Southeast Asia, located South of China and East of India, also known as Indochina, comprises of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and West Malaysia. Laos is one of our top picks for a cycling holidays in this part of the world. The reasons to visit Laos are many and avid cyclist, Pankaj Mangal, the founder of Art of Bicycle Trips, will highlight his Laos cycle tour experience here in this post.
Terrain: Laos is home to mountains covered with lush tropical forests. The rolling terrain combined with gradual climbs from low-lying riverside valleys are just perfect – a cyclist’s delight.
Rivers: If you are tired of Thailand’s crowds, head to North Laos. Here you will get to ride along the three beautiful rivers viz. Mekong, Nam Ou and Nam Pak. When you want to take a break, switch from your bike’s saddle to a seat on a slow boat. This is an excellent way to see and experience life along the rivers of Laos. The rivers are the lifelines here and you can soak up the beautiful vistas of this intriguing country, at a leisurely pace and meet its people too, only on the slow boats.
People: Laos is less developed and less visited compared to other countries in the region and that makes it more appealing. Some of the people here, for instance, the hill tribes have yet to experience modern living and that what is reflected in their way of life and in their way of dealing with travelers. This friendly, down-to-earth culture embodies the hospitality that you will experience. Make sure you spend time with villagers in rural areas because the feeling that you are almost one of them is priceless!
History and Culture: Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated alongside the Mekong and Khan rivers. Here, the Buddhist monasteries, royal palaces and ancient temples and shops lend a unique charm and make Luang Prabang one of the quieter and more soulful places of Southeast Asia. You can spend days here, walking or riding around, content and happy by yourself or with friends and family. If you are interested in knowing more about Buddhism, then this is the perfect place to do so. The temples and monasteries will welcome you and you can spend time watching monks, hearing their chants and contemplating life and all its beauty.
Go on, experience Laos on a bike like a local – As they like to say in Laos – ‘Lao Syle’ i.e., Go for it! Start planning your Laos bike tour now.
Safety has always been the main concern of all tourists traveling to India. The recent rapes in the capital and around have only intensified the concerns. The global media has put things in perspective at a global level and have raised concerns about traveling to India for foreigners. Here we attempt to provide our, a bike tour operator, perspective on safety and security in India while bike touring. We hope that this would help you plan better and provide answers to your many questions.
Before we start talking about it we ought to look into the areas of concern particularly for a cycling holiday.
1. Stay Stay options around main tourists circuit are highly tourist friendly and safe at almost all the locations. If you tend to travel to unusual places then the best suggestion would be book your stay through an experienced tour operator in that area. India is vast and going alone or without much research to unusual and untraveled areas is not recommended. Though most of the areas are safe but the advise would be take some input either from your local well travelled Indian friend or a tour operator before you venture into unknown.
2. Cycling Routes The safe, secured and traffic free cycling routes is highly important for a safe and hassle free ride. You would notice bad traffic, air and noise pollution on usual highways when you reach India. However, you would be surprised to see that the countryside routes connecting small villages and towns have almost no traffic, highly safe and regarded as the best routes for cycling and riding through inner India. They are commonly know as ‘village roads’ or ‘Gram Sadak’ and goes through beautiful small rural hamlets, are scenic, offer rustic environment and makes an excellent way for biking. Most of the local people would know these routes and are not difficult to find, however, the challenge here is that most of the times more than one route connect the villages and it’s become highly difficult to find out which one is a better route. Here the experience of a bike tour operator is very useful and an organized self-guided or guided bike tour is highly recommended. The research that goes into the selection of right routes is highly formidable and takes lot of effort and time. The experience of an operator should not be undermined here.
With years of bike touring experience behind us in India, we thought it’s a good time to document some of the best cycling routes in India. This list also takes input from cyclists and cycle tourists who we have met along numerous journeys undertaken. The routes selected here are based on the following parameters:
Safety & security
India is vast and we still have a lot to cover and therefore, it’s possible that we have missed on some routes. We intend to keep updating this list as we discover more routes.
1. Gangtok (Sikkim) to Darjeeling This route can be dubbed as a roller coaster ride. You get to ride through some amazing chain of mountains and witness the life around them. Monks, monasteries, children, lakes, rivers are some of the impressions of the ride.
