Japan’s silent bamboo forests, a highland tea plantation in Sri Lanka, sleepy Vietnamese fishing villages and crumbling hill forts on the road to Pushkar – it’s fair to say Asian cycling tours are a long way from your typical Spin class. The beauty of these cycling trips is that they get you (literally) off the beaten path, away from the major tourist traps, and onto the road less travelled. There’s village homestays, sizzling street food crawls, historic temples and postcard-worthy beaches, with some jaw-dropping rides in between. Our Asian cycling guides are all lycra-clad locals – so you know you’re getting an expert cyclist, plus the lowdown on the best Pad Thai in Bangkok or Kyoto’s coolest karaoke bar. Classic Intrepid…on two wheels. That’s an Asia cycling tour.
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Our Asia cycling Top 5
A cyclist could spend a happy couple of weeks in Kyoto, waking up to steaming bowls of miso soup and riding the days away in the bamboo forests of Arashiyama or the tree-lined tracks alongside the Katsura River. Nights could be spent whisky bar-hopping in Gion or trying to spot geishas in labyrinth alleys of Ponto-chō. On our Japan cycling tour we’ll set you up in a traditional ryokan (tatami matts and everything) and lead you out on some simply stunning day rides up to the temples of Tenryuji and Ryoanji. After we’ve explored Kyoto from edge to edge, we’ll set off on a ride to the ancient capital of Nara, stopping for a little macha tea by the iconic Nagarebashi Bridge.
Ranthambore National Park, India
Of course there are the classic India highlights (insert the Taj or New Delhi’s iconic Red Fort here), but for something a bit different, we like to ride from the Brahmin town of Bundi to Ranthambore National Park, the old hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Here we’ll put the bikes aside for a while and go searching for leopards, hyenas, nilgai and Bengal tigers on a 4WD jeep safari. Deep in the jungle we’ll pay a visit to the old Ranthambore Fort, an overgrown ruin that looks like something straight out of The Jungle Book. Our cycling tours are obviously pretty focussed on the ride, little out-of-the-way stops are great for mixing things up (and giving the legs a rest).
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
A UNESCO Heritage Site, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth…but how often do you hear about Anuradhapura? It doesn’t pop up in a lot of travel mags, but it’s one of our favourite spots in all of Sri Lanka. And the best way to see it? A guided cycling tour. You’ll spend the day riding beneath enormous dagobas (particularly the white dome of Ruwanweli Saya) and crumbling brick towers reaching for the sky. The ruins are spread over a pretty big area, which is where the bikes come in handy. We’ll cycle around the temples, visit the local museum and stop for a local lunch – maybe some paper-thin Godamba rotis or crispy hoppers topped with curry.
Nha Trang, Vietnam
Well, more specifically, the coastal highway from Quy Nhon to Nha Trang. It’s one of the most breathtaking rides we’ve found anywhere in the world: a winding road that hugs to sheer granite cliffs as they plunge into the deep blue of the South China Sea. For about 90km you can look out over distant islands and lagoons, as well as the sand dunes far below. You’ll know you’ve reached Nha Trang when you’re fighting for road space with the scooter drivers on the waterfront promenade and smelling wafting deliciousness like grilled Nem Nuong (fermented pork mince) or hot Bun Cha Ca (a sweet seafood broth with vermicelli noodles). Nha Trang is known as the ‘Cannes of the Orient’, and it makes one heck of an entrance.
Mount Popa, Myanmar
Myanmar might not sound like a traditional cycling tour destination, but that’s really only because tourism and infrastructure has only just started to boom. If you hurry you can catch the best of both worlds: a sleepy, friendly Asian country (kind of like Vietnam 20 years ago) and some of the most beautiful rides on the continent. We particularly like the route through the towering palm groves around Mt Popa, a volcano in the Pegu Range and home to the country’s ’37 nat’ (Myanmar’s Buddhist spirits). It’s a gorgeous stretch, especially with the little villages along the way and the big smiles of the local people. There’s also a gilded temple on the mountain’s flank with stunning views over the Myingyan Pain (if you can face the 777 steps).
The best time to cycle in Asia
Asking the best time to cycle in Asia is a little like the old 'How long is a piece of string' conundrum: it really depends where you want to go. For Vietnam or Thailand, you really want to get in before the monsoon hits, but also after the summer tourist swarms have departed – April and May are a good bet, the weather and the riding should both be quite pleasant. If you're cycling in Japan, the winter months (December to February) are usually out, but springtime cherry blossoms in April or May will make a stunning backdrop. The southern coast of Sri Lanka can be quite pleasant over December and January, but March is a lovely shoulder month if you're looking to dodge the summer crowds. For more info on Asia's climate (and a few hints on dodging the monsoon) check out our handy guide.
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