Asia’s top cycling destinations

IF you’ve always wanted to put your pedal yourself across Asia’s beautiful rice terraces, over its mountains and into its stunning valleys here’s a list of locations to consider for an adventure with a real difference.

These cover day trips and some long haul options for people of all endurance levels.

Cyclists on a tour between Son La and Sapa. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Vietnam

The more hardcore cyclists have actually undertaken the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City route which is difficult enough on a motorcycle let alone by pedal power (see our blog about biking this route).

If you are keen on cycling it  you might want to read a book like Catfish and Mandala about Andrew Pham’s journey, which is not just about his experiences on the road but about life and the human condition as well.

If you’re seeking some simple day trips or good biking excursions consider some options around Ninh Binh where the countryside is exquisite and there aren’t too many hills. Alternatively Yangshuo’s incredible karst landscapes are a joy to cycle (also pretty flat) and there are excellent day routes to undertake.

Another popular excursion is from Dalat in the Central Highlands all the way down to the coast to somewhere like Nha Trang or Mui Ne. Cycle companies can take you up there, then you simply coast back down. The Central Highlands is in general a good place to cycle, as is the mountainous region up near Sapa – I ran into groups of expats doing tours through this region. The Mekong Delta in the southern part of the country is also another great area to undertake some cycling.

If you plan to cycle through any of the cities you’ll need a few coffees to work yourself up to the experience first.

Join monks on a bike ride near Muang Sing, Laos. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Laos

Laos has fairly hilly terrain and routes can be remote and rather long. However, local people are gracious and helpful and there’s not the traffic or populations you’ll find in neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam. A popular route is to head from Vientiane to Savannakhet and then over to Vietnam via Lao Bao.

Northern parts of the country are more mountainous but there’s excellent chance of seeing hill tribes around Muang Sing and Luang Nam Tha. Those that don’t want to do long distance touring could pick up a bike locally to tour these areas, the ride out to the Chinese border from Muang Sing is easy and enjoyable. There is also excellent cycling around Si Phan Don’s islands near the border with Cambodia.

Thailand

Cycling in Thailand is a biker’s dream mostly because the roads are good and pretty flat. You can expect to cover far more distance here than other places in Asia but as there are so many scenic options it’s best not to rush.

Traffic can be troublesome but if you get onto the more minor roads they aren’t nearly as bad. Touring the islands by bicycle or even riding right up the peninsula to Bangkok from Malaysia is a good option.

Stunning mountain vistas in the Garwhal. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

India

India is a massive country and cycling won’t get you anywhere too fast. Still, it can be done and if you need inspiration check out Irish woman Dervla Murphy’s adventures which she undertook back in the 1960s. Her first book was Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. It remains a hallmark of cycling experiences in India.

If you aren’t seeking anything quite like the Dervla Murphy experience it’s still fun to rent a bike and undertake some day trips or short journeys. Goa is a good place to cycle from beach to beach, although some distances are surprisingly long and hilly along the coast.

Places to consider a good cycle trip would be in the mountains around Manali, Dharamsala, Shimla or Garwhal you’ll get amazing views but you’ll need a lot of endurance and tenacity to handle buses swinging around blind corners. A popular route is from Manali to Leh in Ladakh. Rajasthan is a good place to cycle for its flat roads but this would only be undertaken at certain times of year when the climate is more forgiving.

Kerala is another excellent place to encounter a variety of landscapes and villages, plus good food and diverse cultural experiences.

Indonesia

Bali and Java are excellent places to do some cycle touring thanks to beautiful landscapes, great weather and fairly good terrain. There are a number of volcanoes and mountains to climb but none are too steep or demanding and once you get away from major centres like Jakarta or Denpasar the roads are manageable.

Bali would probably be the pick in terms of landscapes, culture, peace and quiet. A popular route is from Denpasar up the gentle slope to Ubud, then on to Mt Batur, and then down to the northern coast (a nice downhill route). You could then journey around either to the east or west and back to Denpasar. It’s also possible to ferry across between Java and Bali with your bicycle.

For lots of good routes around Asia check out mrpumpy.net.