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I was curious. I love startup stories and the inspiration behind it. I know Art of Bicycle Trips has been in existence since 2011 organising many cycling tours in Asia. So, it was but natural to probe Pankaj a bit and satiate my curious soul on how Art of Bicycle Trips actually began. What followed was a Q&A with Pankaj Mangal and rediscovering old images. Here is the excerpt.

 

Q. What was your aha moment that led to the beginning of ABT? And what followed next?

Around 10 years back, I went on a bicycle ride with a couple of friends from Bangalore to Kaveri Fishing Camp. I was more into motor biking but one of my friends who came from Sweden insisted we do a cycling trip. We zeroed down on Kaveri Fishing Camp and along the way we sat down under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I felt cycling was the only way to see the world. It slows you down and allows you to see the world at the right pace. You could stop and appreciate the surroundings, converse with the locals and take a detour. More than that it also brings alive your five senses. So, while sitting under the statue I realised there is something in this and that was my aha moment.

After the trip I came back to Bangalore and was still thinking about it. I researched cycling and how it could be combined with travelling. As a part of my research, I came across the concept “cycling holidays” which is well-known in European market. I went on researching for a while and finally when I felt ready, I decided to launch a cycling holiday in India.

Bicycle Trips in Asia

Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced on the ground? 

It was not easy to make people believe it was possible in India. Cycling was thought of as a utility in India and not something out of choice. Why ride a cycle when you can drive a car? Secondly people thought the whole of India is as chaotic as the cities and hence it is not safe to go on a cycling tour. However, we all know it’s quite safe to ride around the countryside. It is actually safer to ride a cycle than a motorbike in cities. So perhaps the biggest challenges have been those around mindsets.

Q. Was it easy to leave your well-defined career and become an entrepreneur?

I was not the sort of a guy who would confine from a nine to five pm job. Travelling was always my hobby. And I got into cycling . So it was easy to visualise this is the life I wanted to live for myself. Once I knew how clear my mind was to put myself into this unknown journey, it was quite a straightforward decision to leave the job and start this.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Has the growth been organic? Though you operate in many countries you did n’t scale up through funding?

I completed my business studies and was paying my education loan, so I did n’t have any disposable income in my bank. Post my aha moment and research, I knew this was what I wanted to do. One fine day I just went and bought seven bikes through my credit card. After that things moved pretty well with cycling tours, and we grew the company organically. Apart from me buying the initial set of bikes, everything came through the business itself.

Initial number of years we were confined to India. We had by now built a strong customer base and through them we could now launch in other countries. The first country was Sri Lanka and then it followed with South East Asia. Our current cycling tours in Asia can be viewed here.

Q One of the biggest strengths of ABT I have seen is its community. It is rare to see such a strong base of folks who like organisation. Please tell us a bit more about it?

A strong community can only be built with time. I am a firm believer in that. It also teaches you a lot of things. You might have  competition coming your way, and they may do a lot of things. But fundamentally If you always have a good product it always sells by itself. Once that happens you will always get loyal customers no matter how big the competition is. They will always stay with you.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Do you still remember your first customer? What was it like?

Yes, Indeed I do remember. The first customer we got was from a bike festival we organised in Bangalore. They were two friends. One of them was from Canada and the other person ’s name was Fenny. They took the Victorian Bangalore Safari. It was a three hour tour built around the heritage of the city.

What are the ingredients of a great cycling tour?

Excellent bikes, rolling terrain, during cycling breaks – tea or coffee with cake, No hurry to reach a destination. Cycling tours in Asia is also about meeting people along the way and get into casual conversations during tea breaks and learn more about their life.

Art of Bicycle Trips conducts Cycling tours in Asia. 

Vietnam ‘s landscape is sublime: The Red River Delta is in the north, the Mekong Delta is placed in the south, and there are brilliant green rice paddies in between the two. Long, sandy beaches grace the coastline, while inland there are these soaring mountains and lust forests. It is a country of traditional charm and rare beauty. There are whole lot of options to explore during a cycling tour in Vietnam. The people are friendly, hardworking and love their food. And in the last couple of decades Vietnam has opened up to the outside world making it an ideal destination for a bike holiday. Our definitive guide on cycling in Vietnam will offer you a snapshot on how to plan your cycling holidays and what to  expect in Vietnam.

For simplicity we have divided this cycling guide  into four sections

Cycling Tour in Vietnam 

SECTION I( KNOWING VIETNAM)

 

The Essential Bucket List( not to be missed)

Grabbing a bicycle and taking the ride of your life through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Taking a boat and floating along the Mekong.

Selecting an outfit from the latest fashion catalogues and having it tailor made in the delightful city of Hoi An.

Visit the 36 streets of the old quarter in Hanoi.

What you may find

Conical hats: Traffic: Silk Shops; Rice paddies: Buffalos: Landscapes:  Lot of two wheelers.

 Through the notes 

Some references that will help understand Vietnam better

  1. a)    Read- Writings by Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh.
  2. b)    Listen- to US based Khanh Ly, a contemporary pop music icon
  3. c)     Eat – the staple pho( noodle soup) or Ga Tan( stewed chicken with medicinal herbs,dates and grilled baguettes)
  4. d)   Watch – The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene ‘s 1954 novel and starring Michael Caine.
  5. e)   Drink- the cheap and widely available bia hoi( draught beer) , Ca phe( coffee) served with condensed milk.

No. of UNESCO World Heritage Sites sites in Vietnam: 8

Currency: Vietnamese Dong(VND)

1 USD is approx 23,000 VND

Both VND and USD can be used within the country. It is best to keep an option of both.

Time Zone: Time zone in Vietnam is GMT+7

ReligionVietnam is officially an atheist state. As per polls a majority of the population don’t believe in a God.  The others however practise Buddhism or are Christians.

Language: Vietnamese is the official language. A few helpful key words and phrases that may be helpful during your trip to Vietnam

English Vietnamese Pronunciation
hello xin chào sin chow
goodbye Tạm biệt tam bee it
how are you ? bạn khỏe không ban co kew khome
I want to go to tôi muốn đi đến toy mua dean
where is ở đâu ..uah dau?
left trái tchai
right đúng dung
go straight đi thẳng di tan
thank you cảm ơn bạn gahm un
excuse me xin lỗi seen loy

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

 

SECTION II (PLANNING YOUR BIKE TRIP)

 

Best Time to Visit 

From a cycling point of view, we can divide the country into four main sub-regions: Northern Mountains, North, Central & South Vietnam with distinct weather conditions. The Central and South Vietnam features Tropical climate.

Northern Mountains – Sapa, Ha Giang: best months for cycling in Northwest mountains are between Late August & Early December, and from Late February to May. It can get a bit cold in December & January with light showers.

North Vietnam – Hanoi & Halong Bay: has a distinct winter and summer season. The cool but mostly dry winter runs from November to April. May to October is a bit hot and humid and the region experiences its highest rainfall with July to September being the wettest. Oct to May is a good season to go here with coldest months being Dec-Jan.

Central Vietnam –  Hue to Nha Trang: features Tropical monsoon climate and is at its wettest from September to December. Traditionally this period sees monsoon rains and occasional typhoons which can cause flooding in the area. Whilst this is rarely of such a level as to seriously affect an itinerary, we do advise people travelling during this period that there may be last minute changes to itineraries to accommodate for the weather conditions. Good season runs from January to September for warm water beaches, with an average temperature of around 30°C.

