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Touring in Asia

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Touring in Asia

Old 04-14-11, 06:13 AM
  #1  
wiiiim
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Touring in Asia

Hello!
I'm trying to get a general idea about what touring in Asia is like. Can people share their past experiences?

Is it more difficult than cycling in South America?
How do you cope with all the different languages? Just go with the flow? I like getting to know the locals
How easy is it to wild camp?
What about drinking water? Can you drink from most rivers (in nature areas)?

On my previous tour i spent half a year in South America (Cusco - Ushuaia). I'm in the early stages of planning a new project. I miss life on the road :-)

Thanks!
Greets
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Old 04-14-11, 07:32 AM
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Asia is a big place, so you need to be more specific. I've toured in parts of South America, and also parts of Asia. Much of Asia is densely populated, so wild camping is less feasible in those areas. But those areas also often have very inexpensive rooms available (e.g. Thailand). As for language, it varies greatly by country. In Sri Lanka, English is often spoken. In Laos, almost no English is spoken. I brought a phrase book and used it there. In Thailand, many people who deal with tourists speak at least a little English, but I sometimes used a phrase book there, as well.
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Old 04-14-11, 07:42 AM
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Well, here are a group of teachers I met back when I was teaching ESL in Korea. Check out their blog, it's called Braking Boundaries. They cycled from Beijing to London (one continued on to his home in Northern Ireland.)

Braking Boundaries
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Old 04-14-11, 07:57 AM
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What part of Asia are you thinking of? As others point out, Asia is a varied place. I've only cycled in Russia, China, Thailand, Vietnam and India and those countries were different from each other (even saw large constrasts in China between Yunnan, western China and eastern China).

There is more language variation, though in more popular areas such as Thailand, found it pretty easy to get along. Also true in South India. China was tougher for me and Russia in between. Going with the flow is good, trying to find bilingual maps or other resources is helpful. I was wary of drinking from rivers most every place, though would either drink from same places as locals (often) or buy some water (sometimes). Wild camping in Russia and western China was easy. Southeast Asia and India it didn't make sense, but local accommodation was often not too expensive.
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Old 04-14-11, 08:28 AM
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thanks for the info! I'll definitely check that out

the current dream would be to start in Europe and head to Australia, skipping parts that are not feasible (or not fun):

Belgium -> Turkey: this seems pretty clear
Turkey -> India: not sure what the possible routes are here, but I would love to do Pakistan
Nepal: very exited about this one
Nepal -> Thailand: not quite sure how
then slowly head over to Australia

i'm the kind of guy that really enjoy's long stretches of just nature where you can pitch the tent practically anywhere along the road, which was very easy to come by in South America (especially Argentina and Bolivia, and South of Chile). i try to avoid big cities but much rather enjoy small villages with friendly locals; how well does this vision fit with Asia? Central America is the alternative i'm keeping in mind

Also, how popular is Asia for cyclists? In South America there were a lot, especially in the 'casa de cyclistas' (obviously :-), and on popular roads (i would say almost standard pan america roads) such as the Carratera Austral). Are there similar examples in Asia?

Thanks!
Wim
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Old 04-14-11, 08:31 AM
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+1 for where you are thinking of...
I cycled Thailand, Malaysia. Sumatra ( Indonesia) as well as Patagonia in South America
wild camping is possible everywhere... just pick your spots carefully ...as always
in Thailand I stayed in a few Wats, ( Buddhist temples , ask the monks nicely, there is usually one who speaks english....
I carried the Point it book, lots of pictures of everything you may need, a universal phrase book
for a good read look at Tzuo Han's blog
http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/longwayhome
have fun
tailwinds
george
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Old 04-14-11, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by wiiiim View Post
Turkey -> India: not sure what the possible routes are here, but I would love to do Pakistan
I was thinking of a route that would go through Central Asia, "the Stans" , ending in Kyrgyzstan, take the Torugart Pass border crossing into Western China heading toward Kashgar, then head south towards Pakistan, cross at Khunjerab Pass and pick up the Karakoram Highway through the Himalayas, which looks absolutely breathtaking. On another note, I have heard though that it has become more and more dangerous over the year with a stronger Taliban presence along that route. Landslides are also a major problem, and the border is only open half of the year.

If you where to take the route, it would lead you to Islamabad, and then you can head down the national Highway southeast into Lahore (keep in mind this city is an anti-Western hotspot as of late with that whole CIA agent case), and then into India...
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Old 04-14-11, 10:47 AM
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As diverse as Asia is, touring Asia has some common things related to bicycle touring. First, bicycle touring in much of Asia including Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, etc is excellent.

