Biking Through the Region
Story and Pictures by THANIN WEERADET
Bangkok Post, March 25, 2004
SpiceRoads is taking foreign travellers closer to the lifestyle and cultures of Southeast Asia
If you are adventurous and have the spirit and determination to explore Southeast Asia from upclose, bicycling is an environmentally sound alternative. However, going on your own can be a bit dodgy for you can lose your way admiring the beautiful scenery, get dehydrated in the tropical heat or just miss the better spots.
SpiceRoads, a bicycling tour operator, is there to facilitate such trips. Founded by Hamish Keith, the company offers biking packages ranging from day-long trips in Bangkok to one or two week excursions pedalling around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.
It is hoping to tap bikers from Europe and North America, an increasing number of whom are travelling to Southeast Asia and want to explore the countries in the region on bicycle.
"Southeast Asia has great potential for bicycling tourism," said Mr Auke Possel, its sales and marketing manager.
The region has beautiful scenery and each country its distinct culture. People are friendly. European travellers enjoy learning something that is different from home. Travelling on a bike gives them more freedom and the chance to take a closer look at rural people and the villages they live in.
The company charges US$600 (approximately 24,000 baht) for a weeklong tour.
SpiceRoads' general manager, Struan Robertson, has lived in the region for nine years now and enjoys bicycling to most areas. He believes European travellers would prefer to learn about the region from the confines of their bike, rather than a bus.
Because the climate in tropical, biking in Southeast Asia can be a daunting proposition and some adjustments need to be made, especially as far as Western bikers are concerned, to suit prevailing weather conditions.
"We try not to organise biking excursions during the rainy season or when the weather is too hot," he said.
Most tours take place between October to January. Adjustments are made to suit individual taste. Most of the pedalling is done in the morning with the afternoon reserved for rest, after which it resumes again - when the heat is less severe.
The SpiceRoads website (www.spiceroads.com) has all relevant information about weather conditions and biking dates, the degree of hardship, and how participants should prepare for such trips.
Citing Dutch people, Mr Possel said the Netherlands is a biking nation. Once or twice a year they set out in groups to cycle in France or Africa. Throw in Southeast Asia and they know you have something very different and special to offer them.
The SpiceRoads website details packages ranging from a few days to weeks, ideal for starters as well as seasoned pedallers. Along with the packages come the ratings informing the reader about the terrain and the level of difficulty they can expect while negotiating a particular leg or route.
"A mountain excursion in Vietnam, for example, is designed for hardcore types. I would not recommend beginners to join such trips. You have to pedal a full week and that's not easy," Possel said.
Since SpiceRoads is based in Bangkok, most of its packages focus on Thailand, an exciting destination offering all sorts of terrain and wide climatic and cultural diversity. It's particularly appealing to people coming from countries where the landscape is flat or plain, like Holland. Dutch tourists can come and bike through the mountains of Thailand, and also enjoy its food, temples and beaches.
A lot many Europeans are fascinated by Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and Possel is confident that biking packages to the three Indochinese countries will sell well.
The biking tours are devised flexibly keeping in mind the choice and preference of individual bikers. "Some ride fast, some ride slowly and take the time to talk to local people. The tours are flexible," he said.
According to Roberston, biking carries different meaning for different people. "I have been cycling for a long time. Cycling has always been part of my holiday. I don't want to spend every day sitting in a bus. For me, biking is combination of travelling and doing something I enjoy," he observed, while Possel said, "on a bicycle I can go anywhere I like. It's healthy and easy to ride, and you can go fast or slow, its entirely up to you."
Possel hopes to add new destinations over the next two years to expand his client base and attract Thais to come and join SpiceRoads excursions.
Unlike the Netherlands or China, bicycling to work or pursuing it as a hobby or an exercise has never been part of the Thai lifestyle. The hot weather and road pollution in Bangkok have not encouraged it either, but Possel is optimistic as young Thais are beginning to take biking more seriously, and who knows one day they might even want to pedal beyond their borders.