South Vietnam –  Saigon & Mekong Delta: features Tropical climate and is an almost year-round cycling destination. April and May are touted as the hottest months. During the remaining time of year, the temperature hovers around 30°C and the days are sunny & a bit humid. Though it may be a bit warm, South Vietnam is still a good destination for biking as the countryside is amazingly green with many water bodies. From May to early November, it rains moderately for a short period and then settles down which makes the condition much cooler and perfect for biking. November to February is the best time of year for biking – warm days with light breeze and clear skies.

 

TERRAIN AND CONDITIONING TIPS

To ride safely along the narrow and sometimes trafficked roads, it is important to ride single file and to develop good balance on your bike. Balance can only be developed by riding on the road. We recognize that not everyone lives in an area conducive to outdoor riding, but please keep in mind that while running, riding a stationary bike, spinning and other aerobic exercise will help improve your strength, endurance and cardiovascular health, these activities will not help with balance.

 

What to pack for cycling tour

Some not to be missed essentials which can be carried

 

Clothing: Cycling Shoes, Rain Jacket, Dry bag, Sunglasses,

Personal: Toiletries, Chargers, Emergency Cash, Medication,

Gear: You are welcome to bring your own gear, such as pedals, seat, helmet, toe clips and cyclometer, to use with a bicycle. However, please inform us in advance if you choose to bring any of your own things.

Note: Although we provide helmets, we encourage you to bring your cycling water bottles, bike gloves, and helmets as they are more of personal items. Also, your own saddle is good to bring along as we change bikes while moving from one country to another.

Miscellaneous: Small towel, Waterproof cover, Plastic Bags, Hydration Kit, Journal, Notebook, Camera

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

SECTION III (FAQs pertaining to bike tours in Vietnam)

Our most common asked queries regarding cycling tours in Vietnam.

Will traffic be an issue for cycling in Vietnam?

It is a right hand drive in Vietnam. Whoever has the largest vehicle usually dictates the road. Congestion is common around major attractions and shopping malls in cities, particularly Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. 

It’s not really going to rain, is it?

As much as we don’t like to think about it, rain is possible no matter where you travel. Your best bet for staying comfortable during a shower is to wear quality rain gear that is both waterproof and breathable. A jacket and pants made of Gore-Tex will keep you dry even in the fiercest downpour.

What kind of bikes and equipment are provided for me on my trip?

A well-maintained hybrid/mountain bike and helmet is included. You can feel free to bring your own saddle, cleats/pedals and helmet. Our guides will be happy to fit them on your bike for you.

How much on an average will I be cycling during a day?

The average distance is directly proportional to the terrain that we will be riding. In most trips, on average, we bike about 50-60km a day. Please have a look at your trip details to know the average biking distance specific to the trip that you’re doing.

What about medical emergencies?

Our support vehicle always follows you throughout the tour and comes handy for transfer to any nearby hospital during an accident. Our emergency protocol is to provide you basic first aid and then transfer as soon as possible to nearby hospital for further action. Our guide will also notify our central team and we connect with your insurance provider as well.

Do I need a Visa to travel to Vietnam?

According to updated Vietnam Immigration Law (effective from 01 Jan 2015) to use the visa exemption right, the time distance between two continuous entries must be at least 30 days so as to enjoy visa free for both two entries. If the time distance is less than 30 days, they must apply for a visa for the second entry.

  1. Citizens of the United Kingdom, France, German, Spain, Italy and Belarus are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 15 days without visa. It is effective from 01 Jul 2015.
  2. Citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Finland are allowed to stay within 15 days without visa.
  3. Citizens of Brunei and Myanmar are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 14 days without visa.
  4. Citizens of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 30 days without visa.
  5. Citizens of the Philippines are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 21 days without visa.

It is recommended to always check the latest regulations before your travel at Vietnam’s Government Website.

Is your query not mentioned here. Drop us a note at contact@artofbicycletrips.com and we shall help you in planning your cycling tour in Vietnam.

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Do I need any insurance?

It is a mandatory requirement to purchase adequate travel insurance in order to participate in our tours, and to protect yourself from unforeseen events.

Since Art of Bicycle Trips adheres strictly to our cancellation policy, we recommend to note below:

  • Art of Bicycle Trips highly recommends purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself from unforeseen events. There are inherent risks involved in cycling and mountain biking and we will not be liable for your medical expenses or evacuation in case of an accident. We recommend using World Nomads for travel insurance and claim. Travel insurance is non-refundable but is strongly advised to protect you in the unfortunate event that you have to cancel or leave your trip.
  • Please note that we do not sell insurance and does not assist in any buying and claim process. World Nomads is only a recommendation and Art of Bicycle Trips can not be held responsible for any dispute with them. All dispute shall be dealt directly with your travel insurance provider and under no circumstances Art of Bicycle Trips is liable for that.
  • We recommend that you purchase adequate travel insurance which also covers trip cancellation. Cancellation insurance will pay out if your trip is cancelled or cut short due to any of the reasons specified in your policy. It’s one of the key elements of your travel insurance, and can be a lifesaver if the worst happens and you have to cancel your trip.

Can you store my luggage for me?

Please limit your luggage to one soft-sided medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on bag. Mark your luggage with your name, address and phone number. 

A Van follows the group of riders throughout the trip and carries all belongings. If at any point riding seems a little hard, the van takes you for as long or as little as you wish it to. It also provides you refreshments along the way and sometimes a chilled beer.

Please Note Art of Bicycle Trips recommends that you not bring valuable personal electronics including, but not limited to, IPAD, laptop computers and expensive cameras. While we will transport them from place to place during the trip as a convenience, we do not assume responsibility for any damage, loss or loss of function to the devices. This policy also applies to other items such as expensive jewelry, fur coats and fragile and delicate accessories, whether purchased on the trip or otherwise.

Is tipping compulsory in Vietnam?

Tipping is not necessary, but  is always appreciated.

What types of pre and post tour services are provided for cycling tour in Vietnam?

Your ABT Travel Coordinator will be happy to help you with recommendations on all pre and post travel arrangements, such as hotels, flight and rail tickets. We can extend the tour arrival/departure hotel as pre or post tour hotel. If the same is not available, we can recommend you few hotels which you can directly book online using hotel platforms such as booking.com We book mainly internal flights which are part of your tour. We can recommend you arrival/departure flights. Once you have reserved your bike trip, call or email us to discuss all your pre- and post-tour plans.

Cycling tour in Vietnam

SECTION IV

Tours guidelines post CORONA

Please find the health and safety guidelines as prescribed by ATTA for adventure tourism.

Other updates

VFS Global in partnership with the Embassy of Vietnam in India, has launched the first-ever online portal for eVisa on arrival for travellers to the southeast Asian country. Travellers can apply for an eVisa before departure to Vietnam. There’s a more expensive option of special priority services for approval on the same day or the next day.

Offers from Art of Bicycle Trips

We realised everyone is waiting for things to clear up in order to lead a normal life. And travel as well. Hence, though travelling at the moment is not feasible, planning and booking one’s travel plan is fine. To make travel plans easier we have launched booking offers for as low as $1. You can now book without any advance deposit and remain flexible.

You can find all our cycling tours in Vietnam here

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Cycling in Asia“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.”

~~Samuel Johnson

 

Bike tour in Rajasthan, the desert state of India, is an experience one must try. The state holds a unique identity. The royal and chivalrous history of Rajasthan can be felt even to the present time in its splendid forts, and impressive monuments. We have been organising bike tours in Rajasthan since time. The slow pace of cycling has allowed us to explore the various facets of the state. Here are some of the experiences we recommend while you are biking in Rajasthan.

