10 of the Best Cycling Holiday Routes in Asia
Seeing a country by bike is one of the most rewarding, connected, tactile and thrilling ways of getting to know a new destination. Cycling to be green, to get fit or just for a new challenge in life, combining sport and travel could be a completely life changing experience. And in the fascinating continent of Asia, with its exotic landscapes and great variety of cultures, this is a truly wonderful way of exploring.
Whether you’re a pro rider or a cycling novice, travelling by bike can be done at your own pace and there are no rules about how many times you stop along the way. There are countless trails to suit different riding levels, but here are our top 10 cycling holiday routes in Asia…
1). Silk Road, China
The famous Silk Road is made up of a network of trade routes which were established during the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) when silk traders travelled to and from different parts of Asia. The routes connect East and West Asia, even extending to parts of Europe, and was used by many traders, monks and soldiers in the past. Today, these ancient routes have become popular with travellers wanting to trek or cycle. If you’re looking for both a physical and mental challenge, we would recommend cycling the historic Silk Road.
There are three main routes of the Silk Road in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region: the northern route which covers the Tianshan Mountains, Hami, Urumqi and Yining; the central route which takes you westward to the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains, passing through Ruoqiang, Turpan, Korla, Kuqa, Aksu and Kashgar; and the southern route which takes you around the Kunlun Mountains, Hetian, Yechang, Shache and Kashgar. All three routes offer the most wonderful views of China’s untouched countryside.
2). Qinghai Lake, China
The route around the vast Qinghai Lake in China will take 4 to 7 days of cycling. The total distance is over 220 miles and runs clockwise from Heimahe Town, finishing at Huangyuan County. The beautiful alkaline lake, which is said to change colour depending on season or time of day, is located in the culturally Tibetan area of China and has been a sacred lake to the Tibetan people for many centuries.
In terms of difficulty, at a steady and comfortable pace this route can be completed with ease. Due to the Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race, which has taken place every July since 2002, the roads are well maintained and very easy to ride on. The asphalt road makes an excellent smooth surface, so you won’t be up against rough terrain.
For the best weather and the clearest views of the peaceful lake, visit during summer. The best months for cycling are July and August, but remember to travel with layers as the temperatures can drop dramatically in the evenings.
3). Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Biking around the Angkor Wat temple complex is one of the best ways of exploring the lesser known wonders of this incredible archaeological site. Angkor, set in the northern Siem Reap province of Cambodia is one of the most important sites of historical significance, one which also carries a painful past, and it spreads across almost 250 square miles of land. The most famous temples include Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Wat (which featured in the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie) and the Preah Khan Temple. But there are also some lesser known temples such as Baksei Chamkrong, Banteay Srei, Preah Ko and the 10th century East Mebon structure, which are all really worth exploring and can be easily reached on bike.
If you’re not planning on taking your own bike, you can rent a bicycle from the old market area in Siem Reap for just a few dollars a day. But remember, prices are often not fixed so be sure to haggle.
4). Himalayas, Bhutan
The small landlocked country of Bhutan, nestled in the eastern foothills of the Himalayas, is packed with mind-blowing scenery and unspoiled wildlife. Although small in size, when it comes to natural sights and dramatic mountain views, the Bhutan certainly doesn’t disappoint. Still reasonably undiscovered by the clutches of tourism, a journey to the Himalayas in Bhutan will feel completely off the beaten path.
The impressive Himalayan mountain range reaches 29,029 ft. in height and stretches 1,500 miles in length, spanning a total of five countries: Pakistan, China, Nepal, India and Bhutan. If you want to explore the mountain range and the surrounding area in Bhutan, the best way to do this is by bike. The rides are challenging with long uphill climbs, but you’ll find plenty of paved roads that are even enough for cycling. The views are truly spectacular with an ever-changing mountainscape as you tackle the ascending passes and long descents. You will be greeted with the magic of surreal temples, dzongs and monasteries along the way.
5). National Highway 1, Vietnam
Vietnam’s National Highway 1, connecting the two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), is the most popular cycling route in Vietnam. Disconnected by warfare for many years, it has now become a famous trail for those who are looking for a physical challenge with great rewards. The road also acts as a symbol of unity for the Vietnamese people. However, the route is now crowded and runs through many built up areas. If you’re in search of some cultural and spiritual exploration, then we’d recommend the northern stretch of the Ho Chi Minh trail from Ngoc Lac to the Hai Van Pass in Da Nang.