I believe that touring Asia has an advantage over touring South America in that Asia is generally much safer, the roads are better, the road maps are more accurate and accessible, and hotels are better and more plentiful.

All Asian countries have a rich bicycle heritage and are accommodating for bicycle travel.

To answer your questions:

1) Do NOT drink out of any rivers in Asia. I have traveled all over Asia and cannot remember seeing any river worthy of drinking. Bottled water is plentiful and common.

2) Wild camping is not very commonly done in Asia by the natives. This means that you will be doing something odd which is generally not a good idea when you are in unfamiliar lands. Now, that comment is mostly for "green" Asia - the eastern side where there are trees and greenery. Western Asia is a different story - as in Western China, Nepal, and Tibet. In Western Asia, nomadic lifestyles and tenting is common, but water will be a real problem as will boredom and safety. Much of Western Asia is lawless or the law can be a bad as the criminals. In the frontier lands of Asia, your safety will depend largely on your own natural intuition, common sense, planning, survival skills, people skills, and luck.

3) Language skills are helpful wherever you go, but don't let lack of language stop you. You will manage with English and pantomime and a dictionary.

Good luck. Post photos and your travel log.

Last edited by mike; 04-14-11 at 10:55 AM. Reason: details
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Old 04-14-11, 11:16 AM
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Originally Posted by thesearethesuns View Post
I was thinking of a route that would go through Central Asia, "the Stans" , ending in Kyrgyzstan, take the Torugart Pass border crossing into Western China heading toward Kashgar, then head south towards Pakistan, cross at Khunjerab Pass and pick up the Karakoram Highway through the Himalayas, which looks absolutely breathtaking. On another note, I have heard though that it has become more and more dangerous over the year with a stronger Taliban presence along that route. Landslides are also a major problem, and the border is only open half of the year.

If you where to take the route, it would lead you to Islamabad, and then you can head down the national Highway southeast into Lahore (keep in mind this city is an anti-Western hotspot as of late with that whole CIA agent case), and then into India...
To a great extent, level of adventure is commensurate with the level of danger. The routes and places you describe would be a great adventure... and dangerous. I have been to these places and would only go back as a bicycle or foot adventurer only if I had no dependents in the world and was comfortable with the idea that my life or health might end on this trip. Sure, you will talk with people who have been there and say that they sensed no danger, but that is based mostly on naivete. I have had friends travel there and come back in a box in the form of ashes.

Let us put aside, for a moment, the risk of bad people who might cause you harm. That is a wild card. Tibet, Nepal, western China, the -stan countries. These are areas with thousands of miles of nothingness - harsh wilderness replete of water and greenery that goes on for hundreds of miles that stretch into thousands of miles. The photos look amazing, and it is, but it is difficult to comprehend the desolate nature of the land until you are there and you travel for hours and days on end and it seems like you have not moved an inch.

It is absolutely amazing that people can live in those challenging conditions, but they have life skills that most of us cannot even imagine. I can easily imagine finding yourself without water after bicycling 100+ miles and being another 100 or 200 miles to the next water source.

You could have bicycle breakdowns that might not have repair possibilities for many hundreds if miles - only assuming that you were riding a locally popular single speed bicycle. Don't expect to find specialty chains or wheel replacements or derailures in Tibet unless you are in Lhasa and even then, there are only maybe one or two shops that could help with a modern bicycle.

I like adventure and I have done it - at great risk to my own safety, but you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Plan accordingly. Part of that planning should include having your affairs in order at home in case you don't come back alive... because not everybody comes back alive especially when you travel to particularly dangerous places.
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Old 04-14-11, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by mike View Post
These are areas with thousands of miles of nothingness - harsh wilderness replete of water and greenery that goes on for hundreds of miles that stretch into thousands of miles. The photos look amazing, and it is, but it is difficult to comprehend the desolate nature of the land until you are there and you travel for hours and days on end and it seems like you have not moved an inch.

It is absolutely amazing that people can live in those challenging conditions, but they have life skills that most of us cannot even imagine. I can easily imagine finding yourself without water after bicycling 100+ miles and being another 100 or 200 miles to the next water source.

You could have bicycle breakdowns that might not have repair possibilities for many hundreds if miles - only assuming that you were riding a locally popular single speed bicycle. Don't expect to find specialty chains or wheel replacements or derailures in Tibet unless you are in Lhasa and even then, there are only maybe one or two shops that could help with a modern bicycle.
Sounds just like South America..Ruta quarante (R40) in Argentina or the Careterra..did you find any bike shops there?

You seem to have experience and knowledge of Adventure Cycling....


I too have lots of friends who have died on the road , some bodies have never been found...