 

#1 Wanderlust the Thar Desert

Thar Desert in Western Rajasthan also known as the Great Indian Desert has vast  stretches of rolling sand and a unique ecosystem. Jaisalmer the major town is a prime trading center of the region.  Most of the desert’s inhabitants stay in surrounding villages which are sparsely spread across the region. The name Thar is derived from thulthe general term for the region’s sand dunes.

Travel tip: The desert town of Jaisalmer stands tall in eastern frontier of Thar Desert. The town is centeredaround the ever imposing Jaisalmer Fort. The fort is one of the few living forts in the world. We recommend taking the road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to enjoy excellent landscape en route the town.

Thar Desert

Camel Ride in Thar Desert. Image by Sam Gellman

 

#2 Celebrate the richness of Colours

Every colour has a special significance in Rajasthan. The festival of colours, Holi, is celebrated with much gusto.

Pedal on your bike down the road, and your eyes may catch sight of a group of ladies circled under a tree draped in colourful saris of crimson, fuchsia,  and tangerine. A sari with the combination of red and yellow denotes that a woman has borne a son. The men too are not far behind when it comes to showing off the vibrant colours sporting their fluorescent turbans, making the day look brighter than ever. The Rajput warrior class wear saffron turbans to denote chivalry. The Brahmin scholastic men wear candy pink, and the nomads black.

Cycle past the exuberant the marketplaces of Jodhpur and Jaipur, and you will find they every possible colour on stands of vendors.

Holi in Rajasthan                  Kids playing Holi in Jodhpur. Image by Siddharth Jain

 

#3 Study the magnificent monuments

Speaking of colours, legend also has it that in the year 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh decided to paint the city of Jaipur in only one color, pretty pink, to welcome the then Prince of Wales. This is when the main streets of the “City of Victory”received its delicate hue of salmon. As you pass through the streets of Jaipur on your bicycle tour, this colour is most evident in the beauty of the Hawa Mahal, also called the Palace of WindsParking the bikes is not difficult. Do explore these magnificent monuments, their frescoed walls and the striking Belgian glass windows.

Travel Tip: Many monuments including Hawa Mahal close by 4:30 p.m. for public viewing. Do plan your day schedule accordingly as per your visit.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar (Sun Dial), Jaipur. Image by Siddharth Jain    

 

#4 Hear the vibe of the city

Of course, as you pedal around your bike tour and make stoppages, you get the opportunity to hear the language of the locals from close. Cycle past a group of men who are friendly enough to wave at you and say hello.Being able to listen to the local language up close makes it a personal experience worth remembering forever.

We recommend: Do the customary Indian nod. However, practise at home.

Travel Trivia: Rajasthan, the regal Indian state is known for its blue city of Jodhpur, pink city of Jaipur and golden city of Jaisalmer. Do you why?

#5 Explore the old world hospitality of Udaipur

Give time to Udaipur. Also called the Venice of the East, the city of Udaipur is as old as 1576. The beauty of cycling around this city is the view of its picturesque havelis, ghats, and old temples on the bank of Lake Pichola. Udaipur has an easy-going, laid-back vibe, so it’s ideal for winding down at the end of a tour. But avoid bumping into a cow.

Travel Tip: To explore the best of Udaipur, begin the day at the City Palace. If you are a fan of vintage cars, you can even ask your guide to take you to the museum of vintage cars in Udaipur.

Fresco of Rajasthan

#6 Don’t miss out on the festivals

And there are plenty of festivals. You have the luxury to choose from a music festival in Jodhpur, the camel festival in Pushkar, the Kite festival in Jaipur, Holi or many more.

 

Travel Tip: Rajasthan Tourism has a ready list of festivals planned for the year.

We recommend travelling to Rajasthan during the winter months as it is the best time to take a cycle tour. While the warm rays of the sun keep you going through the day, as night falls, you will experience the temperature dip.

 

Cycling in Asia

Conclusion

Making the decision to take a cycling holiday in Asia , and exploring a place has its own benefits. Contribute to the nature by leaving no carbon footprints behind and get some exercise when on a cycling vacation.Furthermore, make your way into nooks and corners, which are otherwise inaccessible by vehicle, much faster.

Every place in Rajasthan can steal your  heart and attract you to visit again. If you and your family are planning on taking a bike tour to Rajasthan, keep a track of the weather and make a bucket list. The best known time to visit Rajasthan between October and March.

Art of Bicycle Trips Update

 

Staying at home has been quite a challenge. Being in an industry which prides itself in the well-being of individuals, organising cycling tours in Asia and going outdoors to experience life, we understand physical distancing is quite different. Over the years we have seen the cycling community only grow and our cyclists forming a close-knit bond with each other. This bond has further helped us as a team and organization. We wanted to write in person to thank you –– you’ve helped us grow sustainable!

Cycling Holidays in India

Our recent survey on cycling suggests 60% of respondents plan to travel for leisure post COVID.  And another 60% won’t mind joining a small group departure. Destinations such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand are the most popular destinations followed by Japan and Cambodia.

 Offers on Cycling Tours

We have been working on a few customers focussed offers which allow for flexible bookings and easy deposits. Initiatives such as Loyalty Club, Friends & Family Offer and No Single Supplement Offer are already live.

View all of our cycling tours in Asia offers here.

Art of Bicycle Trips Offers 

Our strategy is following ‘affordable for a reason‘. We have already slashed prices by 5% to 10% of few of our most popular cycling tours without compromising the experiences. We’re able to do this by focusing on three most important price factors:

  1. Group Size: We expect an increase in average group size of our cycling tours in Asia.
  1. Frugality: By keeping our admin/back office and overhead costs in check.
  1. Sustainability: We aspire to put sustainability at the core of business decisions and strive to achieve sustainable profitability instead of chasing profit maximization.

 Launch of  STRAVA Club

We understand social distancing has been the norm past few months. Yet it is equally important to remain physically active and stay connected. So, we launched our Art of Bicycle Trips Miles Club on STRAVA. Coupled with an interactive community it comes with added advantages.

Being a Miles Club it means when you cycle, not only do you get health benefits you also collect miles which you can use to avail benefits on our bike tour price. 

To take part, join our STRAVA Club and record your rides to help us track your progress. That’s it.

Cycling Club on STRAVA

Art of Bicycle Trips

Though we are working from home, we keep doing regular cycling events. Organising them on STRAVA is a good way to keep a note of one’s performance. All of our events are on our STRAVA page.

Art of Bicycle Trips Cycling Event

 

Cycling Event

3rd June happens to be World Cycling Day. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than cycle again. We are also running a cycling memories campaign.

The above image is from our team member Siddharth. He writes about the image:-

A very lanky me, perhaps taken in 1986-87. I had learnt how to ride and was posing as a confident young lad outside our house in New Delhi.

Share your pictures, notes, or videos of your old cycling memories. We would love to see them and talk about it.

To share, tag our Instagram handle and use the hashtag #artofbicycletrips

Last but not  least our blog on cycling is now updated. And our social media pages are active. As we continue with our 11th year having completed more than 2400 trips, we keep on biking.

Until further updates.

