Get On Your Bike

Bik­ing tours are some of the best ways to see these Asian coun­tries on two wheels

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Contents - Words by Caramella Scarpa Pho­tos by is­tock­photo

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”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: TRAVERS­ING THE DIRT ROADS OF RU­RAL CAM­BO­DIA; DIS­COV­ER­ING AN AN­CIENT TEM­PLE IN BA­GAN, MYANMAR; CRUIS­ING BY THE WA­TER­FRONT OF HOI AN, VIET­NAM

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