Which country is the best to cycle in Southeast Asia?

Andrew just before we turned around to find another roadIt’s a hard call to pick any one country from Southeast Asia and rate it tops above the others. Yet, unless you have months to spare, you’ll have to focus on a small area and leave others aside.

Some countries do stand out for certain things. So choose what you’re most interested in from the list below. If you’re looking for…

Ancient Ruins

  • Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a must-see. There’s also the temple at Champasak in Laos and various Khmer ruins along the Thai-Cambodian border. You could combine all 3 countries in a tour starting from Vientiane, south along the Mekong to Phnom Penh, then west to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat and out to Thailand.
  • Ruins also abound just in Thailand alone. Start in Bangkok and go north to Chiang Mai via Ayutthya, Kampheng Phet and Sukhothai.

Great Food

  • Thailand is definitely ahead of the pack when it comes to great food. It’s always freshly cooked and delicious. Even in small villages, there will be at least one stall selling a basic but hearty soup.
  • Malaysia gets an honourable mention for food. Like in Thailand, there’s plenty being cooked fresh on the street at bargain basement prices and you can choose between Chinese, Indian or Malay cuisine.
  • Contrary to many people’s hopes, Cambodia and Laos are not noted for fantastic food. In tourist cities the offerings aren’t bad but between towns, things can be very basic and sometimes unhygienic.

Off the Beaten Track

  • Hard as it may seem, it’s still possible to get off the beaten track in Thailand. Ride the Burmese border from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot. You’ll go through untouched hilltribe villages and beautiful scenery. A word of warning though, it’s very mountainous and tough on the legs!
  • Nearly everywhere is off the beaten track in Cambodia and Laos but we particularly loved the journey from Phnom Penh up the Mekong to the Laos border. Many rural villages sit on the river’s banks and they’re so fascinating. The main road diverges completely away from the river here so you’re really on your own with the locals – no bad thing!
  • The ride from the Laotian capital Vientiane to Luang Prabang is very well known but mostly it’s travelled by bus so cyclists can still have some special cultural experiences here that the backpackers miss as they fly past in air conditioned comfort.

Bustling Cities

  • Malaysia wins this category by a mile. Who could beat the lively atmosphere in Georgetown on Penang Island or the historic city of Malacca? They’re both UNESCO World Heritage sites and it’s easy to stay a week in either of them.

Beautiful Nature

  • Thailand is known worldwide for its gorgeous coastline. What you have to watch out for are the over developed resorts like Ao Nang. They’re both ugly and expensive. Instead, try riding through Lang Suan on the East coast and in fact much of the coastline from Pratchuap Kiri Khan south.
  • Malaysia’s east coast is famed as being beautiful seaside riding and with very quiet roads. Malaysia also has some of Southeast Asia’s best national parks and the beautiful tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands.

Comments

  1. Niall
    12th April 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Hmm.. Good article but certainly doesn’t cover all of South East Asia. Vietnam is a great country for cycling and for culture/experience, Burma would be amazing.

    • friedel
      13th April 2011 at 6:27 am #

      It certainly doesn’t… we need to go back and explore more!

  2. Carl Neville
    1st November 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Great article, I would be interested to find out more about the food in Cambodia. If its unhygienic then that raises concerns for me and perhaps may have to take some emergency rations.

    • Sean
      13th September 2015 at 10:24 pm #

      A few years ago I cycled From Just inside Thailand to Pakse in Laos to Siem Reap and round to Thailand. I found the food to be simple in Laos, but awesome. Cambodia, being economically better off, had more choice with the opportunity to get some Thai cuisine in Siem Reap. Hygiene is debatable, depending on your expectations, but we never had a problem. Loved every minute!

  3. jacques
    19th May 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    Why has no one been or reported on cycling in the philipinnes???

    I was there many years ago and dream to go back with my bike…

    Does anyone have advice for me?

    Thanks!

  4. Rasius
    14th October 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Howdy,
    Do you have any suggestions about cycling with kid carrier in SE Asia? With family just landed in Thailand with Chariot cab and have enough time to do some tours. For the first month we choose Koh Samui. Cycling with trailer in this island seems dangerous thing. Crazy traffic and flying tourist on scooters places Koh Samui in leading possition by accidents in Thailand.

  5. benoit
    23rd November 2014 at 2:51 am #

    Nice article
    For me,if one think about cycling,then it’s Laos and Burma by far…
    if one think about travel,then i’d say Vietnam and indonesia .
    North and east cambodia is nice for cycling. The rest nice for visiting.
    Philippines is great for both but sometimes too busy.
    Malaysia and Thailand are a good compromise.
    If Yunnan was to be in south east asia then it would be the winner.
    benoît

    • Wink
      31st May 2016 at 1:01 pm #

      I would like to cycle from northern Thailand to Laos then arrive Yunnan, have you got advices to be shared? How long u rode for this route? N abt how many km per day? Can we do camping? Look forward to hear from you soon!!!

  6. nick
    15th April 2015 at 10:17 am #

    hey folks.. my wife and i are really keen on a basic itinerary from someone if that cool, so we can start planning for 2016 we have 2 months to cycle tour se asia.

    thanks in advance to anyone who can help

  7. Vanessa Lancaster
    7th May 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    How would you suggest a person with a back pack go about this? Can you rent bikes with helmets? Thanks for the informative article 🙂

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