Imagine driving along a trail that is not surrounded by daisies, cow pastures, and farms, but by palm trees, sprawling bamboo forests and magnificent temples. A place where the sun is always shining, where temperatures commonly hit 35°C (95°F) and where sandy beaches dot the horizon at every turn—inviting you to take a moment to rest. Welcome to Southeast Asia!
The 16-hour journey to get our destination was quite the adventure in the first place. Traveling from Düsseldorf to Abu Dhabi and then onward to Bangkok, we started out with temperatures of 5°C (40°F) and ended the journey at 35°C (95°F). As we arrived, the experience was one of traffic jams, lights and colors: Total sensory overload. We ate tasty Thai food at ten o' clock in the evening. And we constantly fought the jetlag.
Bangkok is an entertaining point to start any adventure and is the perfect place to digest your jet lag and immerse yourself in the colorful, noisy world of Thailand. From here our road trip started - or rather our air trip. The stops were Bali (Indonesia), Bandung (Indonesia) and Chiang Mai (Thailand), and in between lay two bike parks, a volcano, a mountain bike mecca, and countless coconut trees.
The destinations are best connected via the low-cost connections of Air Asia, with tickets costing little more than what you might expect to pay for a train ticket in Europe. All it takes is a little planning to be able to truly make the most of your time. You determine the order and scope of the trip yourself. Each destination is worth a trip in its own right. If you want to combine your bike holiday with sun, palm trees and beach, you might just want to head for Bali. If you love the mountains and prefer to shred every trail there, you can fly just to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand: South East Asia's bike mecca. But if it's variety you're after, a healthy portion of stress and a ton of great trails, then commit to the full program.
What makes each of these rides so special is the unavoidable holiday atmosphere that seems to follow everybody around automatically. If you like to ride technical singletracks on your all-mountain or enduro bikes at home, you will have a lot of fun here. However, a solid riding technique can't hurt, especially on the trails in the various bike parks.
Getting to Bangkok can be easy and inexpensive, with many international carriers flying direct from airports all over the world. From Bangkok, the low-cost airline Air Asia has great offers. If you want to bring your own bike, you'll have to organize this ahead of time, and while this might add an extra worry to your journey—arriving with your own gear is simply great. If you'd rather rent something on the ground, however, that's fine too; you'll find great bikes for rent In Chiang Mai and Bali.
Local accommodation and mobility
In Bali, we recommend staying at the Chillhouse where you'll find tailor-made offers for visiting the bike park, which will always include a shuttle service to get you there and back again. In Chiang Mai, there are several tour providers who offer everything from guided rides to complete adventures, and all seem to come with a hotel pick-up service. The easiest way to get around on site is by car. It is even easier to take a taxi or book a shuttle. It sounds a little decadent, but it's affordable and you're set for that here. Moving around by bicycle or even on foot seems rather strange to the local population—even at short distances. Apart from that, it's not much fun and is simply dangerous to explore a city like Bandung by bike. The only exception is Chiang Mai, where you may even encounter other recreational bikers.
Bikes and kit
If you opt for an enduro bike, you are well prepared for the varying conditions and on a machine that's versatile enough to enjoy the longest of trail days. In the Chillhouse in Bali, there is also a fully equipped workshop should you need it, although we recommend bringing the main essentials with you, especially spare parts such as inner tubes and dropouts. In Bali and Chiang Mai you can also rent a bike.
Temperatures are very constant throughout the year, but it is important to note that there can be considerable rainfall during the rainy season. In Thailand, the rainy season is from June to October, whereas in Bali rains fall from December to March. Most of the time it rains here only for a short time and mostly in the mountains, meaning you'll most likely get some serious sunshine on Bali even in the rainy season. The climate in Chiang Mai is the most pleasant: very stable, but not quite as hot as in Bangkok or Bali. As a result, summer clothing is sufficient, a thin rain/wind jacket is not harmful in case of an emergency.
Good to know
In Asia, delicious food is offered everywhere along the road at a bargain price, at least from a Western point of view. It is often obvious that the hygiene standards you might be used to are not applied here, however. So just remember: millions of South East Asians have survived before you—and you will too. He who dares, wins; after all—so make sure you taste some local Som Tam, a classic spicy papaya salad.
In Southeast Asia, various diseases are transmitted by insects, especially dengue fever and malaria. These diseases are no drama here; people know how to deal with them. Nevertheless, you should protect yourself against mosquito bites as best you can, especially with good mosquito spray (best to buy locally as then the right substances are included).
Money can be exchanged anywhere in the country. This is always an incredibly uncomplicated process and is often cheaper than doing it at home. Therefore, if your home currency is one of the more commonly traded ones (USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, NZD, etc.), just bring what you need with you and change it on the ground.
English is also commonly spoken at all official places (such as airports, hotels, hospitals and the bike tour operators). In the Chillhouse in Bali, you'll even find multi-lingual staff in case you want to communicate in German. When it comes to communicating with locals, however, you should not expect them to be able to communicate in English—especially in the poorer areas of Bali or Bandung. Most will be used to tourists by this point, however, so you'll either have to learn a little of the local language or get by any way you can.
The main income of the Balinese is traditionally agriculture. Bananas, coconuts, mangoes and ... rice! Rice is staple food in Asia and synonymous with the food itself. In Bali, rice is grown almost everywhere, but the best known are the rice terraces in the southwest of the island, which have even been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and which can be experienced fabulous by bike.
"Six o'clock breakfast, seven o'clock departure" - a typical announcement that you could get from one of the bike guides in Bali. The reason for the early departure in the Bali Bike Park: While winter is in Europe, Bali is rainy season. At noon it is very likely that a proper cooling is due, even if it may have early 30 degrees in the morning. That the departure then takes place only two hours later, is somehow also typical.
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
For mountain biking, Chiang Mai is a real highlight. There are specially designed trails, which are located on the slope of Doi Pui. If you come by shuttle - that fights snorting towards the summit, while you can enjoy the great view of the city on the back of a pick-up. After only about 20 minutes you are already sitting on the bike.
The great thing about mountain bikes is that you can drive almost anywhere. You do not need a bike park and no trails to enjoy the bike. But it is always something different when you can ride on a track that was built with passion and expertise to have fun on a mountain bike. And that's exactly why it pays off to drive the 45-kilometer drive from Chiang Mai to this mini-circuit just a few kilometers long.