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You Are Viewing Laos

The World’s 10 Best Bike Tours?

Posted March 18th, 2011

A little over a year ago, we wrote about 10 Places To Ride Your Bike Before You Die – a list of the favourite places we’ve been on our bicycles.

Now, we’ve come up with 10 more dream bike tours – our own personal list of the top places we’d like to go next. Some we’ve been to in part, but we’d like to explore more. Others we’ve never seen but we’ve heard so many great reports that they’re on our short list.

Of course, reducing the world to just 10 bike tours could rightly be described as a great injustice to all the potential routes out there. Think of this as a little inspiration to get you dreaming, and share your ideas of the best places to cycle by leaving a comment.

1. North Sea Cycle Route

Route de la mer du Nord, allemagne

 

This 6,000km marked route traces the coastline of the North Sea. It goes through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and it’s easy to do just a section if you don’t have time for the whole thing. Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths or small roads, making this a very tranquil bike tour. More info: North Sea Cycle

 

2. Pacific Coast, United States

The Bike Tour

 

The Pacific Coast Highway has always intrigued us. We’re talking spectacular ocean views, massive redwood trees, classic cities like San Francisco and plenty of facilities for cyclists as you cycle through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Maps are available from the Adventure Cycling Association. More Info: ACA Pacific Coast route

 

3. Danube Cycle Path

Danube Bike Path

 

We’ve already cycled the start of the Danube Bike Path; a perfectly paved trail running through Germany and Austria to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This stretch is great for families, beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend much time figuring out logistics.

Now we want to finish the job. Apparently the path gets less refined as it goes along. We like the idea of that slow progression.

There are tons of guidebooks describing the route from the river’s source to where it empties into the Black Sea. Ride it on your own or pick from the many package tours. More Info: The Danube Bike path is part of EuroVelo6.

 

4. Japan

Japanese Temple

 

We were in Japan many years ago, and we’ve been dying to go back on our bicycles. We want to check out more temples, soak in the hot springs and gorge on sushi. Many people think Japan is expensive but to keep costs low, you can cook your own food and take advantage of the free campsites and local hospitality clubs. More Info: Japan Cycling and Journey of 1000 Li (We wrote this before the terrible 2011 earthquake in Japan. Hopefully the country will recover quickly and be ready to receive tourists again soon.)

 

5. The Silk Road & The Pamir Highway

Andrew in front of a Bukhara Mosque

 

A trip along the ancient Silk Road trade route and the Pamir Highway is a real adventure. First you’ll cross Turkey and Iran, heading for the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then you’ll head for the mountains, where you can still get a wonderful glimpse of nomadic life. Continue on down Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway and you have enough cycling to keep you busy for a good 4-6 months.

We’ve done the first part of this trip, but we missed out on southern Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway. Now that would make a great summer tour one of these days! It’s a pain to get visas (and they’re not cheap) but the rewards are spectacular scenery and a real sense of exploration in this little-touristed region of the world. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Central Asia and Tim Barnes’ Totally Knackered tour

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile

Towards the Cordillera

 

Pack a sturdy bike and your tent for this 1,000km mostly unpaved road. It passes through the region of Patagonia and encompasses some of Chile’s most stunning terrain, including mountains, lakes and glaciers. This is definitely a summer route. In the off-season it can be closed by snow and heavy rain. More Info: A journal of a bike tourist in the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.

 

7. Southeast Asia

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

 

International bike touring doesn’t get much easier than in Southeast Asia, and there’s a lot to explore. We’ve spent 6 months here, and still not seen it all. Next on our list? The east coast of Malaysia and a jaunt into Myanmar / Burma. We also want to return to the Cameron Highlands tea growing area in Malaysia (pictured), where the air is refreshingly cool, for some day rides and hikes, which we didn’t have time for on the last trip.

Throughout the region, costs are affordable (even for the most budget-minded bike tourists), traffic is generally relaxed, hotels are easy to find and the food is great. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Southeast Asia and the slightly old but still helpful Mr. Pumpy

 

8. Morocco

 

Cheap flights and ferries from Europe make Morocco very accessible and it’s a great first taste of bike touring outside of the developed world. We’ve been to Morocco several times, and while the country is becoming increasingly touristy, it still offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track.

Classic rides include the coastal route between Agadir and Essaouira and the trip from Marrakech, over the mountains and through the Draa Valley to the Sahara desert near Zagora. We’ve done all of these. Now we want to do a backroads tour of Morocco: no asphalt and lots of camping. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Morocco and the video (above) from our friends Blanche & Douwe. They’ve biked Morocco’s paths and tracks several times, so we’ll be picking their brains if we do this trip!

 

9. Great Divide Route

IMG_9573

 

Few places do “pure nature” as well as North America and the Great Divide is at the top of our list of routes to cycle on the continent. This off-pavement mountain bike route traces the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada all the way south to the Mexican border. It takes about 3 months to complete. A mountain bike with front suspension forks is often recommended to help cope with the tough terrain. More Info: ACA’s page on the Great Divide cycling route

 

10. Karakoram Highway

IMG_9573

 

A classic route between China and Pakistan, and one that may change significantly in the coming years (for the worse) as the road improves and becomes more accessible to heavy traffic. Go now, before it’s too late! More Info: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

 

What are the bike tours on your “to ride” list? Tell us. Leave a comment.

