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.After the start in Bedugul you will find yourself on a beautiful, technical, but rather relaxed trail, which has a lot to offer in particular landscape: Huge grasses alternate with banana trees and gigantic bamboo, again and again the view of the surrounding valleys released - easy to enjoy. Then you are finally here. A picturesque bridge takes you to the middle of the rice terraces, which are connected with each other by narrow clay paths that are easily passable by bike.The fields are completely irrigated, so it is really pleasant here despite the heat. Of course, a lunch next to a rice field should not be missed. There is rice, baby. Hopefully fresh from the field. Enjoy the view again, take a few photos and let yourself roll to Tale.It continues, right through a piece of original Bali. Maybe you'll meet a few local women with baskets on their heads wondering what they're doing or some kids hoping for a few coins from the stranger and greeting you with the words "Money, money!"Slowly it gets busier. You approach the coast and thus the villages, roads and traffic. Here is something really careful - Cycling just for fun is something that is completely foreign to the locals here. Expect at best no consideration of others and behave as defensively as possible. And look forward to the goal of this tour, Echo Beach. Find a nice spot in the sand, order a fresh coconut (you'll be surprised how good "real" coconuts taste!) And end the day with one of the most beautiful sunsets you've ever experienced.
"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.To get to the start of this downhill bike park tour, you can not avoid a shuttle service. So first driving is announced. Surrounded by hundreds, felt by thousands of scooter riders, "machines of death", as they are called in Bali. Completely afraid of fear, the small mopeds push past cars, overtake, disregard the right of way (if there is such a thing) and honk whenever it suits. The motorists are in no way inferior to them. The statistics for traffic accidents in Bali does not suggest that this behavior contributes to general road safety - a bit of downhill riding in the bike park is almost foolproof.
Arrived in the town of Bedugul it continues by bike. Alternatively, you can also take you directly to the park and book a shuttle service there, which will bring you back to the start after every descent. Between banana trees and other tropical plants, it is now uphill. Alone, this uphill is a real experience. Then it finally starts. There are now eight routes that all want to be tried. At the end of the day, despite the manageable route length (around one kilometer long and 90 meters altitude difference), there is a lot on your speedometer.There was something else: the rain! It is not unlikely that you will get a decent shower at noon. Suddenly it could be really fresh and very wet. The right time to stop at the Bikepark kiosk. Do not be surprised if what you buy there tastes different than expected, and if the lady behind the sales counter somehow looks amused. Maybe you just ate delicious chicken breasts or another Indonesian delicacy. So be it as long as it tastes good.
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One thing you learn quickly in Bali: no biking without driving. Today, this foreplay is particularly abundant. It takes about two hours until the shuttle has fought its way to the Batur massif. From here you will be driving along the edge of the volcano crater, which is around ten kilometers wide.In a constant ups and downs, you circle the volcano on a ridge that normally gives a great view of the populated crater and the crater lake Danau Batur. However, you may also be unlucky: the rainy season brings a dense fog, which creates a great, mystical atmosphere, but obscures the view.You will follow the crater for a few kilometers, then turn off towards the coast and walk up to the beach for almost 1,800 meters. You pass an old temple and various mountain villages with locals who kindly cheer for you. The life up here seems really simple and the only connection to the outside world are the scooters that you even encounter on remote forest roads.It's the end of the tour. The dirt road becomes a gravel road, then a paved road - until you find yourself on the beach again. The final highlight is the delicious Bali food in a small restaurant, where it is again for very little money very delicious food.
Chiang Mai - also known as the Rose of the North. Rightly, because mountain biking in Chiang Mai is a real highlight. It begins with the access to the trails, most of which are well located on the almost 1,700 meter high Doi Pui are created. For Thai standards, the shuttle ride of just 20 minutes hardly worth mentioning. The shuttle battles fuming towards the summit while you enjoy the great view of the city. And then it starts: Maximum trail fun is in the way.The mountain bike highlight of Chiang Mai is this multi-hour Enduro Ride, which starts with a breathtaking view at the highest point of the mountain (which, however, you have to work out with a small climb). Afterwards, the trail leads you through coffee and banana plantations, past mystical temples, and with views that keep you breathless. Finally, the route spits you out at Huay Tung Tao Lake, the recreational lake of Chiang Mai with small bamboo huts right on the water and small restaurants serving delicious Thai food. Here you can collect yourself again from the shuttle driver or you meet a little further at the large parking lot (end point of this tour).Probably you will learn here at the latest, unfortunately, the little tormentors, which should give a little more attention in many parts of Asia, as at home: mosquitoes can transmit one or the other tropical disease here. The tiger mosquito, for example, is known as a transmitter of dengue fever. No need to panic, but you should have it on the screen and protect you as best it can against mosquito bites.
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.There are several trails that offer something for everyone. From simple and flowing to steep and fast everything is there. This trail has got it right. It's fast, technical and an interplay of flowing single trail, gruff rock passageways and steep high-speed tracks. And not just for five minutes, you'll need 45 minutes to go down and easily destroy 1,000 meters of altitude. The trail spits you close to a really nice village with a really nice café that invites you to take a break. There, the shuttle is waiting on request. Or you cycle back to Chiang Mai.Although Chiang Mai is not a small city, overall it is much more manageable and, above all, much more relaxed than many other large cities in Thailand. Here you can venture safely by bike on a small tour of the city, this is really cool and really fun.If you arrive in the center, you will immediately see the historic city walls, the many cafes and restaurants, shops and even some bike shops, all very well maintained and almost with a slight European tidiness. But as soon as you turn off the main roads, you're back in real Thailand. Everywhere small stalls on the roadside, where fruit or meat is sold or where women with the simplest means magic delicious Thai dishes. It's best to stop here and there, try a snack here and there and then roll on. I'll most likely meet Chiang Mai for some recreational cyclists, which is unlikely in the rest of Thailand.
Near Badung, the "flower city" or the "Paris of the East", is this small but fine jewel of Indonesian mountain bike culture, the Bikepark Cikole. The project has been operating "O.C." aka "Mister Mountain Bike of Indonesia" for more than ten years. He is a true veteran, on the road since the late 80s and here a real institution.On the slope of the volcano Tangkuban Perahu is a kind of "amusement center" for action seekers: Here you can book military exercises, paintball play, scooter racing or even mountain bike. The routes are all self-built, locals get the low entrance fee for the track maintenance and at the central meeting point you can buy snacks and drinks. A really chilly place, apart from the occasional explosions of the military exercises.The tracks themselves are megaspaßig. Basically very simple, the faster you get, the more exciting it becomes, and small roots or mini-jumps become fast transfers or doubles. And here you are not alone: on the weekend it can be quite full. From friendly and fast locals to the older mountain bike connoisseur, everything is represented, somehow almost like in the bike park at home. Instead of a lift, surprisingly all-terrain pickups carry you up the totally dry road towards the start. Half way there's a kiosk where you can get some refreshments. This is a really nice bike park.
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.If we are honest, you can even repaint the road part of this tour - you have to order the car and the driver to come here anyway. Then you can also book the whole day and enjoy one departure after another with the shuttle service. It sounds a bit presumptuous, but in Thailand it's not an exaggerated luxury and there are even a few bike tour providers that offer just that. Including pick up service from the hotel. So do not be fake modesty - just enjoy a downhill day at the gates of Chiang Mai.Back to the track. She is short and crisp, but has it in itself. Because she was built for the Thai Gravity series and does not have to hide from a domestic downhill track. In the upper part, it is still rather flat and flowing, but downwards but increasingly faster and got even a few jumps missed. If you have the route in it first, you will have fun here!