Best Time to Cycle: March, April and October, November
2. Leh – Tsomoriri – Tanglang La – Leh If you intend to witness wildlife and cross some high passes then this is the route for you. Buddhist monks and manasteries gives a depth to the tour. You get to see some amazing wildlife at Tsomoriri lake and ride through breathtaking scenery.
Best Time to Cycle: June to September.
3. Jodhpur to Udaipur Here you get to experience the contrast between royal richness and royal poorness. The contrast is evident as you make your way from Jodhpur to Udaipur through small villages, big palaces, massive Forts and beautiful temples. The route has it’s fair share of wildlife. You get to see wild boar, deer, black buck, Asian antelope.
Best Time to Cycle: October to March
4. Kerala (Kochi – Munnar – Periyar – Kumarakom – Kochi) Beautiful scenery is predominant in this route. Be it seaside of Fort Kochi, tea plantations of Munnar, elephants of Periyar and backwaters of Kumarakom – the beauty is abundant all around.
Best Time to Cycle: September to March
5. Bombay to Goa via Konkan Coastline Ride along the beautiful Konkani coastline and savour some amazing Konkani food. The ride is undulating and passes through beautiful seaside scenery and ferry routes.
With it’s diverse culture, geography, religion and architecture India offers a challenging environment for tourists. Every state here is more like a country and unravelling this presents numerous challenges. Since the birth of tourism industry, India has always attracted all kind of travellers viz. spiritual, knowledge based, adventure, leisure etc. The one thing which is common among all travellers is that they all are here for local stories and anticipate a journey of lifetime. This imposes big questions – Is there an alternative way to experience such diverse India and provide a meaningful and memorable journey for travellers? Is there a better way to travel and unravel this country slowly? Is there a way to spend time with local people and listen to their stories? The questions could be many but all answers leads to only one alternative and that is your bike!
Cycling tour is one of the best way to experience this vast country. It presents numerous opportunities compared to other modes of travel. As you take the bike and traverse the countryside roads, you get to ride past small rural hamlets, temples and people. You get to stop by along the way or take some small offbeat routes. As 70% of India lives in villages, your bike presents an excellent way to experience the village life from close quarters and start a conversation. The kids here rush behind to greet you. You will be quite astonished to see that how hospitable the villagers are towards travelers. In Rajasthan, there have been an age old custom as per which villagers are supposed to build a platform (for sleeping) outside of house so that local travelers have comfortable stay and the hosts don’t have to worry about saying ‘no’ to the guest on the precursor of providing a bed inside the house for sleep.
Slow travel by your bike gives you a wonderful window to see the lives of people along the way. It also helps to organize your thoughts as you slowly pedal your way through the mountains and lakes. Knowing a right bike route is very important here. This is where an exhaustive research before traveling comes very handy. There is no cycling guide on India which is available now and as India is so big, knowing right cycling routes provide a big challenge without the availability of convincing source. Here the experience of bike tour operator and an organized bike tour comes very handy and helps in several ways.
Meeting local people along the way and listening to their stories gives a whole new perspective of looking at India. These stories could come from a farmer, priest, teacher, housewives, postman etc. that you meet along the way. Moreover, on a bike you are not watching the scenery, you are a part of the scenery and that adds to the contours of the same. The smell, sound and all other senses become alive and receptive to the surrounding environment. And in the end, you just don’t travel but you travel like a local and perceive things from a local point of view.
So, take a cycling tour and experience India like a local.
After 5 months of intense city cycling on Bangalore’s urban roads, I’m more convinced than ever that even for a foreigner like me, there is absolutely no problem in commuting Bangalore by bike. Agreed, you have to know some small tricks to fully take advantage of the trip. Ok, here you go:
If you go to work by bike, take your time for the first few days and figure out the best streets to take. Big roads can be rather tiring (loud!) and are perhaps even not the quickest option.
A smart phone with GPS can help but not always. If you are cycling on big roads, no problem, you can trust the GPS. Small roads however, bring you often quicker and in a more relaxed way to your destination but regrettably you cannot rely on GPS for the small roads – at least not with my system. Anyway, try not to use GPS, you’ll understand the city much quicker and the estimation of time you need to go from A to B becomes natural.
You need good lights for the front and the back of the bicycle. Even if you feel incredibly cool when overtaking cars, auto-rickshaws and even buses by bike, you are still the weakest element in this organism named traffic.
Breaks have to be fixed regularly. In the daily competition of who-goes-first, your breaks serve you as kind of an insurance and decide if you dare or not taking “your space.”
