Take a freewheeling adventure and discover the best places to cycle in Asia. Anything is possible in the saddle on Asia’s spectacular open roads.
There’s no better way to get up close with Asia’s charms than on two wheels. Powered by your own steam, the discovery of the new is so much more rewarding too. The best places to cycle in Asia open up access to places that any other mode of transport cannot – start off at a lonely beach and end in the jungle.
Perhaps best of all, a backroad adventure lets you avoid the incessant stream of tour buses that clog Asia’s busy highways. Getting off the beaten path is not a cliché when travelling on two wheels. You don’t need to be hardcore cycle touring Asia to journey along the road less travelled, so don the lycra and get on your bike!
Check out these amazing bike-friendly Asian destinations where timeless temples, gorgeous beaches and sizzling street food adventures are just a short ride away.
1. The Ancient Bridges and Beaches of bike friendly Hoi An
With an old town closed off to motorised vehicles for most of the day, historic Hoi An is a rare breed in Southeast Asia in that cycling is actually actively encouraged. That means you can climb in the saddle and get pedalling to your heart’s content without worrying about noise and noxious exhaust fumes.
You can take in the ancient bridges and heritage shophouses at your leisure on those trusty two wheels. Just beyond the city walls, dirt paths run through emerald green rice paddies, and lazy days on An Bang Beach are for yoga and sinking smooth cocktails in a sun lounger. It’s just 4km from town so it’s no more than a short scenic cycle ride away. Hoi An’s serene countryside is ideal for getting on your bike and exploring further afield too.
The awesome temple ruins of My Son can be reached on two wheels passing through backroad villages avoiding the constant throng of tour buses, but for an even less strenuous day, head to sleepy Cam Kim Island. Hop aboard the ferry across the Thu Bon River and pedal away in this charming rural backwater.
There are breathtaking fields of rice paddies and a notable carpenter’s village where you’ll glimpse carvers feverishly at work making ornate Buddhas and dragons as you whizz past. This bucolic hideaway is mostly free of tourists, and the few that do come here are almost all here for traffic-free cycling.
2. Bamboo Bikes in Manila
Biking in traffic clogged, chaotic metro Manila? It’s not quite as outlandish as it seems. Skip the Carmageddon and ‘get back to nature.’ Well, that’s true to a point as you enjoy the unique experience of riding bikes made of bamboo. All hand-made by Gawad Kalinga villagers, they are as sturdy and comfortable as a conventional cycle.
There are the traditional ‘shopper-style’ cycles with matching bamboo baskets or pimped-up mountain bike models. Bambike Ecotours guide you round Manila’s fascinating colonial history along cobblestone streets in the shadow of medieval UNESCO-worthy forts and churches.
You get see the secrets hidden within Intramuros’ 400-year-old walls, while giving your legs a gentle workout in the process. Explore the leafy plazas and Spanish colonial houses without so much as a blaring jeepney horn to disturb the quietude. Did we mention it’s for a good cause? Win-win!
3. Riverside Rides in Luang Prabang
If ever a city was custom designed to explore on two wheels, Luang Prabang would be it. It’s as flat as a pancake, compact and free of the usual Asian traffic mayhem. It’s a delight to simply pedal languidly through the historic streets without and end destination in mind, past saffron-robed monks, the gleaming pagodas and crumbling French villas. There is a timeless grandeur and mystique about LP, which you’ll immediately sense especially within the graceful old town.
Enclosed by rivers on three sides, including the mighty Mekong, the wide riverside promenades open up the neighbouring hinterland to explore further afield. Before long those wide palm-fringed city boulevards give way to dirt tracks surrounded by lush forests.
Barely an hour later you can be taking a refreshing dip at Pinterest-perfect Kuang si waterfalls, kayaking, hill trekking or even bathing with elephants. For the princely sum of a couple of US dollars, you can snag a very decent mountain bike for the day from virtually every comer of Luang Prabang.
4. Touring the Meandering Mangroves of Bangkok’s Green Lung
When bicycle touring in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is not exactly the first thing that springs to mind. Few people believe Bangkok can be clean, green and peaceful – but that’s exactly what you get when you step onto the boardwalk jetty in Bang Krachao.
Across the river from the concrete jungle of upper Sukhumvit, there is a little haven of quietude amid lush greenery and meandering canals. Spend a morning nibbling goodies from the floating market, then wind your way hypnotically through coconut plantations and bamboo forests, leaving all the noise and bustle of the city far behind. This is the Big Mango’s Green Lung that has so far escaped the clutches of the large package tour groups.
There are dreamy cycle paths elevated above murky green mangroves that wind their way through papaya groves and past creaking huts on stilts over the water. Birdsong and crickets chirping – something of a novelty in downtown Bangkok – attests to a very unique, almost alien environment. When the inevitable Bangkok burnout strikes, it’s time to get on your bike for Bang Krachao.