 

Stay Safe

Team Art of Bicycle Trips

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

Tea is a great starter for conversations. Tea gardens are cultivated in many countries. Well-manicured they hold pretty site and reminds one of armchair travels. Loopy curves with a smooth tarmac offer great scenic views during the rides. Add to it considerate weather required to grow tea. All these reasons add up to cycling amongst tea gardens a great choice.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

Tea entwines in our culture. In most of our cycling trips, we are sure to stop for a cursory tea break. So, it was no surprise our cycling tours to tea gardens became quite popular when we started it sometime back. Be it our cycling tour to Srilanka or our cycling trip to Munnar, everyone loved a ride.

 

CYCLING THE VERDANT TEA GARDENS OF MUNNAR

Blue sky stretched languidly as far as one could see touching the greenery of rolling hills amidst the vast tea gardens around us. It was the first morning for us after reaching our destination, Munnar, which we had planned for a couple of months back as a part of our trip to Kerala

Jayesh was already busy in his tea stall and serving the locals who had known him as a hardworking man. Charming as Munnar, he was known in the region for his tea especially the cardamom and clove varieties.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

TEA in Munnar

Munnar has been culturally distinct from other districts of Kerala. Though the state is popular for its backwaters, Munnar stands proud for its tea gardens and estate that carpet the region.  Perched atop the hills of Idukki district its weather favours the plantation of the tea. Historically tea and the landscape of Munnar is entwined since generations.  The British found it very hard to get people from Kerala to work in tea plantations. They finally brought in people from Tamil Nadu who were ready to do the hard work. This changed the landscape and culture of Munnar to this day. The women from these communities pluck the tea leaves in the estates here while the men work in tea factories that process the leaves. The town of Munnar is quite small and packed with people and shops.

Based on your palette you can try many varieties of teas. You can try the local

Munnar Chai- which has Milk and distinct Munnar leaves flavour

Green Tea- healthier variety

Flavoured Teas- like Cardamom, Elaichi, Clove or other spices

Black Tea- Is strong, has more caffeine and dark in colour

White Tea- which is less caffeinated

Masala Chai- Spiced tea where they add local masala flavour in the tea.

The women are paid upon the weight of the tea leaves plucked which they usually do by hand. Being a manual process on an average day each lady is able to pluck around 10 kilos of tea leaves which then goes for processing.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

 

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

We loved our tea, so we stopped between of bike trip for copious amounts of tea. I preferred Chai (milk tea) over Sulaimani (a black tea).If you are cycling in Munnar do visit the Top Station. At an altitude of 2000 m it is one of the highest point in Kerala. On our way back, we deviated from the tarmac to visit a village we spotted on our way up. Assisted by our guide the conversations were short and interspersed mostly by smiles and signs.

A vivid picture set in our minds and a setting which we could only visualize amidst the landscape.

Munnar is a town and a popular hill station situated in Western Ghats of Southern India. Placed at an average height of 5000 ft it is a popular hill station in India known for its tea gardens. We biked around 20 miles during our 

Kerala has a welcoming weather. Whether you prefer monsoons, coastal beaches, laidback countryside or backwaters Kerala cycling tours for cycling holidays could be a great choice

Cycling the tea gardens of Srilanka

 

Srilanka, “The pearl of the Indian Ocean” has a natural history with tea. One of the largest exporters of tea, both rainfall and cool temperature allow for abundant tea plantations across the country. Our classic bike tour in Srilanka takes us to Nuwara Eliya, one of the most important tea region in the country. The trip to Nuwara Eliya can combine with other destinations within the country. We run multitude cycling trips in Srilanka throughout the year. A popular tour is our Best of Srilanka cycling tour.

At Nuwara Eliya we checked in at the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, remodelled from an old tea factory that used to be present in the days of the Raj. The place still retains its old world charm with wooden lofts, old brass fans and even an original engine that was the main source of power in those days.

Our most charming cup of tea at Nuwara Eliya

Cycling the tea gardens of Srilanka

Nuwara Eliya is known for its tea gardens and waterfalls. It is also known as “Little England” and the town may make you nostalgic reminding you of bygone era. The people are warm and will take go to great lengths in explaining what tea means to them. Locals surely take their tea seriously. With an average elevation of around 1800 meters, a cup of tea in cool crisp air makes for an excellent choice to refresh yourself. Worth trying is the Orange Pekoe Tea which is a speciality of the region.  On our ride, we encounter tea pickers, undulating hills, small villages and small shops on the corners of the roads.

 

Cycling in Srilanka

It’s been a while since we have shared a blog Post. So we decided to reinitiate the blog with a post that combines our passion of cycling, travel and expertise of doing cycling tours in Asia past many years. Whether it is cycling past villages across South East Asia, or trying the local cuisine in India or cycling new routes in Srilanka, we believe there’s a cycling trip for everyone.

So just soak in the diversity of Asia and cycle on !!

INDIA

Being truly diverse India has a lot of cycling options. You can opt for cycling Rajasthan,the desert state of India or head down south to cycle the slopes of Munnar and visit the backwaters of Kerala. Alternately you can crisscross the gorgeous landscape of Himalayan range and visit Leh or just do the Konkan coastline.

VIETNAM

Vietnam has an other world charm. And is quite popular with avid cyclers who love to discover the country at a relaxed place. Cycle along Halong Bay, Saigon or Mekong Delta, bike tours in Vietnam are easy as breeze. Just as the land the people are friendly and the country offers you authentic experiences to learn their culture.

LAOS

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated alongside the Mekong and Khan rivers. You can spend days here, walking or riding around, content and happy by yourself or with friends and family. Less crowded, easy paced and relaxed, cycle in Laos the “ Lao Style”.

THAILAND

One can divide the country into North and South zones. Both the zones have plenty for everyone. Cycling from Ayuttaya to Chiang Mai is a good cycling route to see world heritage sites and the green country side. If you are a beach person then opt for cycling in Southern Thailand and cover it’s pristine beaches.

SRILANKA

Lead the way through the giant lion paws carved out of granite at the ‘Rock Fortress’ of Sigiriya, Marvel at the  frescoes painted on the rock, depicting the concubines of King Kashyapa.  Cycling in Srilanka to unearth these gems

CAMBODIA

Needless to say Angkor Wat Complex is even better in real and holds the key to imagination of Khmer Empire. Cycling the Angkor Wat is best way to understand this architectural marvel and reach the inner depths of these temples.

MYANMAR

The Classic Myanmar trip will cover the  upcountry hills and lakes of Shan country where archaeological wonders are aplenty, down to Mandalay along the Irrawaddy river delta where the plains of Bagan beckon. Bike on the opposite side Irrawaddy River. Take a loop covering Amarapura, Sagaing and Mingun. And cover the last leg by boat on Irrawaddy River back to Mandalay from Mingun.

I have had a great time recounting my bike tour from Bangalore and Chitradurga via Hampi and the beaches of Mangalore on the West coast of India.  Today we continue from the coast through the mountains on the fourth and final post of this series.

Having left the coastline behind, the ride from Kollur to Agumbe was lovely! I passed through the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of the Western Ghats and the entire route is well canopied with trees making it a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. The last climb to Agumbe was tough and I could manage only 10 km in two hours. But totally worth it as I saw Rat Snakes, Lion Tailed Macaques and Malabar Squirrels. I was seeing Lion Tailed Macaques for the first time in the wild as they are pretty rare and difficult to spot. What a win!

LTM panorama

By T. R. Shankar Raman (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Agumbe was cool and refreshing and the Hotelier I met there was a real friendly guy. I didn’t have enough money in my pocket and the nearest ATM was 20 km away. The hotelier said no problem! Pay me the next time you are here! Wow! The warmth and hospitality was incredible. This attitude of warmth and hospitality, I have experienced in India and also around the world from the most unexpected sources. It is a good reminder not to judge people by their looks and to have faith in the goodness of people. We have got to learn to look beyond what the exterior has to offer. But I digress.

