Some people say that traveling South East Asia by bike is the best way. Out in the sunshine riding through paddy fields, fruit plantations, mountains, alongside rivers and lakes you are rewarded with an altogether more intimate travel experience than catching the stuffy bus. And if you choose pedal power then it’s better for the environment too! Once you get away from those busy highways, back lanes and dirt tracks open up and offer gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and local village life.
Vietnam offers some amazing cycling, in particular, the exhilarating bike trip from the central highlands of Dalat to the coastal towns of Mui Ne or Nha Trang, where unlike many bike journeys – its downhill all the way! Tours can be arranged in Dalat and there’s no need to drive the bike back uphill later! Rather than hiring a rickshaw driver, it is also possible to rent a bicycle to explore the ancient temples of UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Free to discover hidden temples less frequented by tourists that are being repossessed by the jungle, you’ll feel like you are riding in a forgotten, lost world.
You can hire a bike for the day in almost any town in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for a ridiculously cheap cost (30 baht / day in Chiang Mai for example). For those looking for longer, organized cross-country trips you can find many weeklong and 2-week adventures that tour anywhere from the mountains of Thailand, to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, Tibet, China and Northern Vietnam.
Unlike some adventures, such as diving, which tend to require experienced instructors, mountain biking can of course be done independently and you just need to hire some wheels and the freedom to travel at your own speed is yours. The open road offers endless adventure for the inquisitive and spontaneous and the best excursions often start with ‘I wonder where this road leads?’
Meeting the locals in Tadlo, Laos
Hiring or buying a motorbike in Southeast Asia
Get an engine strapped to those two wheels and your adventure takes on a whole new level. You can hire a motorbike in most places for a mere 150-250 Baht per day (about £3-£5). Be prepared to leave both your passport and a hefty deposit, usually about 2000 Baht and give the bike a thorough once over before you leave – don’t get caught out and end up paying for scratches and scrapes that were already there. Once you’ve got a motor the World is your oyster! Grab a map and a poncho (a must in the rainy season when you’re sure to get caught in a downpour at some point!) and get on the road. You will soon pick up the mad driving style as you weave through the crazy Southeast Asian traffic, skipping lights and ignoring roadsigns!
Motorbiking in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
For a longer motorbike adventure, you can buy yourself a motor in most main towns and cities and usually with no license needed! Look for used bikes, which are inevitably cheaper and will only set you back a couple of hundred dollars, but befriend a mechanic as your new steed is bound to need some TLC. Parts are cheap and easy to get hold of, so repairs aren’t usually a problem… until you’re in the middle of nowhere anyway! Perhaps it’s best to do a few test drives before going off the beaten track. The advantage of buying a bike is that you can recoup your spend by selling the bike at the end… The most popular place to buy a motorbike is Vietnam. Perhaps because of the infamous Top Gear episode in which Hammond and Clarkson drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Halong Bay on motorbikes, this route is well travelled by the backpackers. Undeniably, the scenery is fantastic. Another great place to have your motorbike adventure is Laos. Travel north from the Backpacker’s pilgrimage site Vang Vieng and you’ll be in unspoilt countryside, with miles of windy mountain road.
Riding a motorbike on the roads of Southeast Asia can be a dangerous activity. Make sure that you have proper travel insurance before renting or buying a motorbike. We recommend World Nomads for adventurous activities in the region.
Dirt Bike Tours in Cambodia
Some places in South East Asia offer motorbike tours of the countryside, such as Hidden Cambodia in Siem Reap. You can take 1-day or multi-day tours which can include trekking, camping and a tour of UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat. Trips are on a 250cc Dirt Bike and cost around $165 USD per day including food, accommodation, full bike rental, equipment and and bike repairs. It is a fantastic way to get off the beaten track and discover the real Cambodian Countryside.
Easy Riders in Vietnam
If you’re not up to the challenge of driving yourself on Southeast Asia’s windy and often hectic roads, book onto an Easy Rider tour. Strap on a helmet, slap on the suncream and then sit back, relax (if that’s possible!) and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your hair as you take in the scenery. One of the best place to do this is between Dalat and Nha Trang in Vietnam, where the views are spectacular and there is heaps to see on the way. Stop for a snack of deep fried crickets, which actually don’t taste too bad with a generous dunking in the customary chilli sauce, visit a silk factory, spot coffee and tea plantations then taste it with the locals, Pop into traditional markets (not for the faint hearted!) and buy a dog for a dollar or a sack of chillies for two. But remember, it’s all got to fit on the bike! Not to be missed, this motorbike adventure has become a backpacker rite of passage. Read more about Easy Rider tours here.
With a friendly Easy Riders tour guide in Vietnam
The ultimate in boys toys, the quad bike is the perfect way to reach those viewpoints without wearing yourself out. The dirt tracks and poor roads of Southeast Asia are no match for these powerful machines which require little of the skill or balance needed to ride a motorbike. If you’re a fan of adrenaline you’ll be a fan of this. The best places to go quad biking are Koh Tao and Koh Phangan in Southern Thailand. Well known as the home of the Full Moon party, Koh Phangan is the perfect place to burn some rubber and kick up some dirt, escaping from the tourist-hype of Haad Rin beach, buckets and Chang. This is a more expensive boys toy though and will set you back around 800 Baht for a days hire, much more expensive than a motorbike and tenfold the price of a bicycle! As with the motorbike renting, check the condition of the quad bike before you rent it. Take photos, make detailed notes, whatever you have to do to avoid being charged for that tiny little scratch which was already there… Then prepare for the ride of your lifetime.
Quad biking to the viewpoint on Koh Phangan, Thailand