Get On Your Bike
Biking tours are some of the best ways to see these Asian countries on two wheels
Instead of booking the usual beach breaks where the most energetic thing you’ll do is move from the breakfast buffet to the sun lounger and maybe the pool bar, here’s an alternative: go on a cycling tour! Over the past few years, cycling tourism has grown exponentially almost in tandem with the health and fitness trend that everyone seems to be riding these days. And before you think you have to be super fit and possess all the kit, rest assured that there are packages for every level of fitness.
You may want to go all out and cycle from Bangkok to Yangon in two weeks or embark on a more leisurely journey through Mekong Delta over four days. There are trips to suit every kind of rider from the casual weekend cyclist to those who think nothing of hurtling down hills and pedalling hell-for-leather for hours. Here’s our pick of bike tours to embark on from family-friendly trips to soulfinding (or crushing) expeditions. Do note that booking a tour with a reputable company is imperative and means you’ll have a reliable support team backing you up.
THAILAND Thailand is the most accessible holiday destination from Malaysia and there are many options for cycling tours, from simple half-day evening food tours in Chiang Mai to a week’s worth of pedalling from coast to coast starting from Koh Samui and ending in Krabi. A popular one is a 10-day trip across northern Thailand from Chiang Mai through the infamous Golden Triangle near the borders of Laos and Myanmar. This mountainous region is home to rural villages, temples, local markets and minimal traffic. Accommodation is usually in the form of rustic lodges so it’s not all sweat and tears!
CAMBODIA Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most recognisable destination and it’s one of the most amazing places to visit, as long as you avoid the temple sightseeing hordes. Siem Reap, as a town, is very family-orientated and one of the best ways to see it is on a bicycle. Take a four-day tour covering just over 50km; where the cycling is relaxed and not the primary focus of the trip. Instead, take in the amazing sights of Angkor at sunrise, ride down country lanes that pass through local villages and eventually end up at Tonle Sap Lake.
If you have time, there is a two-week adventure from Siem Reap to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An in Vietnam, but expect to cycle 70-80km per day. Some transfers are done with the support vehicle and riders can expect to cycle through a combination of ancient historical architecture, rural coffee plantations and sleepy hamlets.
VIETNAM Vietnam is an incredibly interesting country to visit and offers visitors everything from colonial cities to majestic natural beauty. Cycling tours abound here and if you’re looking for something free and easy, try the day trips out of Ho Chi Minh to the Mekong Delta or the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. If you’re up for a challenge, there’s a 10-day trip originating and ending in Hanoi, which will test your fitness and cycling prowess. Daily rides can go up to 130km with some testing climbs, so if your idea of a ride is a leisurely pedal around the neighbourhood, this is not for you. The reward for these climbs are the awesome views and access to parts of the countryside you wouldn’t normally visit.
LAOS The one country in Southeast Asia that still exudes a real air of mystery is Laos, with its chaotic history (during the Vietnam War there were 580,000 bombing missions carried out over nine years), French colonial influence, hill tribes and strong Buddhist beliefs. Cycling tours are now a new reason to visit with 14-day expeditions testing your limits as you cross the country starting in the beautiful town of Luang Prabang and ending in the capital of Vientiane with a highlight of the trip is visiting the mindboggling Plain Of Jars. If you’re travelling with children, do something different and embark on a fun five-day package combining cycling, boat trips, cooking classes and visiting local hotspots all in the vicinity of Luang Prabang.
INDONESIA Bali is still one of the top touristic destinations in Asia and the next time you go, a bike ride is definitely in order. The easiest option and one that’s ideal for families (and those who want minimal physical effort) are rides through the gorgeous paddy fields, back roads and villages synonymous with the island. This is a fantastic day out and the best way to see beyond the pandemonium of the touristy areas. There are alternative cycle tours aimed at serious riders across the island of Sulawesi, starting in the provincial capital of Makassar, heading up into highlands and visiting the indigenous Torajan people and villages.
MYANMAR With the ease in political tensions, Myanmar (Burma) is opening up and fast becoming a must-visit Southeast Asian destination. There’s still some debate on how ethically sound it is to travel here, but conflicts here are localised and in areas tour companies will not bring you to. Biking tours are concentrated around the capital of Yangon, the historical gem of Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. Day tours combining kayaking or a boat trip around Bagan are popular and a lovely way to see these ancient ruins. For riders who want to throw down the gauntlet, there are two-week journeys which will take you from the Shan Hills (famed for the hill tribes and some of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia) passing monasteries, ancient ruins, colonial hill stations and the Irrawaddy River before ending in Yangon.
Ernest Hemingway’s quote perhaps best encapsulates what cycling tourism is all about: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” Get on your bike now and sign up for a holiday well worth the sweat and aching limbs! EL
Cycling tourism has grown almost in tandem with the health and fitness trend that everyone seems to be riding these days”