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Cycling in Asia

Biking around the Mekong and beyond with SpiceRoads

Biking around the Mekong and beyond with SpiceRoads
By Luc Citrinot, eTN | Jun 29, 2011

BANGKOK/UBON RATCHATHANI (eTN) - On the way from Ubon Ratchathani (Eastern Isan province in Thailand) to the Laotian border, farmers and shop owners along the way do not wonder anymore at caravans of Western bikers passing along paddy fields, villages as well as the Mekong River. Riding from Ubon Ratchathani Province to Champassak city, in Southern Laos, is less than a two days' ride with a few stops on the way and an overnight in a first-class resort. “There is a growing interest to discover Asia and Thailand, in particular by bike, as more people are looking at practicing sustainable tourism,” described Patricia Weismantel, Product Manager for SpiceRoads, Asia’s largest tour operator specialized in cycle tours. Created a decade ago, SpiceRoads is based in Bangkok and has been in many ways pioneering cycle tourism.

“Thailand is an ideal country to start with a biking tour. It benefits from excellent road infrastructure and superb tourist facilities with tours targeting all categories of bike riders, from family to mountain bike specialists,” she added. SpiceRoads offers, for example, very popular day-tours in Bangkok to discover traditional floating markets or life of the locals along some of the city’s remaining canals. Kanchanaburi is a great destination for a family to bike, while circuits such as a bike trail linking Nakhon Si Thammarat on the Southeastern Coast to Khao Lak on the Southwestern Coast or a circuit in mountainous areas of Chiang Rai would appeal to a more experienced cyclist.

SpiceRoads propose tours to 15 countries in Asia, including more challenging destinations such as Mongolia, Tibet, and Myanmar. “Myanmar is one of the strongest emerging destinations. I believe tourism is due for booming in the country over the next five years. The Greater Mekong Sub-region is indeed turning into a big hit for bike lovers. It is an ideal destination as it has some of the most hospitable people in the region, combined with stunning landscapes and great historical vestiges,” she added.

SpiceRoads’ most popular circuit is a 17-day tour from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, which passes through three different countries – Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Packages offered by SpiceRoads are not among the cheapest. “But we look for high-quality tourism and provide a complete package including biking materials, food, and, of course, accompanying experienced guides,” told Patricia Weismantel.

SpiceRoads sees further opportunities to offer more biking tours to more countries. “One of the most promising countries is the Philippines. The country is largely undiscovered by foreign travelers, and there are fantastic bike trails along volcanoes or in the north to discover old baroque churches. Biking in Borneo jungle in East Malaysia is also becoming popular,” she added. Indonesia seems, however, to have troubles enticing bike travelers. “We propose a fantastic tour around the Celebes islands, but we fail so far to attract interest. It is probably due to a lack of promotion of the destination and then a lack of awareness from cycle tourists,” she analyzed.

More also should be done to convince Asians that cycle tourism is not an activity only reserved for travelers with limited financial resources. According to SpiceRoads management, its top customers are the USA, the UK, Australia, and then continental Europe. “We see some demands from Singaporeans, but most Asians do not want to do an activity in the sun. This is probably our biggest problem to attract them.

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