Today is a good day to die.....if this is not your mantra...do not ride a bike...

I miss life on the road too

george
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Old 04-14-11, 02:10 PM
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hmm, i do look for adventure, within reasonable limits
when i'm travelling i really tend to avoid touristy places, i much prefer the smaller more deserted villages where real contact with the people is still possible and feels natural; in a way this degree of 'exclusivity' is really addicting!
..but off course i'm not looking to get myself killed

i personally found the routa 40 or Carretera Austral very very safe, in fact those are the safest areas of South America, both Chile and Argentina have excellent 'Western' life standards and people are sure to help out
Bolivia and Peru on the other hand were different for me, i wouldn't say its super dangerous but the vast nature and poverty make things more on edge, but then again i also have some of the strongest memories of these sections!
the routa inter salar for example (Oruro to Uyuni, crossing 2 salt plains) was.. well.. mind blowing for me.. days and days of horrible deserted sandy dirt road with villages from the middle ages and in return you get the most exclusive view on nature and people possible :-)

anyway, thanks for the info so far! i will definitely look into this further
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Old 04-14-11, 07:41 PM
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Originally Posted by mike View Post
I believe that touring Asia has an advantage over touring South America in that Asia is generally much safer, the roads are better, the road maps are more accurate and accessible, and hotels are better and more plentiful.
Granted, you did use the word "generally", but South America is a big place, too, with varied cultures. Chile felt like just about the safest place I've ever toured. I have heard tales of cyclists being robbed in southern Peru, however, but I haven't been there myself. I think I'd be more inclined to attempt touring in Peru, however, than in Afghanistan or parts of Pakistan at this time.

As for roads, I've biked in 7 countries in Asia and 3 in South America. I had a greater choice of roads in Asian countries than in South American countries where all of my riding was in or near the Andes, but each country is unique. One country in Asia where I toured had poorer quality roads than any of the 3 countries in South America where I toured.
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Old 04-15-11, 02:28 AM
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Originally Posted by thesearethesuns View Post
I was thinking of a route that would go through Central Asia, "the Stans" , ending in Kyrgyzstan, take the Torugart Pass border crossing into Western China heading toward Kashgar, then head south towards Pakistan, cross at Khunjerab Pass and pick up the Karakoram Highway through the Himalayas, which looks absolutely breathtaking. On another note, I have heard though that it has become more and more dangerous over the year with a stronger Taliban presence along that route. Landslides are also a major problem, and the border is only open half of the year.

If you where to take the route, it would lead you to Islamabad, and then you can head down the national Highway southeast into Lahore (keep in mind this city is an anti-Western hotspot as of late with that whole CIA agent case), and then into India...
Caution should be excersized when planning a route into and/or through the Autonomous Regions of China. Slight political discord can cause all kinds of havoc/closures etc. Have a plan B.

Same goes for crossing the passes. Is Khunjerib pass open to foreigners? Jeese that would make for a nice trip!!
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Old 04-15-11, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by thesearethesuns View Post
Well, here are a group of teachers I met back when I was teaching ESL in Korea. Check out their blog, it's called Braking Boundaries. They cycled from Beijing to London (one continued on to his home in Northern Ireland.)

Braking Boundaries
haha those two just got back to Korea, just met them on our FB riding page last week. I've only ridden in Korea. It's really chill and wild camping is chilled from what I understand. I have a friend working his way though China and it's weird b/c non-chinese can't stay in normal hotels. they have to stay in foreigner only hotels that cost more. i'm waiting to see what will happen now that he is entering the wilderness areas of china and will be forced to camp. I general, I've found asians to be curious laid back people that love sharing and trying to communicate.
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Old 04-15-11, 11:25 AM
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I ride regularly in Taiwan with very little touring. However I am able to say the east coast of Taiwan is remarkable in its beauty. The Taiwanese are very friendly. I'd imagine wild camping is possible. If a tour of Taiwan is planned, it would be wise to work on your climbing as there are many hills.
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Old 04-15-11, 04:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Northwestrider View Post
I ride regularly in Taiwan with very little touring. However I am able to say the east coast of Taiwan is remarkable in its beauty. The Taiwanese are very friendly. I'd imagine wild camping is possible. If a tour of Taiwan is planned, it would be wise to work on your climbing as there are many hills.
I have also toured Taiwan. It is pretty good for touring as long as you stay on the rural roads (and there are plenty of them!). You can also tour much of the Danshuei river from Taipei south and many of the other rivers that have been dammed. The retaining walls have bicycle paths on them that go for miles. You can tour this way for much of the Danshuei River, for example. It runs for about 160 Km. When you cannot ride the retaining walls, you can ride the roads that run along the river.

