. A motorbike would be fine in our province, too, where our farm is located. BTW, No cobras around there other than the Cobra sold in the bottles! There are green colored tree vipers that I was told to BOLO. Never saw one and I hope I never do.

    Spyder Sunglasses are P1,100 in SM Dept Store and they come with three different lenses. You can ask for the pair that comes with the yellow or amber colored lenses, which are perfect for night driving and they provide some degree of eye protection for the riders on bikes of any kind.

    In Bacolod City, no way in hell would I ride even on the back of a motorbike with an experienced driver.

    Have a great day!

    ~ Gary ~

    1. Yep.. just one more reason why I favor the smaller islands, smaller towns for long-term living. I can always visit ‘the big city’.. and then leave. I’m not interested in riding a cycle in downtown Cebu. Mactan I’ve ridden hubal-hubal, but it’s a bit quieter there.

  6. Thanks for posting this Henry. It appears your place is a distance from ICM and you survived for a few months walking that distance at night! You are doing great! Keep posting your experiences, enjoy and take care always.

    1. Thanks for tuning in. 🙂 Hopefully even more adventures as I start taking longer trips. My first jaunt will be out to Alona beach for the day, maybe overnight. Lately we’ve been getting lots of rain though so, gonna wait til that eases up for at least one sunny day. ha!

  7. Great adventures you have Henry, finally got my house back here in Hawaii and heading back to Iloilo real soon. wow, what an adventure this was in Hawaii but gonna be great to get home to Iloilo and my asawa so we can start traveling again in the Phils. You are the first on the list to go see. Have a great day and hope to see you soon. I will text you when I get back to Iloilo. Have a great day. Aloha Alan

  8. Bat-scooter! Awesome 😀 That’s a good looking bike, Henry. It should serve you well for many years.

  9. I really like your blog and videos! Are you just naturally a nice person or has the sweetness of the Filipino people impacted your personality?

  10. I sure hope you are all OK there, and staying high and dry. Not seen any activity on this site for a few days, so I am wondering if you lost power for a while. Luzon sure got hit. The area my wife grew up is severely flooded and Manila got an inch an hour for 24 hours. Some smaller dams have failed and they have opened the spill gates on the big power dams up in Benguet (SP? Provence North of Baguio).

    1. I got pounded with about 3 weeks of heavy rains but, it’s been clearing up this week (finally). I’ve been working hard on the videos and am trying to make more time for new articles.. lots to write about.. so much going on! 🙂

      1. That’s good news. It didn’t sound from teh news like there was any serious flooding in Visya, but I was afraid of an extended power outage or something. The comments stopped coming in too!

        I see you have a book out now, excellent! I’ll be on that as soon as I have time to figure out Kindle. Busy here as well… back to on-topic 😀

  11. I was in Argao, Cebu in Oct 2012 and loved it. I am hoping to go back early 2014 whn my girlfriend is done her on job training. What would you say is the least amount of money needed to live there? I ask least simply to look at doubling it. Glad you enjoy it there.

  12. I like you, like your site and like your stories but the truth is you don’t seem committed to maintaining this site therefore I wonder why you even try.

  13. Hi Henry, you’re far more adventurous than I would ever be. I drive a car around Olongapo and the other two provinces that border it, Pampanga and Bataan. It’s scary enough trying to dodge bad drivers in a car and I can’t imagine trying to do it on a motorcycle. I think I’d rather ride a trike.

    1. Bohol is pretty slow traffic for a beginner like me. I wouldn’t want to be learning riding in downtown Cebu.. that place is nuts for traffic, although it’s better than Manila. Bohol, the average speed in town is about 15mph and maybe 35 on the open road.

    2. RT – It’s really a lot easier to avoid an accident on a bike. At least on a full size. You can out accelerate, out brake, and out manoeuvre virtually anything on 4 wheels. You are also a smaller target. The drawback in the US is they tend to not see you. They are looking for other cars and look right through you. Flashing lights, bright colors, etc., does not help. They can hear though, and I run a loud pipe! First reaction is downshift most of the time, either to speed up or slow down. Usual problem is lane changes, and if they don’t hear the pipe, they definitely hear a size 13 boot on their fender. The less common problem is them pulling out in front of me. In that case, I hope they don’t notice me, because the reaction is almost always, 99% of the time, to jam their brakes on and completely block the road and any hope of getting around. Hopefully they keep going and I can get around the back. I did have one stop, blocking half my lane, so I was able to tag their grill with a size 13. They usually get a 1 finger salute too. It should be noted, I’m usually a nice guy, but not so much when someone is trying to kill me. My strategy there is to get it as slow as I can and have the clutch pulled so if I can’t get around the rear, hopefully I can wheeley it up to minimize the damage on my end. That will unfortunately maximize the damage on their end, but they are the attempted murderer, not me. Visibility is less of a problem in the PH, as they expect to see a lot of bikes.

      The other drawback is universal, and maximised in the PH, which is less protection when something does happen. They tend to exploit that fact with the size is right of way philosophy, and assume you will avoid them at all costs, which is true, you will avoid them if you can.

      Not to say Olongapo traffic is not intimidating; it is! I never had an accident on a bike there that was anyone’s fault but my own. In a car though, I was rear ended by a bus and had several fender benders all the other guys fault. Those would all have been avoided, had I been on my bike rather than the opposite extreme, a full sized Jeep J-10 pickup (like the old grand cherokees but open bed).

