A bike trip is all about the journey and not the destination. Cruising the long, open road and being one with elements is the greatest high of riding. Add to this an amazing scenery, an exciting route and great company, and there is no better experience travelling than on a motorbike. For a biker’s bucket list through Southeast Asia, read on.
The Ha Giang Loop, Vietnam
This 350-kilometre route in Vietnam’s northern-most province runs along the Chinese border and offers enchanting views of forested hills, limestone peaks, lush green paddy terraces, meandering rivers, valleys and quaint villages of a variety of ethnic tribes. The loop takes about five days to complete and can be tricky, with high peaks and hairpin bends. The roads are also extremely narrow and trails the edge of a cliff. Still, it is one of the best routes in Southeast Asia and is a must for bikers. Just try to plan your trip when the weather is pleasant, between March and April or September and October.
Ho Chi Minh trail, Vietnam
A favourite among bikers, this legendary trail, which runs through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was built between 1959 and 1975 to provide a passage for the Viet Cong to transport arms and supplies during the Vietnam war. There are several ways to attempt this route, depending on how much time you have.
For an authentic experience, you can follow the trail over the mountains into Laos and onto Cambodia. The other option is to not leave Vietnam and follow the trail (now a highway) from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, which is said to be the best part of the route. Spanning approximately 1700km, the trail takes about 10 to 11 days to complete and journeys through stunning coastal roads, tiny villages, paddy fields and limestone karst formations. While the roads are pretty decent for most of it, there are some muddy and rocky paths to tackle along the way.
Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
This scenic route through the cool and mountainous region of Northern Thailand, featuring cascading waterfalls, limestone caves, authentic Thai towns and forests is a nice departure from the country’s more popular islands and beaches. There are two ways to do this loop, by starting or ending in Chiang Mai. Inexperienced riders however are recommended to start from Mae Sariang, which starts them off on a straight and simple route through a stretch of forests and green farmland that slowly leads up to the misty mountains and on for a thrilling ride through 762 hill curves that wind up and down the mountain range. As you ascend, descend and navigate tight corners up in the mountains, expect nothing less than sensational panoramic views, a cool breeze and sweet smelling pine. Experienced riders can choose to take the more difficult route straight into the mountains and action at the beginning of the journey. This loop can done comfortably in six days, with plenty of villages along the way to rest or put up for the night.
The Thakhek Loop, Central Laos
A 450-kilometre journey that leads you on a long and winding route by mountains, limestone cliffs and farmlands. The loop starts out on straight and paved roads but is soon met with dirt, mud, puddles and sharp corners. This route is known for the caves along the way, including Thame Ene, which is a 1-kilometre long cavern with a stream running through it and limestone formations on the walls inside. The one that is a must-see is the Khong Lor cave, which has an underground chamber, 50-metre-tall caverns with massive stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling and series of columns and pillars. With overnight stays at Thalang Village and Khong Lor, the loop takes three days to complete.
Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Philippines
This 450-kilometre land cruise past villages, paddy fields, tropical forest and sea views can be done in several hours without any layovers, or a couple of days if you make a few detours or plan to stay overnight at one of the seaside towns along the way. One that is highly recommended is half way to El Nido, the San Vicente’s Long Beach for its pristine waters and breathtaking views and where you can take your bike down to the white sand beach and ride along the 15-kilometre stretch. Other stops that are worth your while enroute are Roxas and Tay Tay for its modest charms like old Spanish architecture, shrines, beaches and seafood. If you’re up for a detour, just before you reach Roxas, stop by a couple of hidden gems – Sabang and Port Barton. The route from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is pretty straightforward and easy to follow with a few signboards along the way but it’s not all paved so you may encounter wet and slippery mud roads when there’s bad weather.