Southeast Asia on a Bike

Temples, elephants, jungles and spicy food

Riding motorcycle next to a row of Buddha statues

Temple riding.

Vehicles, especially motorcycles, are rather expensive in Southeast Asia. Thailand is no exception. Since I was spending an extended time in Thailand, I decided to splurge on a motorcycle. Versys was the only locally made bike over 300cc at the time, so I got it.

Over the course of next few years, I put over 40,000 km on it riding it around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Even though, I wanted to make longer trips with my Versys, I couldn't. It's is virtually impossible to bring vehicles into China and Myanmar. Vietnam and Indonesia make it rather hard to do so as well. So I explored the countries that I could and then sold the bike before stator burnt (made to go out at 40,000 miles).

Laos

I made a few trips to Laos both as a backpacker and on a motorcycle. This relatively small country has a lot to offer - Ethnic minorities, rugged landscape, laid-back backpacker enclaves, Buddhist temples, twisty mountain roads, jungles and one of Asia's mightiest rivers - Mekong. It was also the most bombed country in the history of the world during the Vietnam war. Famous Ho Chi Minh Trail went through Laos and parts of it are preserved even today.

Most tourist head stright to Luang Prabang - the old capital of the country and UNESCO world heritage city. It's chock full of temples, guesthouses and restaurants. These days tourists outnumber monks during the morning alms giving ceremony. I found watching overzealous tourists armed with latest DSLR gear more interesting than monks themselves.

Motorcycle parked in front of a Temple

Lao-style temple entrance.

Standing next to a Golden Triangle sign

Golden Triangle - once the hub of opium trade.

On a motorcycle in front of Vientian's Arc de Triomphe

Vientian, Lao capital.

A monk sitting on a motorcycle

Curious novice monk.

A long line of monks to receive alms

Alms giving ceremony in Luang Phrabang has become a major tourist attraction. These days, there are more tourists snapping photos than monks.

Two kids carrying buckets of water in front of red temple

Novice monks doing chores in a temple.

Standing next to a motorcycle in deep jungle

Camping in a jungle near Lao-Viet border. At night, I was woken up by loud noise of the wild elephants passing by. Luckily I did not see them.

Mekong flows through a dense jungle. Cruise down Mekong river from Thai border at Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is an experience not to be missed. There are two options for travelers. Fast boat, uncomfortable and loud, makes trip in one day. Slow boat, more spacious and quieter, makes an overnight stop half way through and arrives in Luang Prabang the following day.

Jungle-covered mountains at the border between Laos and Vietnam are home to wild elephants, among other animals. On one of my trips, I ended up camping in the jungle. Loud noise of trees being crushed in the middle of the night woke me up. Needless to say, I couldn't go back to sleep.

Motorcycle parked on a dirt road with section of it fenced off

Preserved section of the Ho-Chi-Minh trail. Lao, even never officially involved in the war, was the most bombed country in the history of the world.

laying in a hammock next to a river

Chilling by the river in Nong Khiaw. This is another backpackers' enclave. It's a peaceful village (outside holidays, when vocally challenged make up with volume for the lack of their singing skills) on Nam Ou river. It's surrounded by mountains covered with a dense forest. It is also a jump off point to go to Muang Ngoi village further up stream, accessible by boat only.

posing in front of a palace

Old palace in Luang Phrabang.

buddhist temple at sunset

Luang Phrabang temple at dusk.

on a motorcycle riding towards mountains

Vang Vieng is probably the most famous of backpackers places in Laos. It's got jungle-covered limestone mountains as its back drop with peaceful river flowing in between. Unfortunately, these days it looks more like Khao San Rd in Bangkok than a getaway destination.

Cambodia

Cambodia has got a piece of ocean, some mountains and jungle, but the single biggest attraction here is the Angkor temple complex.

Unfortunately, the movie Tomb Raiders made the place too famous and now, it's just another tourist trap. Still, everyone should visit the place at least once in a lifetime.

faces carved out of rock blocks

Giant faces of Bayon temple - my favorite.

large trees envelopping rock temple

Temples are impressive by themselves, but what really makes this place special are the giant trees that grew around the stone structures.

posing next to numerous faces carved out of rock blocks

Bayon temple.

on a ferry with bunch of motorcycle riders

Crossing Mekhong river with other riders.

Malaysia

This country is a true melting pot of Asian cultures. This is where Chinese and Indian trader have been meeting for centuries to exchange goods. Today, one can enjoy great Malay, Indian and Chinese food.

Malaysia is blessed with tropical climate, jungle-covered mountains and two oceans.

on a motorcycle with big Buddha statue and thick rainforest behind

Climbing up a mountains outside Kuala Lumpur. Getting high up in the mountains is a great way to escape tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur.

colorful huts with palm trees

Colorful guesthouses on Redang island.