      Whatever you drive, buckle up, wear a lid, and keep the greasy side down!

      1. manoeuvre <— bwahaha, victim of British spell check. IDK why I ended up with British spell check on my Linuxed netbook, but it is what it is.

      2. Thanks. Fortunately the traffic here on Bohol is slower than Cebu. Unfortunately, people here drive like idiots. None of them ever took a driver’s education class. Only a portion ever took a driving test. They come up the one-way traffic every time I go to the mall. And the stupid city doesn’t put a divider to prevent it. I mostly worry about what’s behind me, always checking either my mirror or a quick over the shoulder to know what’s behind me and how big. I try to shadow along tricycles since if people see them, they might see me. But.. I’ve lost count how many times some tricycle came at me at night with no headlight on. Or some other motorcycle and the passenger is just holding out some flashlight, again due to no headlight. I’m installing glow-light LEDs under my cycle tomorrow to add some more visibility for myself at night.

        1. “I’m installing glow-light LEDs under my cycle tomorrow to add some more visibility for myself at night.” bling bling bling LOL

          I think it is true that what comes up behind you is a big risk. You’re a sitting duck at a stop light, at least until someone is behind you and stopped. Also, when someone in a 3000 Lb weapon passes you and can’t make it around, guess where they’re going? Right where you are!

          They all but outlawed drivers ed. here. It used to be free or maybe $20 for books of soemthing, taught three times a year, summer and both semesters and they gave you a big insurance discount iif you got a B or better. Also got the license at 16 and one month instead of 16 1/2 YO. You could get a permit and take drivers ed. once 15 YO IIRC. They jacked the price up so high, no one has taken it for 15 or 20 years, so we have plenty of uneducated drivers, and beinga college town, tons of out of state and out of country drivers making for an interesting mix of driving styles.

          Lower speeds there can be frustrating, but are really a blessing to everyone on the roads. There are enough bad wrecks as it is.

          1. Yah.. just today, taking a ride out to Baclayon pier, I just couldn’t believe (again) how ignorant these drivers are. Passing on blind curves.. jeepneys full of people doing this. If I get more than three big vehicles behind me on a fast road, I just pull over and let them all pass.

    1. i completely forgot my question before i posted lol, What kind of scooters would you recommend fir first timers moving to cebu as well?

    2. It’s easier to contact me on Facebook since I rarely fire up Skype due to the low bandwidth here in the province where I live. You can find me on FB under ‘Reekay’ or ‘henry.velez’.

  14. I appreciate what you, did living in a totally stranger place away from your country but still like the place

  15. I was curious, you said you had never ridden before so I assume you did not have a motorcycle license. Is it easy to get a motorcycle license in the PI’s or is this bike small enough not to require a license? I have seen some small ones that say no tags or license required but was not sure how well they would carry my big fat American butt ha ha.

    1. What I have is the basic “non professional” license for autos. I ‘should’ get a legit motorcycle license, even though it’s a scooter. But it seems here the rule of the day is to make a donation of 500P and be on your way. Lately I’ve been pondering the idea of swapping the scooter for a truck so for now I’ll just use the basic license.

      1. Henry do you have to have any type of operators permit or license to operate a motor scooter like you purchased ?

          1. Is it mandatory that you have some type of license in order to operate a scooter in the Philippines ? I was watching a video the other day and they said if you are 10 years old or 70 years old, if you can driver a scooter you can take off down the road.

  16. Getting a driver’s license in the country, especially if you’re a foreigner, used to be a very complicated procedure, and you have to grease so many middlemen in order to speed things up. Otherwise, you’re looking at weeks or months before you get your license. Now, it’s fairly simple. The secret of driving in the Philippines is learning to pick up the good habits and foregoing the bad. Well, let me take that back. In other countries they teach you how to be a defensive and courteous driver. Here in the Philippines, you also have to be an offensive and aggressive driver or you’ll end up a hapless victims of being stuck in traffic. This has happened to me in the past when I started driving in the country. Now it’s every man for himself or herself if you want to get to where you’re going in a fairly decent time by Philippine standard. The good side of driving in the Philippines is, if you can drive there, you can drive anywhere in the world.

    1. That’s how driving is in Romania, no rules, no hospitality what so ever, people simply don’t care but you do have to have a valid drivers license in order to drive unless you drive a horse and buggy, lol. What I need to know is do you have to have a drivers license to operate a scooter / motorcycle ? I seen where you like to cook / grill, so do I, I’ve cooked and grilled all my life. I fixed fajitas last week, I fixed burritos 3 days ago and I’m fixing nachos today, just as soon as my wife comes back from the grocery store with the tomatoes. I have been researching Bohol, I can see why you like living there, beautiful place with many attractions. My X is from Western Visaya’s over near Boracay Island, she actually owns a real estate lot on Boracay Island that she purchased 25 years ago. Thank you for helping me Henry, I can’t wait to visit Bohol / Cebu, we will surely hit the cantina for some beverages, lol.

  17. Nice post sir. i enjoy reading your blog and this post made me want to buy a scooter and get to know my country even better. probably start with nearby towns and just let the flow take me to my next destination.

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