For the monsoon season you need to have at least a good plastic bag in your backpack to protect your phone and other things that are sensitive to water. Once you are really really wet, take it easy: the shower at home will be even better.
Mainly potholes and buses! The first are much less of an issue if you know the way (hopefully you didn’t get to know them the painful way), the latter stay the Rambos of the Indian traffic. Anyway, you develop some kind of a prophecy-sense when it comes to overtake buses – or is it perhaps courage or simply madness…? Busses have the power on the road and they know it, so the only way to pass them, is to do that just before a stop or a street hump. Those street humps are really nice for bicyclers because every other vehicle has to slow down when they approach them, not cyclists.
Space management: Well, that can sometimes be a bit scary when you have for example 2 auto-rickshaws, 2 cars and your good self next to each other on a normal road and suddenly this scooty driver thinks there is still enough space for him and somehow squeezes himself through. No need to scream of anger, nobody will react despite of some large vicious smiles from your Indian street friends, saying: See, white fellow, not everybody is strong enough for the Indian roads. You don’t want to give anybody this satisfaction.
Important is not to do any abrupt movements to the left or to the right. Your move should be predictable by the drivers behind you. And when you are showing what you want, you get it.
But don’t be polite or anxious and look back before you change the side of the road. Make a sign with your hand and then move slowly but steadily from one side to the other. If you look back, people assume that you have seen them and that means you know what they want, hence they want to get first what they want before they let you change the side of the road. In short: looking back confuses everybody. Of course you should use your ears to estimate how near the nearest driver next to you is before changing directions. If I think of that, I’ve to add one small observation: Loud and deep honk-sounds correspond not necessarily to big vehicles. One may think that there is something like a market for bus or truck honks. Often you hear a typical honk of a bus but what comes along is just a little scooty. And sometimes it is also the other way around: surprise…!
Looking people into their eyes is equally confusing as looking back. Your regard gives people permission to go – your choice.
Feedback: Constant smiles, thumbs up and comments of Indians street fellows give you a damn good feeling that you are actually doing something right.
When you go out for a small evening drink or you find one of the rare places to dance in B’lore, take the bike! The way home will be great. After 11pm Bangalore’s streets are totally empty. You’ll actually see that it is still a very green city and you even smell the flowers of the trees, something what is of course impossible during the day.
For a short weekend outing, organise a van, a pickup or one of these mini-auto-rickshaw-pickups to get out of the city. Spend the day among rice paddles, tiny towns and relax. What better way is there to spend your Saturday or Sunday?
At first it sounded insane. On second thought it sounded more insane. Bicycle trip of 100 KM. Why would anyone do a trip on bicycle? Why would someone spend 8-10 hours when same can be traversed in couple of hours in a vehicle. I tried to look for logical reasons but couldn’t find any. But as I thought more about it my mind wandered beyond the art of reasoning and I realised its about the Art of Bicycling. For some, a bicycle is a utility and for others, a revelation of human potential and endurance. Or simply put – prioritization of pleasure and endurance over utility leading to beautiful touring experience.
Three riders set off from Bangalore to Bhimeshwari – A journey on a bicycle
We took Trek bikes on rent and set off on a beautiful journey of one long day to Cauvery fishing camp. The starting point was Bangalore. Morning was pleasant and excitement of trip added on to the morning luster. Natives looked at us with little bewilderment but appeared to be fascinated by our machines. It seemed to us that they all wanted to see the world from our vantage point and ride along with us. We carried on our beautiful machines and took our first break at Nice road which is around 25 km from our starting point. The beautiful rustic village was in sight and as we reached there the village boys gathered round the bikes. The machines appeared to them as whirligigs, a spinning toy. As we moved on they all started running behind us until they were all outran by us. As we passed villages on villages, some people called us ‘odd cattle’ to ‘bold rattle’ and few others called ‘mad envoy’, ‘wacky wheelers’. Some villagers looked at us with pleasant shock but it seemed as if all were able to comprehend what we were up to. It was just about getting on the road.
Over the hills and beyond, Into the rising sun and lore, Lean it, curve it, Through the storm and woods and all,
It’s just about getting on the road, As there is no reason and all, Let’s just spin on and on, And steer the beast’s rise and fall,
No matter what the world call us, From odd cattle to bold rattle and all, Here we go down the road and up the hill, Pedaling into the wild and beyond,