“After a wobbly start and a few close encounters with brick walls, we rode through Hoi An to the countryside,” writes my daughter, holidaying in Vietnam. Ah yes, the bicycle tour. It’s a wonderful way to see any new country, once you have got over the wobbly bits!
For those of us who don’t cycle regularly, hopping back on a bike is sometimes a bit nerve-wracking – but it’s always fun once you get going. Cycling tours are hugely popular, according to travel agents and wholesalers I recently interviewed for a story on adventure travel. Whether it’s in Asia, Europe or closer to home in Australia and New Zealand, pedal-power is becoming the way to go.
The new $50 million Nga Haerenga network of nation-wide cycle trails in New Zealand is attracting many Australians to travel across the Tasman to what is now considered a prime cycling destination. I can vouch for that, the last cycling trip I did (okay, it was only a day trip) being part of the 150km Otago Central Rail Trail in New Zealand’s South Island. It was a fabulous day, invigorating but not exhausting and well within the ability of anyone of reasonable fitness.
One travel wholesaler told me he had seen a great increase in interest for short rides of around 30km or so. “It’s like a walking tour, but a whole lot quicker and more fun,” he said, adding that in Asia the “new” destinations for cyclists are Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Burma).
I’ll add Thailand to that list, as it’s a place where I – despite getting the wobbles on very narrow paths alongside klongs – really enjoyed a cycling tour of Bangkok a few years ago. With just a friend and our guide, I headed into some unchartered territory, away from the Bangkok traffic snarls and had a terrific day exploring places I would have never found otherwise. We went with Spice Roads, a company that runs a number of tours in and around Bangkok, including our half-day “jungle tour” of Bang Kra Jao, an untouched part of Bangkok just across the Chao Phraya River from Sukhumvit. We rode through small villages, past a maze of waterways, temples, jungle vegetation and a weekend floating market, covering an easy 25km, on mostly flat ground.
In Ireland earlier this year, I drove around 900km of the Wild Atlantic Way touring route. I’d like to say that’s my excuse for not cycling, but the truth is that along the way I passed many people who were! And in a way I envied them. Not the hills, which were many and steep, but the fresh air and the slow pace that really allowed them to soak up that glorious green countryside. But I saw lots of evidence of more gentler cycling too – pretty bikes with baskets propped outside cottage doorways.
In Switzerland a few months ago, a hotel I stayed in on the banks of the Rhine in Basel had them outside the door, just perfect for a spin along the promenade.
Many cities around the world (my own included) now have public cycle programs, with the ability for visitors to hire a bike (and helmet, if required) for a few hours or more – usually with the first hour or two free. It’s a great way of getting around. In Brisbane, there are cycle tracks all over the city, including alongside the Brisbane River, the paths shared with walkers and joggers.
Of course, once their useful life is over, bicycles also lend themselves to other uses. Their lovely lines make them perfect for artworks and as sign-holders, and they still draw us to them even when their tyres are flat, their handlebars bent and their frames rusty.
Back in Vietnam, my daughter Jess continues: “Drifting through the rice paddies and villages, we stumbled upon a local dance school where they let us join in and taught us their dance to a One Direction song.”
Now that’s the kind of experience you wouldn’t necessarily get while travelling in a car or bus! Don’t you agree? Long live the bicycle and all who ride one!