Anyway, Agumbe is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the Western Ghats. The heavy rainfall it receives has created a unique micro-ecosystem, similar to that of tropical evergreen forest and a home for the King Cobras! – the world’s longest venomous snakes. They grow up to lengths of 18.5 to 18.8 ft (5.6 to 5.7 m). Fortunately these snakes dislike us as much as we might dislike them. Lucky!

Just outside town, there are some beautiful trails for trekking and are the waterfalls a worth a visit. After spending one night in Agumbe, I rode towards Chikmagalur district the next day. I passed the town of Balehonnur which is located on the banks of river Bhadra and entered the coffee belt of India. The coffee belt is an amazing trail to be riding on and apart from coffee, arecanut, paddy, vanilla and other spices are cultivated here as well.

The winding roads with the beautifully canopied trees makes the region cool and lovely. There is nothing but lush greenery all around you and the plantations stretch endlessly. In between the plantations there are patches of reserve forests with thick undergrowth and sometimes infested with Lantana bushes. And also amidst all the coffee plantations, you might see small patches of tea plantations too. Tea plantations appear like a lush green carpet, while coffee is more of a dense jungle. The coffee and tea plantation next to each other make a beautiful contrast and a touch of beauty to the already lovely landscape.

After travelling for a month and staying in budget places, I decided that a little bit of comfort was not going to do any harm. Hence, near Balur, I decided on spending the night in a lovely home stay called Villa Urvinkhan. Perched on top of a hill in the middle of a coffee plantation, they have a great pool from which one can see miles over pristine forests. I could not have asked for more! 

The cottages were amidst coffee plantations and I woke up early in the morning and at the horizon, I could mist covered hills that made the peaks appear as if they were snow capped. The luxury of being nowhere!  

I left after two beautiful nights at this homestay and then rode towards Chikmaglur town and headed to Halliberri Homestay. Around 20kms from Chikmaglur town, this home stay consists of two quaint cottages amidst an oasis of greenery. At times Halliberri is pronounced Halle Berry which I think is very funny! Outside the homestay on the main road, there is a simple coffee shop which also functions as a small restaurant. Here too I experienced great hospitality and I was well taken care of. From here, I decided to head towards Coorg.

As this is home terrain, I stopped for two nights at a friend’s place in Sakleshpur. I attended the annual car rally nearby, which was great and then bid farewell to my friend. Another two days of cycling and I reached safely at Siddapur where I finished this epic cycle tour that took me to across Karnataka and Goa.

Over all, it was a fabulous journey and I guess the finest moments of my ride was when I cycling through the Western Ghats. The roads were under the cool shade of trees and the landscape was breathtaking and bountiful. Just incredible!

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-India Western Ghats Birdlife starling-706732

The Western Ghats must be seen and experience to be believed. When you spend some time here, you will realize how nature has shaped these parts of India and how nature continues to contribute to the unique customs, traditions and cuisines here as compared to the more exposed parts along the coastline on the other side of the hills. I’m certain I’ll cycle these parts again sometime. Come along. 

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

There I was in Karwar after cycling solo across Karnataka and through Hampi and Goa. On Entering Karwar you cross a huge bridge over river Kali as it enters into the sea. A spectacular view opens up and in the sea you see a couple of islands all thickly wooded and some even have resorts and beaches with restricted access. Again Karwar is a coastal city with nothing much to offer. The main highway divides the sea and the beach from the town and the beach is known as Tagore beach.

Apparently Tagore stayed here for many weeks and wrote very highly of the beach of Karwar. Tagore’s poetic description of the beach is a reminder of how beautiful it must have been once upon a time. You can still glimpse some of the beauty when you look into the sea and spot the lovely islands out there over the waters.

There is a small trek into the hills from the eastern side of the Karwar. On top of the town there is a village called Guddadahalli. Guddadahalli in Karwar is a village with no roads and is a 5km walk from the town. Around 80 families referred to as Hallaki Gowdas live here and they are all engaged in agriculture. Life is hard for these people as they have to walk 10 km up and down at least each day to access the town. However, the walk up the hill is beautiful offering great views of the sea and valley below. The view of top is even better as it overlooks the town below and you can see the sea clearly.

Arabian sea from Sadashivgarh fort

By Ayan Mukherjee (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I spent a good week in Karwar after which I set forth on next part of my South India cycle tour to the holy town of Gokarna. Once I reached Gokarna, I decided to spend some time here to enjoy the seascapes that us land locked city dwellers don’t often see. It is a great place to relax and I got a nice ‘ayurvedic’ massage while I was there to relieve my aching body.

The town of Gokarna is home to a major Shiva temple and is an important pilgrimage centre. So the beaches here attract conservative folks as well as hippies who are escaping the commercialism of Goa.

The beach here is beautiful beyond words and is naturally shaped in the form of an Om which in Sanskrit is written like this:   

A little slice of heaven!

Gokarna to Murudeshwar.

When I finally got going from Gokarna, the weather was quite hot and humid. Cramps used to set in when I cycled and had to keep hydrating myself with a lot of water and salts. Riding along the coast from Gokarna without getting on to the highway was beautiful.

Kodale beach at Gokarna

By Infoayan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Having passed remote and isolated beaches, I used a boat to cross over from Gokarna towards Bhatkal and Kumta. Bhatkal and Kumta are home to fishing villages along the coastline and a lot of conservative muslim communities live here and you would be hard pressed to find tourists on the beaches here unlike at Goa or Gokarna. At Bhatkal, I saw many old-fashioned houses with beautiful wooden pillars and lovely verandahs.

I arrived in Murudeshwar and settled in for the night at a local hotel. This town attracts a lot of pilgrims thanks to the massive statue of Shiva near the beach. The coast was becoming too hot and the going was getting tougher and hence I took a diversion to the east and headed to the hills to the town of Kollur. Kollur is home to the 1,200 year old Mookambika temple.

The place was clean, the people were well-mannered and respectful and Mookambika temple was a worthwhile visit. There is a dignity of conduct found in this place and serious amount of devotion. Although I lacked the faith displayed by others here, I appreciated the sincerity and dedication nonetheless. I was itching to be on the move, hence I could manage only one day in this place and headed off to Agumbe!  More about my cycling tour through Agumbe here.

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

Continuing from the first part of this series about Cycle Touring the Heart of Karnataka, we pedal on in Hampi after which I headed to Goa during this solo cycle tour.

Nestled on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, Hampi is perhaps the largest and most widespread archeological site in India. Excavations are still going on and relics continue to be unearthed here. There is a beautiful temple which is still functioning, where people conduct their daily rites and services. I spent a week in Hampi and I explored around some of the treasures there.

Dancing Girls Bath

By Dey.sandip (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It was one of the most prosperous cities of India under the Vijayanagar Empire which was founded by two brothers Harihara and Bukka. Hampi however attained its pinnacle under the leadership of Krishna Deva Raya and flourished for a hundred odd years before it was completely destroyed. Today as you go past Hampi and see the ruins, the stones narrate stories of the glamour and glory.

Unfortunately the Archaeological Survey of India rather than preserving and maintaining the ruins tried to reconstruct some of the dilapidated structures destroying its antiquity. Preservation and conservation of monuments is different from renovation. There is a lot to see here nonetheless. Across the river where there are a lesser number of ruins, there is more peace and quiet. Twenty kilometers away there is a beautiful and picturesque tank and fantastic loop to cycle which covers all the paddy fields.