Inside view of a Chinese temple

Interior of a Chinese temple in Malacca.

posing in front of a mosque built on water

Mosques are supposed to be on the water or, at least, surrounded by water. This one outside Malacca is perfectly situated.

motorcycle and rider in front of a mosque after sunset

Mosque in Putrajaya - a purpose-built capital of Malaysia.

friends posing on a busy singapore street

Crossed a causeway to visit friends in Singapore.

on a motorcycle with elephant warning sign behind

There are wild elephants roaming around roads that pass through the jungle.

swimming in crystal celar waters

Perhentian islands - a picture-perfect tropical islands off eastern coast of Malaysia.

on a red scooter with black pepper plantation behind

Black pepper plantation deep inside Borneo.

Vietnam

Vietnam is truly made for motorcycle, scooters, to be more precise. Mountains are criss-crossed by narrow twisty roads where scooters rule. It is very complicated to bring in a vehicle into Vietnam and I was glad I did not have a big bike to ride around.

The country is long and narrow. So it makes a lot of sense to travel from north to south or vice versa. Recognizing this, many shops rent motorcycles for one way travel. I rented a scooter in Hanoi and made a loop around the northern part only.

posing with green rice field behind

The climate varies quite a bit even in a relatively small geographic area. While the rice fields just west of Hanoi were green, higher up in the mountains to the north, the rice was harvested and they were preparing the fields for the new season.

motorccle overloaded with various fruits

Who needs a truck when scooters can be loaded just as much.

mist shrouded hills with rice terraces

Clouds lifting up over rice terraces in northern Vietnam.

scooter in front of landmine warning sign

Minefield to stop illegal crossing into China. Judging by the footprints around, even mines do not seem to deter smugglers.

scooter with engine taken off for repair

The owner did not bother making sure the bike had enough oil when he rented it out. Of course, I did not bother checking the oil level. So going up some steep hill, the little oil that was in the engine collected at the back and I blew the piston. A local shop put a new piston and honed the cylinder in less than two hours for the total cost of $22. Gotta love Asia!

Lady with traditional hat selling flowers off her bicycle in front of a banyan tree

A lady selling flowers in front of a banyan tree in Hanoi.

Philippines

This beautiful island nation (over 7000 islands) is perfect for exploration on a scooter. A big motrcycle would be overkill for the narrow, twisty mountain raods.

On one visit, I rented a scooter for the tour of northern Luzon. Clark is a former US base. After Americans left, the airport was turned into a commercial one serving discount airlines. Nearby town was clearly servicing the servicemen - bars and girls abound. It's not a place to hang around, but flights are cheap and it's a good place to head north.

On a beach with leaning palm trees

Saud beach, one of the most beautiful, yet quiet, beaches in N Luzon.

Motorcycle parked in a tire shop

It seems I can't make even a scooter trip without flats. This one was particularly bad because the tire was slashed and it was a rare size tire, so no shop had it in stock for next 200 km. Luckily ingenuity of local tire mechanics came to rescue and I could continue.

Ornamented tricycle

Tricycles like this one are very common. Each town has a different theme - colors, shapes, embelishments.

Crowded pedestrian street with horse carriages

Vigan City, straight out of Spain - a well-preserved Spanish colonial town.

Posing on a deserted sandy beach

Another beautiful and remote beach outside Santa Ana in furthest NE corner of Luzon island.

Overcrowded minibus with people sitting on the roof

A typical scene in the mountians of N Luzon.

Rice terraces going high up steep mountain slopes

UNESCO World Heritage listed rice terraces of Banaue.

Thailand

I spent most time riding in Thailand, on scooters or my Versys.

The country stretches from near China in the north and goes down

Motorcycle with temple ruins behind

Sukhothai - the old capital of Thailand.

Motorcycle parked in front of a stupa

Sukhothai.

Riding through bamboo forest

Bamboo forest in Northern Thailand.

Playful orangutan hugging a visitor

For some reason this orangutan couldn't get enough of me. Who can blame him :))

Mist shrouded mountains behind a motorcycle and two riders

Khao Sok NP park in Thailand. I avoid national parks in Thailand as the entrance for foreigners 10x the price of entrance for Thais - double pricing at its finest.

On a motorcycle with an elephant passing behind

Elephants can still be seen on some roads in Thailand.

On a motorcycle in front of a golden stupa

Thailand is the land of stupas.

Motorcycle parked in front of a huge Banyan tree

Beautiful Banyan tree.

Elephant checking out my motorcycle

At the elephant festival in Surin.

View of a Buddhist temple framed by the entrance gate

Chiang Mai temple.