Taiwan is an excellent place to visit. Air, water, and trash pollution used to be beyond description, but it is better today. You will still have problem with lung burning air pollution in Taipei, TaiChung, and Tainan - especially with their poorly regulated Naptha crackers which are some of the largest (and most polluting) in the world.

True, the east side of Taiwan is beautiful, but I cannot imagine bicycling it. The terrain is wicked vertical AND worse is the mix with traffic. It is white knuckle driving in a car. It would be suicide on a bicycle.
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Old 04-15-11, 08:18 PM
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If you are interested, check out
tour de Korea. It just started and
you'll get the general feeling of what it's like
riding in Asian countries.
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Old 04-15-11, 09:15 PM
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I've always wanted to do a winter tour of SE asia by bike. The first tourer I met was an old Dutch dude on a bent (first bent I ever saw as well) in the middle of Thailand. We sat and had a beer and he showed me his maps and stuff. Ever since then I've wanted to do it. If fact I started biking a little as soon as I got back. It would be more expensive than some places b/c you would want to tour in the in the winter (high tourist prices) to avoid crazy heat and you would probably have to fly a few extra times but SE asia is beautiful!! Everywhere you go there's are beautiful beaches and 5$ massages.
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Old 04-15-11, 10:53 PM
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Originally Posted by mike View Post
True, the east side of Taiwan is beautiful, but I cannot imagine bicycling it. The terrain is wicked vertical AND worse is the mix with traffic. It is white knuckle driving in a car. It would be suicide on a bicycle.
Yes there are a lot of hills, but I managed the central cross on my folding bike ( mu P24 ) just over a year ago, and enjoyed it. There is the northern cross that is great as well. I've not yet done the souther cross highway, but look forward to it in the future. North of Hualien, as you say there is a lot of traffic along the coast, but south of Hualien its not a problem, in fact depending on the road, traffic is very light. I forget the highway numbers but between Hualien and Taitung there are 3 roads that are possible. the one in the center is very quiet and beautiful to ride.
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Old 04-15-11, 11:14 PM
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Originally Posted by ivanpriest View Post
If you are interested, check out
tour de Korea. It just started and
you'll get the general feeling of what it's like
riding in Asian countries.
I lived a couple of years in South Korea, and have now lived in China for 2 years, and have visited lots of other Asian countries. Korea is VERY different from China, India is very very different from both, and lets not even talk about Turkmenistan, Indonesia or Bhutan.

I think the Tour de Korea might let you know something about touring in Korea, and some of that might even apply to Japan, but dont expect that to be of much help in China.

z
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Old 04-18-11, 03:20 AM
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Of all the Asian bicycle touring, japan and China are my favorite. Bicycle culture is strong in both countries and bicycling mix with traffic is just better. Japan is clearly the most civil, but China still has bicycle lanes that connect major cities as well as for inner-city traffic.

Frankly, the cities in Korea and most of the areas around the cities make no accommodations for bicycles. Bicycling in any city in Korea is suicide. In addition to the roads being designed for "automobile only", a lot of Korean drivers are bullies - feeling that the prestige of the automobile gives them privelage and clout over bicyclists and pedestrians. It is common to have Korean drivers pull up right behind a bicycle and honk and intimidate you until you jump off the road. They will also physically and intentionally run you right off the road. IMO, Korea ranks very low on the places to bicycle tour.

For industrialized Asia, Japan is better than Korea and probably better than Taiwan. There are many alternative routes, the drivers are more polite and conscious of bicyclists, and frankly, Japan just has a lot more cool stuff to see and do than Korea.
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Old 04-18-11, 05:49 AM
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so far i'm most exited about Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet, nature must be HUGE there!
big cities are not for me, with the exception of some crazy cities like La Paz

btw, does the concept of 'casa de cyclistas' exist outside of South America? I have heard about 'warm shower', but its not really the same
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Old 04-18-11, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by wiiiim View Post
so far i'm most exited about Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet, nature must be HUGE there!
big cities are not for me, with the exception of some crazy cities like La Paz

btw, does the concept of 'casa de cyclistas' exist outside of South America? I have heard about 'warm shower', but its not really the same
Yup, nature is HUGE there. Hee hee.

Be sure to write and keep us advised of your adventure.
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Old 04-18-11, 04:52 PM
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At present you cannot tour in Tibet without a guide. It has been like this for some years now, and doesnt seem likely to change anytime soon. Western Sichuan is ethnically Tibetan, much the same geography, and generally has no such restrictions.

z
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Old 04-19-11, 05:50 AM
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ah that sucks, the Friendship Highway looks amazing, it would not be possible without a guide?
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