Then away from the ruins is the town of Kamalapura and there you have Hampi University which is excellent and perhaps the best state university in Karnataka. The campus was unbelievable and the place was a real eye opener for me. Having studied solely in English medium schools, I was never exposed to richness of the languages in the heartland and I wish this was not the case. The Vijayanagara empire gave birth to the golden age of literature in southern India where writers produced  hundreds of works on all aspects of Indian culture, religion, biographies, Prabhandas (stories), music, grammar, poetry and medicine in four different languages – Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. I am completely won over and you can see why. 

Tungabhadra River and Coracle Boats

By Dey.sandip (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I decided to rest and relax a bit at Hampi after which I continued deeper across the heart of this beautiful state on towards the sunny coasts of Goa. Initially I planned on cycling via Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal on to Goa. However, the heat was catching up with me. So I loaded my cycle on to a bus and off I left for Goa.

I arrived in Panjim, early in the morning, unloaded my cycle and didn’t know where to go. Asked a couple of people and they guided me towards the beaches and off I went towards Anjuna. During the off season, Goa is not crowded at all and cycling along the coast from place to place was fantastic.

Goa as a state is sparsely populated, hence people are not denied of space and there is greenery everywhere. The architecture here is also impressive as you see remainders of the Portuguese rule. The local food is varied and delicious and the seafood is definitely worth a try.

I rode along the coast and soon reached Arambol at the tip of Northern Goa. This place still attracts hippies by the hordes and I felt like an outsider. The crowds partying on the beach and the ambience of the place will surprise you despite how remote this place is. Plenty of Russians and Nigerians cater to the needs of hippies and party lovers.

That’s when I realized why people like Goa. Cops don’t stop you here for sitting on the beach and drinking beer. Here in Goa, liquor is not taxed heavily and that along with the scenic beaches and tourist friendly ambience is the selling point of Goa. I guess if other parts of India relax the rules and open up like Goa, it would be detrimental for Goa. Goa is profiting from the fact that other states have too many rules and regulations surrounding alcohol and partying. Hence, everybody heads to Goa.

Arambol beach 2009

By User:Ridinghag (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From Arambol, I headed back to South Goa and visited a place called Martin’s corner. Spent two nights here so as to recuperate a bit and get my laundry attended to. The food was excellent and the management all nice and friendly. As I visited during the off season, the area around Martin’s Corner is pretty inactive. But suddenly during meal times the place fills up with lots of cars and people. It is as if they appear by magic! And the place is very lively thanks to the good Goan food, the music and of course all the people! Definitely worth a visit!

I had to leave Martin’s Corner shortly after as I was headed back to Karwar. This was one of the most beautiful stretches I have ever ridden. Sticking to the coast, I rode towards Margoa. It rained a little and the landscape took my breath away.

On one side you have the sea and on the other you have lush green tropical forests. If anyone asks me what you love of Goa the most, I would say this fabulous road between the sea and the hills. The hills were full of peacocks and at various places you had viewpoints overlooking the Ocean and it was absolutely stunning. Another beauty about Goa is that you can drink beer anywhere. Even small shops which serve fast food offer beer and it was nice to sip a cool beer after cycling for hours under the bright sun here.

Exiting Goa I rode along towards Karwar along the Konkan Coast but that story is for another day. Until then, ride on. 

Ride through Hampi and unravel the history as part of our Bangalore to Goa cycling tour.

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

I awoke one morning with a sudden urge to just cycle all over around Karnataka, India. Over the years, I have met several people who have cycled at length all over the world. A friend’s cycle tour from Bangalore to Ladakh especially inspired me. So I decided to go on solo recreational cycle tour and started from Bangalore with an intent to see places that I had not seen before. In India, this is not a problem as there often is more than one route to the destination.

I had been contemplating a bike tour like this for a while but I did not have a definite plan or a fixed itinerary. However, I had spent time equipping myself and I knew my prior experience as a tour guide for Art of Bicycle Trips would come handy..

First in order to equip myself, I had to buy a bicycle!  What cycle to buy was a difficult challenge, considering that we are spoiled for choice! Fortunately budget constraints limit your options!  And in the end I had zeroed it down to having a Mountain Bike. While Mountain bikes are heavy and not the best in terms of speed and efficiency, given the condition of the roads in India, it is the most hardy and the least likely to have breakdowns. It is also versatile and it can absorb shocks better and go over trails and dirt roads without any hiccups.

Crank Meister Cycle Store located in Fraser Town was amongst the best when it came to bike knowledge and bike service. So instead of wasting plenty of time researching more bikes, I just went over there and did some test rides on a couple of bicycles.

Finally after much thought and consideration, I settled on a Giant Revel O series. It was pricier and way over my budget but I got a good deal! Lucky that it was on sale then. I was very happy to have picked up this 9 speed mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes and 29 inch wheels! The big wheels helped with speed and stability and more or less compensated for the lack of speed on mountain bikes. I was off to a great start!

Soon after gathering other essentials for a life on the road, I started my cycling holiday from Doddaballapur, on the outskirts of Bangalore.  It was not en route to my destination- Hampi but it gave me the opportunity to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

After bidding farewell to my friend, I headed out to a town called Madhugiri. Madhugiri is home to the second largest monolithic rock in Asia and it towers majestically over this small little town. All around the hill are the remnants of ancient fort built by a former king called Madhugiri Nayak.

Madhugiri Fort 1

By Saurabh Sharan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Isolated and in need of more attention in terms of maintenance, Madhugiri is still wonderful and you can spend days and hours exploring the entire fortified area and admire the natural beauty and sheer size of the rock.

However, I was itching to be on the move and next day I headed towards Chitradurga. The roads in the plains of Karnataka are mostly flat and there are hills to conquer here. You can cover distances quite quickly and as you cut through small towns and villages, people look at you with utmost curiosity! Bicycle tourists decked up in lycra is almost always a spectacle for the average Indian. Here cycles are mostly used because there is no other choice and the idea that city folks spend time and money to tour the countryside is new and unusual to most rural inhabitants. This leads to some very curious conversations at times.

Fortunately the Bangalore – Pune Highway has service lanes throughout and cycling along there was a breeze with very little traffic around me. Cycling on highways can be boring as there is nothing to see but this particular route is not bad and around mid-day I reached the town of Sira.

Sira is a small historical town and like most historical towns, it is categorized by the existence of a fort, a temple or mosque. The size of the fort depends on how big or small the ruler was back in the days. If in the past there was a Muslim ruler, then most of the population of the town today would consist of Muslims, unless of course some recent events have caused changes. In India, there is culture and history everywhere even in the small towns.  

Villages and settlements dominate the landscape here except around mountains and jungles. While biking through innumerable such settlements, one can see that there is a pressing need for quality administration at the grassroot levels.

The State Government needs to address issues and improve things from the ground up.  There is barely any infrastructure here in the villages and residents are forced to face serious issues such as alcoholism, sanitation and education without any consistent support or knowledge from outside. Even the historical monuments managed by the State Government in Karnataka need to be better maintained. Miles to go..

Despite the flat terrain, the wind made it hard for me to cycle to Chitradurga. The last few miles were a real struggle. The energy of the wind is harnessed well here and you can see windmills dotting the panorama here. Yet the historic roots of this walled city are evident. The hills on which a major part of the fort and town belong to the oldest rock of granitic formation in the country.

