The oriental tour de cycle
Quaint beach towns, lush mountains, limestone caves, night markets, historic sites and intriguing culture —Southeast Asia presents a diverse landscape full of choices for the Indian traveller. Add easy visa facilities and low-cost differential to the mix. This has led to a surge of tourists in the region. But, we went on a path lesser taken with our bicycle and freewheeled through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to find that a holiday on the pedals has much more to offer.
Cycle tours tend to be slower and but they are a lot more immersive inexperience. Travelling into the countryside, out of the urban limits, gives one access to local food, unknown spots and serenity. On a bicycle, one doesn’t simply whiz from one town to another. Cycling allows you to stop, ponder and mingle with the locals, maintaining fitness goals and keeping the environment safe. All of South East Asia has a high influx of international cycle tourists, hence it is a perfect place for those attempting cycling on a holiday for the first time. Locals are usually adept at helping and providing various services.
Thailand has become synonymous with shopping, beaches and bachelor parties. But, it is also a great starting point for cycle touring. It has a good network of repair shops and commendable road infrastructure. Airlines like Thai Smile and Bangkok Airways offer free cycle transport. Larger cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai have adequate shops that offer any gear one might need for the trip.
The neighbouring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have easy e-visa and visa-on-arrival facilities for Indians, making it possible to pedal through them with minimal effort. On a lot of routes, it is easy to find accommodations within every few kilometres.
This eases the pressure of cycling a minimum number of kms everyday. A cycle adventure could be totally unfettered, going where the wind and wheels take you. Either self-plan the cycle vacation or keep it uncharted. But a fair bit of research about the gear and other logistical matters is required. For solo travellers looking to explore the land, cycling is perhaps one of the best options.
For those who detest planning, there are several travel groups who offer cycling tours in all shapes and sizes. Luxury, bespoke, family tours and even self-guided ones—tours can range from day trips around a tourist spot to over-a-week long adventure.
Popular groups like Grasshopper Adventures and Spice Roads specialise in cycle tours in all of these countries. There are other groups which club cycling with other adventure activities such as kayaking and trekking.
One of the most interesting yet smaller routes start from Bangkok to Phuket in Thailand. Those cycling through these points would pass myriad smaller beach towns. Another offbeat path is Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, in Thailand, which includes steep mountain climbs, border crossings, tribal regions and even boat rides. It's important to choose a route and area as per one’s interests. An excellent day tour on the bicyle can be done around the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. For a four-day ride, start from the beach town of Kampot to Can Tho in the Mekong delta.
If you are self-planning the trip, bring your cycle with you in the flight. It’s also possible to rent or buy a second-hand cycle in cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Those still wary about cycling can take comfort in the fact that with a travel group, all logistics are taken care of along with the cycle and the gear. Moreover, these groups have a support vehicle at all times. So, if one feels tired or unwell, they can hop onto the travel vehicle for the rest of the day.