Photos: The Bike Tour by Tommy DavisRoute de la mer du Nord (by Vocivelo, flickr)Cycling Along Pakistan’s Gilgit River Valley (by Yodod, flickr)Towards the Cordillera (by Magical World, flickr), Cycling The Great Divide (by rich drogpa, flickr)

Show 20: Southeast Asia

Posted October 7th, 2008

Gazing at Misty MountainsThere’s nothing like a rainy day to get a few things done. As the heavens opened, we realised cycling was going to be futile so instead we recorded our latest podcast. This time we share some of the highs and lows with you from our four months in Southeast Asia and a few tips for bike touring in the region. We also have two cycling stories from Adam, who we met in Bishkek. Adam, from Poland, was last spotted going up the Karakorum Highway with one gear so he’s quite the adventurer! We think you’ll enjoy hearing about his take on cycling in India and getting lost in Nepal.

Finding Heaven

Posted September 12th, 2008

72km Houay Xai to Meng Rai

dsc_4688.jpgWe returned to Thailand today by crossing the Mekong in yet another rickety boat. Dodgy water transport seems to be a theme running through our travels across Cambodia and Laos but this morning’s voyage, with our bikes wedged into a narrow and wobbling vessel, should be the last of our questionable boat trips for some time. Hooray for that because it’s not an event we put in the ‘fun’ category.

It took just a couple minutes for our driver to navigate across the Mekong, about twice as long for him to find a parking place (not unlike trying to get a landing slot at Heathrow Airport with all the boats ferrying tourists back and forth) and another pause was added on at the end as he grabbed a spare board to use as a hammer to pound the end of his boat back together. Some of the planks came loose when he rammed two other boats trying to squeeze into a docking place. The locals take this in their stride as just an everyday event, which it probably is. We, on the other hand, are always fearing the disappearance of our bikes and all our possessions into the water and a surprise swimming lesson. (more…)

Last loop in Laos

Posted September 10th, 2008

342km Luang Prabang to Pakbeng

dsc_4609.jpgWe must be gluttons for punishment. After a gruelling journey over mountains to Luang Prabang, we hit the road again for another steady series of rolling hills all the way to the tiny riverside village of Pakbeng. We could have taken the boat straight from the tourist centre of Luang Prabang to the Thai border but instead we plumped for the more difficult option of four days cycling to the halfway point. Our legs were complaining but our souls were happy as we pedalled through yet more rural villages to the steady tune of “sabaydee” sung by Lao children.

The average Lao family seems to have about eight children. You can’t pass through a village without large groups of enthusiastic and smiling kids running to the roadside to greet you and it’s these young Lao citizens who have really won us over to the country. When we first arrived a month ago from Cambodia we thought Lao was nice but not great. A tough couple of days about halfway through made us feel like running back to Thailand but now, looking back, we are so glad we didn’t take the easy option. (more…)

Rewards of the Road

Posted September 2nd, 2008

240km Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

Andrew admiring the sceneryIf we were asking ourselves just a few short days ago why we were doing this journey by bicycle, the world delivered its answer on the road to Luang Prabang. From the town of Kasi, only famous as a bus stop a little north of Vang Vieng, the road starts out flat but before long the mountains appear. Their peaks were still covered in mist as we began our climb in the early morning hours.

Up, up and still further up we went, passing women from the H’mong hill tribes with handwoven baskets on their back, walking in groups to the fields of rice, corn and bananas for a hard day of work. Sometimes they took their small children along but more often than not as we passed through tiny villages we spotted men at home with the youngest babies strapped to their backs. The parenting duties are equally shared in this part of the world, it would seem.

Everything is for sale hereIn each village, we were a universal hit with the kids, who rushed forward to wave and say ‘hello’ with wide grins. A few even held out their hands for high fives and were delighted when we managed to deliver one while still pedalling uphill. It was this constant string of good cheer coupled with the spectacular scenery that kept us going over a seemingly endless series of hills.

“Good luck,” said a backpacker as he looked at us when we stopped for lunch and then hopped into an air conditioned minivan for the ride to Luang Prabang. He was right, we needed it. Only occasionally did the road turn downwards, sparking hopes that maybe we’d reached the top but after two or three curves we inevitably spotted the next ascent ahead. By late in the afternoon we were flagging but a good 30km remained to the next guesthouse so carrying on was the only option.

Morning mistToo tired to expend much energy on talking, we pushed silently to the top of a hill. Just as we glided over the crest we were greeted by a boy about 12 years old, singing a tranquil song in his own language. What a reward for our hard work and what a reason to travel by bicycle. The sound of his voice carried with us for a few hundred meters as we slipped down the other side to the next looming ascent.

Only the next day did we reach the city of Luang Prabang after rising at 5:30am from our spartan hotel in the mountain top town of Kiukacham, cooking breakfast on the hilltop and then descending through dreamy clouds of fog and lush valleys from 1,400 meters. Down we came to a river, then back up 15km before we reached our last downhill stretch into Luang Prabang. Finally in the city, our legs were like jelly and they stayed that way for the rest of the day. The mountains of northern Laos are hard work but the dividends they give back to the eager cyclist are worth it.