The seven walls of the fort enclose the boulders and hills nestles on the Vedavati river. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Chitradurga Fort houses a citadel, masjid, warehouses for grains and oil, water reservoirs and ancient temples spread out over an area of 1,500 acres.

Although the origins of the fort date back to much earlier point of time, the feudal kings  ‘Nayak Palegars’ made the fort impregnable with 19 gateways, 38 posterior entrances, 35 secret entrances, four invisible passages, water tanks and 2000 watch towers to guard and keep vigil on the enemy incursions.

Three gates continue to be used by people to this day. And the hill fort now starts from the 4th gate onwards all the way up to the top of the hill.

Said to be India’s second largest military fort, tales of valour and bravery echo through time here to this day. There most commendable story is that of how of a soldier’s wife named Obavva used a pestle to defend the fort – while her soldier husband was on a lunch break during an attack. When Obavva heard the attackers attempting to sneak into the fort through a crevice large enough for just one soldier at a time, she picked up the pestle and hit enemy soldiers on their heads and dragged their bodies away quietly to continue the defence until her husband returned and raised an alarm.  

Chitradurga is very picturesque. The very name implies ‘picturesque fort.’ There are also beautiful caves around Chitradurga, which extend almost seventy feet beneath the rocks and where hermits and holy men used to live in isolation and meditate. Although off the beaten path, Chitradurga is a must-visit and is undoubtedly one of the many wonders in the state of Karnataka.

View of lake inside fort Chitradurga

By Pavithrah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I spent a day looking walking around and looking over the hillock and the next morning, I started my cycle ride to Hampi. This particular stretch was awful as the single lane road here was full of trucks. The tarmac conditions were alright but the amount of traffic made me wish I could just skip this bit as I didn’t have the luxury of a support vehicle.

I powered through and after Hospet, the massive Tungabhadra Dam is an impressive sight. This reservoir is at the confluence of the two of Karnataka’s major rivers – Tunga and Bhadra and I was lucky to reach at the correct time to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The town of Hospet like a lot of small Indian towns lacks vibrancy and substance and I was glad to leave the next morning to Hampi. Hampi on the other hand is so colorful and characteristic that it is hard to describe, see this post for my notes on cycle touring through Hampi. Keep on riding.   

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

 

As our guests get set for their multi-day cycling holiday, they often ask – What do I do after booking my cycling holiday? How do I prepare?

So here’s a handy guide that clearly outlines the steps involved in preparing for your cycling holiday of South/Southeast Asia.

This post includes information on insurance, visas, vaccinations and travel alerts to make things simple. Please use this a reference only and consult official guidelines for the final word.

Cycle Touring-Art of Bicycle Trips

 

Insurance

For a hassle-free travel experience, we strongly recommend that all our clients opt for travel insurance. Buying travel insurance ensures that you are covered in case things don’t go according to plan.

If you intend to tour with your own bike, then you are going to need bike insurance to cover bike theft and damage. On the other hand to reduce the risks associated with illness and injuries, you would need travel insurance.

Before buying travel insurance for your cycling holiday, be sure to check that cycle touring is covered by the provider. Shopping around in advance could bring down insurance costs.

In case you would like some recommendations on insurance specific to cycle touring, be sure to check out this post by Tom and this post by The Travelling Two.

Visas

Visa requirements vary depending on where you are from and where you intend to travel. Ensure that you have all the necessary documents and get in touch the consulate to verify before submitting your visa application. Don’t forget to factor in public holidays that apply in both the countries involved. Travel agents can help make this process hassle-free.

Bhutan

Bangladesh, Maldivians, Thai & Indian nationals do not require visa to enter Bhutan whereas all others do. To obtain a 28 day tourist visa to Bhutan, you have to submit documents as specified by the Bhutan Government through your Bhutanese Tour Company/Travel Agent.

The visa form can be downloaded from the Bhutan Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website or from the Bhutan Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs website. Allow at least three weeks’ time for the whole process after submission.

Note: Current Bhutanese visa norms dictate that you can only apply for the visa after having paid the Bhutan Tourism Council for your whole tour.

Cambodia

For Cambodia, single entry tourist visas can be obtained online for visits of 30 days or less. 30 day extensions are can also be obtained through the Government of Cambodia’s eVisa portal.

Laos 

Laos also keeps things simple with a 30 day visa on arrival available to people of most nationalities. Check out the official Laos’ Tourism Department’s website for more information.

Art of Bicycle Trips Cycle Touring Myanmar

 

Myanmar 

If you plan to travel to Myanmar(formerly Burma) for tourism, you can apply online for an e-Visa. This would allow you to enter Myanmar once for a duration of 28 days.  You can find out more about the e-visa offered by Myanmar here.

India

For short touristic visits to India, refer to the Indian Government’s e-Tourist Visa page. For long visits and multiple entries to India, you would need to apply for a regular Indian visa at an Indian embassy in your country. Both these processes require time ranging from 3 to 14 days or more.

We highly recommend that you prepare and apply (at least 4 weeks) in advance so that you have plenty of time available as a buffer in case unexpected issues arise. Travel agents and visa service agencies would be able to help you with this in your home country if needed.

Sri Lanka 

The internet has surely made things a whole lot easier as far as visas are concerned. The Sri Lankan Government has taken the cue as well and it provides visas online too. Sri Lankan Electronic Travel Authorization is valid 30 days from date of arrival and you can apply for this even before you book your flight tickets. Find out more about Electronic Travel Authorizations for Sri Lanka here.

Thailand 

Having established itself on the travel circuit decades ago, Thailand continues to attract visitors to this day. The 15 day long Visa-on-Arrival certainly helps and tourists can also choose to apply for a 60 day long Tourist Visa if needed. You and find out more about  visas offered by the Government of Thailand here.

Vietnam

Vietnam does things a bit differently. Although you apply online, you will then receive a visa approval letter which must be used on arrival for obtaining the visa at the airport. The processing time ranges from 4 working hours to 2 working days, doesn’t get any quicker than that really but as mentioned earlier, best to get visas done earlier. Read more about tourist visas for Vietnam here.

Published: May 2016 For reference purposes only

We recommend that you verify all visa related information with the Embassy or Foreign Office of the country you plan to visit. Alternatively, your Travel Agent might be able to streamline the visa process for you.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Touring Vietnam

 

Vaccinations

Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for information about inoculations and health notices for travelers. You can also find country specific health related information at the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Make an appointment with your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to get any vaccinations that may be needed. Talk to the doctor about your planned adventure activities so that you can follow any special health recommendations that might be necessary.

The handy CDC TravWell app will also give you destination-specific vaccine recommendations and help you keep records and reminders related to your medications, immunizations, vaccine booster doses etc.

Other travelers might also offer tips to avoid sickness while traveling. We suggest you proceed down that path only with advice and approval from your own doctor.

Copyright-Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Touring

 

Travel Alerts 

Refer to travel advisories of UKUSA or Australia for current information on travel alerts that have been issued. The UK Government offers further guidance for travelers as does the US Government with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program.

This allows U.S. citizens traveling abroad to receive free updates about safety conditions in the destination country so that you can make informed decisions about your travel plans. These are a good reference in case your own country does not issue travel warning or alerts.

With that, we are at end of this post on how to prepare for your cycling holiday. You can find more of our blog posts here.

Cheers,
Ashwini

Ayubowan! said the Sri Lankan lady, clasping both her hands together and bowing slightly towards me.

