Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Hit the Trails: Cycling in the Mekong Sub-Region

Franklin Heijnen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The mountains, valleys, riverbanks and farms make the Mekong Sub-Region an ideal setting for a bicycle adventure. We’ve picked three cycling hotspots in the region where you can hit the road, see the sights, and discover the region without anything getting in the way.

In Thailand, the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai are rich with winding bike trails, with a vibrant cycling culture to match. Whether you’re just biking around the Old City’s moat or taking on the challenging Inthanon trail to the peak of Thailand’s highest mountain, you can get a biking experience tailored to your experience and stamina.

Riding bicycle on a mountain at sunrise, Doi Suthep, Chiang mai / Image Cr. @jaboo2foto

Chiang Mai also hosts the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai, a four-stage race that climaxes with an 11-km climb up to the famous Buddhist pagoda of Doi Suthep, 650 meters above sea level. 2022 marks the 10th year of the Masters Tour, and is sure to attract cyclists from all across the world.

At any time of the year, you can check in with Chiang Mai’s thriving local biking community to get tips and join biking tours across the province. Bring your bike, or rent one from a local bike shop; before long, you’ll also be challenging the trail up Inthanon for the ride of your life.

Riding mountain bike in scenic landscape around Vang Vieng in Laos / Image Cr. @fabio.lamanna

In Laos, the northern province of Luang Namtha also seems tailor-made for biking tours, with its location in a scenic valley covered with rice fields and country villages. The local terrain is relatively flat, and filled with villages and other attractions that can be visited over a half day or full day’s cycling tour.

Rent a bike in the “new town” so you can hit the trails, riding to the minority villages, forested hills, and a nearby biodiversity conservation area. Tours in Luang Namtha can be guided by a local, or combined into a cycling/trekking/kayaking tour that maximizes the local experience.

Key stops include the Thai Dam (Black Thai) villages, where traditional silk and cotton weaving take place; Luang Khone Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in area, located at an ethnic Kalom (Tai Yuan) village; Ban Nam Dee, a Lanten minority village that practices bamboo paper-making and lies close to a scenic waterfall; and Luang Namtha Stupa, erected on the mountain overlooking Luang Namtha Town.

Yunnan / Image Cr. @MAhmad

In Yunnan, People’s Republic of China, bike tours can be organised from Zhongdian (Shangri-La), where long bike trails radiate out to some of Yunnan’s most scenic spots.

Shangri-La’s higher elevation makes bike trails easy to start from here, where bikers still have the energy to tackle longer mountains first. The gradients are surprisingly easy to tackle, as many of the roads here were built at a time when automobile engines weren’t as powerful as they are today.

With bike tours lasting several days, you can see Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, where the Yangtze narrows to 20 meters in width; Lijiang, the cultural capital of the Naxi minority group; and the full splendor of Yunnan’s snow-capped mountains, wide open plains and energetic rivers.

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