5. Riding Through the Clouds on Vietnam’s Hai Van Pass
An epic journey along the entirety of National highway 1 Vietnam cycling the length of the country is perhaps the Asian Holy Grail for seasoned cyclists. You’ll literally need weeks to spare, a VERY sturdy bike and calves made of titanium to hack this 2,000-miles plus road trip. Sadly the pure logistics and time needed puts it out of reach of most travellers but it doesn’t mean you can’t do a bitesize chunk. This iconic coastal highway has numerous highlights but none comes close to the Hai Van Pass.
Nestling between Hue and Danang, the Pass is a ride you simply can’t pass up – the coastal views are awesome but there’s no shortage of pain before the gain. It twists and turns more than 400m in height, seemingly teasing every last drop of energy out of your body. From Lang Co it’s a full-on assault up to the top along 90 degree hairpin bends with lush forested terrain on one side, and beaches and turquoise waters on the other.
It’s an arduous dozen kilometres or so but there are a bunch of cool lookout points along the way. Unless you possess superhuman stamina, you’ll likely make use of every one. Panoramas overlook the city of Danang and the South China Sea, the Son Tra Peninsula and you’ll encounter old remnants of the War.
It’s definitely a top highlight when biking around Southeast Asia. Of course what goes up must come down. After a well-earned breather, the easy part begins, which is getting back down from this lofty height. It’s all downhill now so simply sit back and take in the scenery.
6. Temples of Kyoto on Two Wheels
Kyoto is a city made for cyclists, and you can easily spend a day or two just pedalling from one beautiful shrine to the next. For a little help, rent bikes and borrow maps from the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project. This being orderly high-tech Japan, bikes are sturdy and comfortable, so there is no fear of it suddenly disintegrating without warning like can often be the case biking around Southeast Asia.
A definite highlight is cycling from Kyoto Station to Ginkaku-ji Temple via the Path of Philosophy, stopping to make the most of the views of the Kamo-gawa River along the way. The likes of Cycling Asia Magazine rave about Kyoto as one of the world’s great biking cities.
Another spot worth (when looking for the best places to cycle in asia) to cycle to is Arashiyama, especially to soak up Kyoto’s famed quietude. It’s noted for the Bamboo Forest, a quite mystical spot to pedal through on a fine summer’s day with shafts on sunlight piecing through the dense forest of soaring bamboo.
Arashiyama is also the place to be in spring for cherry blossoms or leaf peeping the vibrant hues of autumn. There is no finer way than on two wheels in Kyoto to dive deep into the mysteries of the shogun, samurai and geisha, and it’s easy on the body too – it’s a surprisingly flat city.
7. Grape Expectations in Hua Hin
Who can resist a ride along the coast? Hua Hin, once a sleepy fishing village, is known mainly for being the preferred getaway of the Thai royal family. Today Hua Hin lures travellers with its stunning emerald beaches, but few people know the province also produces its own wines.
If you are a wine enthusiast, spend a day with discovering best of this Thai resort town as well as it rolling vineyards. Hua Hin now has its own dedicated mountain bike trails that crisscross the bushland above a sea of wine estates. From the most elevated positions the views are stunning looking out over the Gulf of Thailand.
There are some tricky, undulating dirt tracks which drop steeply into valleys, providing some of the best mountain biking in Southeast Asia. Yet biking across the lush countryside is still suitable for all levels.
There is ample opportunity to drop in and sink a few glasses of wine and tour the vineyards, and where Thai wine is concerned, one glass is never enough. Off-road mountain biking and too much wine is perhaps not a great combination, so it pays to book a guided tour with a company like Tour de Asia, which supply support vehicles to ferry home riders that overindulge just a little too much.
For a more epic multi-day ride from Hua Hin, the ‘Royal Coast of Thailand’ route covers hundreds of kilometres of pristine coastline passing through quant fishing villages and detouring into tropical fruit plantations and lush forests.
8. Volcano Cycling in Bali
The verdant emerald rice paddies that dot Bali’s lush interior are an obvious draw for cyclists. In Bali, it’s all downhill, so there’s no heavy pedalling needed – just sit back, soak up the scenery and enjoy the ride. One of the best backroad adventures kicks off with breakfast overlooking the awesome crater lake of Mount Batur volcano.
Over the next 25km, winding roads descend quickly down nearly 1,700 metres through rolling rice fields and coffee plantations. Take a guided cycle tour where you are driven up to the starting point so you get awesome high altitude views without all the hard graft.
Conclusion – Be impulsive and just explore
From tea plantations, crumbling temples and hard to reach H’mong hill tribes, only travel by two wheels can give you such a fascinating insight into the intricacies of rural life in Asia. For many Asians the humble bike is still the main form of transport, so it’s a great leveller.
You’ll get high-fives from giggling school kids by the roadside as you cruise past sleepy villages, and a simple wrong turn along a jungle dirt path may well lead you to an awesome secret waterfall. For me the best thing about cycling in Asia is the freedom to be totally spontaneous. There is nothing better than just climbing in the saddle and seeing where those two wheels take you.
More inspiration: 10 Lofty Spots for a Chilled-out Asian Getaway ▸
Alexander Grootmeester is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.
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