‘Ayubowan’ is a common Sri Lankan greeting, wishing for the long life of the person whom you greet. Later I found myself saying Ayubowan! to all the Sri Lankan people I met during my Sri Lanka bike tour.

Although, I have not covered the entire span of Sri Lanka by bike, the memories from this enchanting country are vivid and priceless. Let me show you a bit of it so you know exactly what cycling through Sri Lanka entails. 

Buddha, Drummers & 500 Concubines

Buddha statues scattered around India, South Asia and Southeast Asia are a sight to behold. 

The mesmerizing eyes of Buddha bring such tranquility that I feel at peace when looking into those eyes.

There are innumerable Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and the influence of Buddhism is apparent in this part of the Subcontinent and the Buddha is revered to this day. 

Copyright-Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Tours-Sri Lanka

Leading the way through the giant lion paws carved out of granite at the ‘Rock Fortress’ of Sigiriya, I wondered about the mammoth task of building a palace on a large piece of Rock. The marvelous frescoes painted on the rock, depicting the concubines of King Kashyapa are remarkable.  

“King Kasyapa and his 500 concubines” sounds like an extravagantly embellished myth but its true confirmed our knowledgeable local guide.

Copyright-Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Tours-Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan dance forms, that were traditionally only performed for the kings, are now played at a few different locations in Kandy which is known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka.

Out of all the performers, the drummers captured my full attention; they were energetic beyond words and unstoppable!

The high decibel drumming was hard on my ears initially, but slowly you get acquainted to the rhythm and fall into a rapturous trance.

Copyright-Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Tours-Sri Lanka

Warm Welcomes & Homecooked Meals

Lots of greetings were exchanged as we biked through this little island nation. Everywhere we went, friendly Sri Lankans came out to chat and look at our bikes and know more about where we going.

One of the highlights from my Sri Lanka bike tour was when our support vehicle driver, Lasanth, invited all of us to his home for lunch.

I was simply humbled by the hospitality of Lasanth’s family and the curry his wife made for all of us was absolutely delicious.

Beaches Oh So Pristine! 

As the warm waves continued to break on an endless stretch of golden sand beaches, staying on the bike and cycling became quite impossible.

The oceans beckoned again and again in Sri Lanka and who could resist a swim in a heavenly place like this? 

A Wild, Wild Paradise!

Sri Lanka wildlife road signs

Caution! Monitor Lizards Crossing (Photo credit: http://roystonellis.com)

With monitor lizards slowly crossing roads, peacocks flying around and roving elephants grazing on the greens, wildlife is plentiful in Sri Lanka. 

And, there are numerous interesting signboards along the roads asking road users to watch out for wildlife that might be making their way across the road. Haha! Jokes apart, Sri Lanka is home to some of the best National parks in the world and they are definitely worth a visit, even if you are not a wildlife safari enthusiast in particular.

The Art of Good Food

Imagine a banana leaf platter with an assortment of aromatic, spicy food eaten with steaming hot rice & crispy papadum!

If you have not tried a meal like this yet, let me tell you it is not easy to resist. I pondered if this could be one of the many places on earth where I may end up deciding “ Ah it’s time for me to live just to eat!

You just have to try the variety of piping hot curries available in these parts, not to mention the delicious vegetarian and meat accompaniments. And, we dare you to try and eat it all with your hands – without using cutlery.

We grant that eating food without cutlery is not for everyone but those who do try their hands at this particular art ;) – Find that its worth the effort. Finger-licking good, you see what we mean? Yes, I know, I know, it does seem like I’m addicted.

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“Ayubowan Sri Lanka! May you live long so that many more cyclists can explore, indulge and appreciate just how serene and beautiful you are.”

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Credits:
  1. https://riceandcurry.files.wordpress.com/2012/06
  2. http://roystonellis.com/blog

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

With the Winter drawing to a close as the summer heat kicks in here in Southern India, we thought it would be good to look back and give you a sneak peak at the Kerala cycling holidays that Art of Bicycle Trips has organised over the last six months.

Although Kerala is a relatively small state of India, it still offers a variety of riding for riders of all capabilities. From the amateurs to the pros, we feel happy to have shared this unique region of South Asia with everyone who cycled with us over the cycle touring season of 2015.

So, let’s jump into a time-machine and travel “Into the Past.”

1.  People are awesome!

People are really, really awesome and we are always very thrilled to host folks from around the world, from different walks of life.

Starting from the 6 year-old Nicholas to 80 years-young Liz, age was no matter and everyone we biked with had an exuberant ‘cycling spirit’ that is so inspiring!

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Nicholas leading the pack fearlessly during their Classic Kerala family cycling tour 

They championed all the different terrain that Kerala offered, from the low-lands(below sea level) to mountain ranges over 1500 metres tall, with a little help from friends. And anytime they needed that extra bit of support, the Art of Bicycle Trips crew was there for them, cheering them on always.

2.  Monsoon biking in Kerala

To bike in the rainy season almost never seems like a good idea. But hey, we rode during the last monsoons, with Richard and Nancy for the ever popular classic Kerala bike tour and Oh boy! Oh boy!  It was the absolute best cycling experience we have ever had!

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Through the cloudy-wormhole, searching for the windmills in the lowlands, after biking to Top station, Munnar

Cycling through Kerala’s lush tea plantations and spice farms, the scenery! The greenery! Unbeatable!

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Waterfalls often crop up along many hillsides during the monsoons and it is always a splash!

 3.  Cycling though Misty-Mighty Western Ghats 

The rains also bring with rolling blankets of fog and riding through the misty mountains in Munnar was thrilling and refreshing.

No words can express the feeling of riding in and out of the mist – we felt like we were in heaven!

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Liz and her friends are seen biking here to Munnar Top station

After riding on sunny coastal roads for most part of the year, the cool chill was more than welcome during this monsoon cycling holiday. Sometimes it became so nippy that we even had to put the windcheaters on and to do so in tropical Kerala feels very novel I must say.

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Downhill from the Misty mountains of Munnar – From the Central Kerala bike Tour in November, 2015

4.  Watching Elephants in the wild and along the roads

We were biking downhill in Munnar and voila! We saw a herd of elephants grazing in the grasslands just like that.

We got to see these big, gentle elephants up close as they walked up from the river after being bathed by their mahouts. Its really something to experience these giants at such close range!

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Bathing Elephants during a Kerala Cycling Tour

5.  Not-to-be-missed culinary treats

Food is a highlight of our trips and we make sure that people have enough options to satisfy their taste buds with the local cuisine.

Some of the best bits of our cycling holidays often occur at the table during long post-ride meals that nourish the mind, the body and the soul.

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A simple Indian lunch served on an island in the backwaters during a Kerala cycling tour

6.   Supporting the local traders 

Whether it is Sheela-Chechi who cooks and serves delicious lunch at the backwater island; Vinoth-ettan, the fisherman, who takes us on a canoe ride; Sajeeb, the tuk-tuk driver who assists our cycling trips; Kunjappan-chettan a traditional boat-maker; all these local men and women are an integral part of our cycling holidays and we are always amazed by their knowledge, their kindness and their warm hospitality and are very grateful for their service.

Your cycling holiday can impact many lives here & we try and involve the locals in tours often.

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At Kunjappan-chetan’s boatmaking workshop

We hope you enjoyed this insider’s view of our Kerala cycling holidays. If you are thinking about going on a cycling holiday in South/Southeast Asia, then please do have a look at our cycling holiday itineraries first. Also, feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.

Happy Biking!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini