The Golden Rule
Don't make any sudden movements.
Think of the road as an ocean and you're a fish. In heavy traffic, move with the school of fish. On your own, watch out for the sharks (trucks, buses, cars, buffalo, cows, anything bigger than you). If you cruise along paying attention to your distant goal, moving at a consistent speed without any sudden movements, you will be fine. Don't suddenly swerve for a chicken, break heavily on loose gravel, or fly around a tight corner. Slow and steady truly wins on Asian roads.
There aren't really any official rules, other than the rule of size.
The Rule of Size
On the road, your importance and right-of-way is based on the size of your vehicle. For North Americans, this is opposite of what we normally think. Here is the scale from 1 being the most important with full power over the road and 10 being the least important and required to move as far off the road as possible.
- Transport trucks
- All other trucks
- Motorcycles with more than 1 person or animal or refrigerator
- Motorcycles with 1 person
- Bicycles with more than 1 person or animal or bedroom furniture set
- Bicycles with 1 person
- Children walking
Remember, 1 is most important and 10 is least important. If you are on a motorcycle you are a 7. Which basically means that only bicycles and children will move on the road for you. Everyone else will hit you.
You can drive any direction down any road, pass around single lane mountain corners, drive without your lights on at night, have a beer while driving as long as you can still switch gears, attach a water bong to the side of your car and smoke tobacco from a bong as you drive, and the helmets are more like ice cream buckets or fashion statements than actual head protection.
Commit to the Adventure
Riding a motorcycle in SE Asia isn't all traffic, trucks, water buffalos, potholes, and mud.... and who am I kidding, it's like 80% those things. For Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, you're in for quite the adventure and it's not for those who aren't fully committed to everything that riding in the environment entails. If you at all doubt whether it's right for you, don't risk your life or the lives of others. If you're in it mentally 100%, the freedom is unlike anything you will ever experience.