This route was originally an elaborate web of jungle trails linking the country’s North and South during the Vietnam War. You will need a minimum of 10 days to complete the 500 mile stretch of road, but we would definitely recommend allowing a few extra days giving you enough time to explore each stopover. There are also a few steep hill climbs so be sure to carry plenty of water.
6). Serpentine Road and Jaipur, India
The Pink City of Jaipur is located in North India and has earned its name from its lime plastered buildings which fill the cityscape with a deep pink colour in bright daylight. Founded in 1727 by the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, Jaipur is one of the country’s distinctive ‘planned cities’, and today it stands out as a unique place with pristine streets built with the highest levels of orderliness. Overlooked by the Nag Tibba Mountain, Jaipur is a stunning city best captured on foot or by bicycle.
The winding Serpentine Road is a steady ascent into the mountains and from the top, you can catch the most amazing views of the city. Jaipur centre itself can also be explored on a biking tour; ride through the colourful bazaars and see the city’s major architectural sites including the Albert Hall Museum, the Water Palace, the Maharajah’s cenotaphs, and the beautiful Marble Carvers’ District.
7). East Coast Park, Singapore
This cycle route is a city trail with a difference; combining the convenience of the city with the beauty of beach and coastal scenery, there’s no other bike route like it in the world. If you’re looking for a gruelling life challenge though, this isn’t for you. The relaxed family atmosphere of East Coast Park and the coastal road is designed for a leisurely, laissez-faire approach to cycling. So, if you’re a beginner and don’t want to tackle anything too challenging just yet, this is the perfect cycling route to ease you into some longer rides.
Starting your journey at East Coast Park, a beautiful man-made beach, you will ride along the coastal stretch of the city where cycling is a very popular activity with locals and travellers alike. The entire route is built on reclaimed land so you won’t have to deal with any rough or uneven terrain and with skate parks, beaches and waterparks along the way, there will be plenty to do if you wish to take a break from cycling.
Ending at Changi Village, you will find a huge selection of food hawkers and food halls to satisfy your appetite. For that well-earned meal after your 4- 5-hour cycle tour, head to Changi Village Food Centre where there will be a fantastic choice of street food stalls.
Bangkok and Phuket are must visit destinations in Thailand, both with their own unique charm. Cycling from one to the other will take you around 10 days and covering around 523 miles of stunning coastline, there will be plenty of beach stopovers. For the perfect combination of bike and beach, make sure you allow yourself a couple of extra days to relax and wind down at some of the resorts dotted along the coast.
If you have a day or two to spend in Bangkok before you begin your journey, be sure to visit The Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw, Wat Pho, the bustling Chinatown, and the amazing Damnoen Saduak floating market. Once on the road, the cycling route will take you through some amazing virgin forests and picturesque rice fields, stunning natural sites such as Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and Kui Buri National Park, and some lovely little beach towns that you would otherwise miss if you travelled by train, coach or car.
9) Mekong River, Cambodia
The spectacular Mekong River is as much a gem of Cambodia as its temples; it is the 12th longest river in the world (and 7th longest in Asia) and stretches over 2,700 miles through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
If you’re cycling along the 50 mile stretch of river in Cambodia, you will be able to find bicycle rentals such as CRD Tours (which is run by the Cambodian Rural Development Charity). However, you’ll be hard pressed to find sufficient cycling equipment and safety gear – so make sure you bring these with you or source them elsewhere.
The best time to cycle the Mekong River is in January and February when temperatures are comfortable and dry. If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to ride is in September or October but this is typically the rainy season so be sure to bring lightweight waterproofs.
10). Hiroshima's Shimanami Kaido, Japan
Shimanami Kaido – also called the Nishiseto Expressway – is one of the most impressive cycle routes in Japan and the world, but the beauty of this incredible toll road is that it can be completed in just a matter of hours. Just under 40 miles, this uncomplicated stretch of road connecting Honshu to the island of Shikoku makes for a smooth, easy ride; perfect for beginners, younger riders and families.
This route offers amazing coastal scenery and you will pass over the 6 islands of Mukaishima, Innoshima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima before finishing up at the tranquil and laid-back Shikoku.
When renting bikes, there are two rental options available along the expressway. The first, and the most popular, has a large number of terminals across the cycle route and is around 500 Yen per day with a 1,000 Yen deposit per bike. The second, available with The Giant Store Imabari, costs between 4,000 and 7,000 Yen per day for high-tech bicycles and there are only 2 terminals across the whole route.
For tailor-made cycling tours in Asia – including China, Bhutan, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and India – take a look at our holiday destinations online. Or to speak to a member of our team here at Ampersand Travel, please call +44 (0)20 7819 9770.