Asia Planning Solo Travel

The Best Way to Get Around Cities in SE Asia: Grab

Southeast Asia, land of motorbikes.

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Grab, owned by Uber, makes it easy to get around cities in Southeast Asia quickly and easily.

On islands, you’ll still need to rely on local taxis or tuk tuks. But, in every city large enough to necessitate driving places (Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpar, George Town, Singapore, etc.), I’ve turned to Grab.

Similar to Uber and Lyft, you can choose which kind of transport you’d like, ranging from standard cars to vans to motorbikes, pending your location.

Also like Uber, after you download the app, you’ll add a payment method. In some places in Asia, Grab gives you the option of paying with cash, but I usually always opt for a card charge to keep it easy (drivers don’t always have enough cash to make exact change).

Function wise, much like Uber or Lyft, once your request is picked up by a driver, you can track their progress in reaching you and even send them a message with details if needed (e.g. I’m outside the Starbucks by the bus stop).

If you want to change your final destination, you need to wait until the driver picks you up and you get the go-ahead from them.

Just like with any rideshare app, check the license plate before you get in or on to ensure it’s the right vehicle. And, I’ve found it helps to have a vague sense of where I’m going so I can help confirm once we’ve arrived. If you need to get your phone out to double check directions, ask your driver to pull over and be very careful- snatching phones from tourists on the back of motorbikes is a common form of theft in SE Asia.

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Not just a ride share app, you can also use Grab to order food delivery. This was a lifesaver one night in Hoi An when I wasn’t feeling well enough to leave my hotel.

One of my favourite parts about Grab is the reward system. The more you use the app, the more rewards you earn, which can be redeemed for discounts on rides, food or entertainment.

The best part of Grab though in my opinion, is that it’s saved me from having to rent motorbikes.

An anxious driver on my best day, after observing how locals drive motorbikes in Asia (constant swerving, driving on sidewalks, stopping in the middle of highways to answer a text), I have little interest in trying to join them. Say nothing for the condition of roads in some parts of Asia- bumpy, filled with potholes, confusing signage.

It takes some serious skill to get around.

And, don’t forget- if you’re driving your own bike, you need to know where to go.

While I may have little interest in driving a bike myself, I’m more than happy to sit on the back of one commanded by a local. At this point in my travels, I’ve taken countless Grab motorbikes and have to say, it’s becoming one of my favourite ways to see a city.

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And, bonus, motorbikes are usually half the cost of taking a car and easier to get- generally, there are more bikes than cars on the road.

I was nervous my first time on the back of one, but you quickly get used to it. The driver always provides a helmet and there are pedals for your feet to rest.

Once I hop on, I usually use one had to hold my bag, and rest the other on my knee or grab the back of the bike (the part that lifts up) to help steady myself if I feel it’s needed.

Any time I start to feel a bit anxious because we’re weaving in and out of a lot of traffic or we’re on open highway going super fast, I stop looking at the road / other drivers and focus on the scenery around me.

Just like in a car, you have to trust the driver knows what’s best. There’s no point worrying about if he sees the pot holes in the street or that driver coming up quickly from behind. So far, I’ve been fortunate to not experience any incidents.

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Tip: If you’re new to riding motorbikes, always get on and off the left side (exhaust pipe is on the right).

Grab has made it possible for me to see and do so much more in cities across Asia I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, either because of cost required to take a taxi or time needed to walk places.

Suffice to say, I’m a huge fan and will greatly miss bopping around on the back of a motorbike.

Have you ever used Grab in Asia? Do you have any other tips to add?

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