If you’re itching to leave your workstation and vagabond across foreign lands on a motorcycle, you’re in the right place.
And if you are looking for a blend of nature and culture peppered with excitement from riding dirt tracks (or regular roads with quite a few potholes!), a motorcycle journey through Asia is just the right choice. Not to mention that it’s usually dirt cheap, especially if you organize it yourself!
So after extensive riding (and reading!), I’ve compiled a list of 6 incredible motorcycle road trips, from Thailand to Tibet, India, Vietnam and China. Note that, even though I do have my favorites, I won’t be listing the tours in order of my preference. So feel free to choose any. There’s a saddle for every ass: steppes, gritty deserts, dense jungles, towering mountain ranges, and everything in between.
And remember, I am NOT talking about weekend getaways here. All of these are multi-day tours that require serious planning and loads of riding experience.
Best Motorcycle Road Trips in Asia: Itineraries, Dos & Don’ts
1. The Ha Giang Loop, Vietnam
|Route Name||The Ha Giang Loop|
|Length||825 mi (1,320 km)|
|About||A stunningly diverse route through Northern Vietnam all the way east to the border with China! While the challenging riding conditions demand caution, you’ll also get to see the Ban Gioc Waterfall.|
If you don’t mind getting a bit sore, this should be a 3-5 day trip through the Sapa to Ha Giang provinces in northern Vietnam. But if you want to pay full respects to the views, take at least a week!
Because this route is definitely worth it. It will take you along a medley of misty mountains, rice terraces, and quaint villages. The varying topography of the region means jumping from one to another set of road conditions, and adds to the diversity of the terrain. On top of that, the route is virtually soaked in Vietnamese ethnic heritage. You’ll get a chance at family-style communal dining where big dishes are being shared by everyone sitting at the table!
Back to the route! It’s relatively well marked and you can totally go for it even as a solo rider. There are plenty of guesthouses and homestays where you can spend the nights. (Check out this in-depth review of the tour for more details.) If you feel tired, take a break in a scenic location and sip a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Your body’s gonna thank you as it also needs gasoline!
The riding conditions aren’t easy by any means. There’s lots of narrow hairpin bends, precipitous drops, and harsh roads to negotiate. I’d suggest avoiding the rainy season for this journey. That will prevent you from getting stuck in storms, or mudslides or worse (if there’s anything worse than a mudslide, that is).
2. Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
|Route Name||Mae Hong Son Loop|
|Length||500 mi (800 km)|
|About||This trail will take you through remote Thailand, but it’s worth the sweat – apart from canyons, waterfalls, rice fields, you’ll also get to see pagodas!|
For pros looking for a challenging route, this is a proper road warrior trail that runs through some of the remotest regions of Thailand. Most riders complete this 500-mile trail in 6 days, but you can always extend it.
Along the way, you will pass through green farmlands, quaint villages, and rolling hills, including Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand. During the pit stops, explore the local village or dig into some of the inviting local snacks.
Things start getting exciting on day 3 when you get to explore some exotic spots like the Lod Caves and the cascading Pha Suea waterfall. On the 4th day, start early from the town of Pai as you will have to negotiate more than 700 curves as you come down the mountains through a fascinating landscape.
To be honest, this route can be done on a scooter. But I’d still choose a trusty mule if I were you. The thing that’s especially tricky for non-UK riders is you need to drive on the left! (Keep this in mind if you plan to travel to India as well.)
3. Across the Deserts and Steppes in Mongolia
|Route Name||Ulaanbaatar to Gobi and Back|
|Length||1,000+ mi (1,800+ km)|
|About||The cold desert of Gobi, the green steppes of Khangai, red cliffs, picturesque valleys – this trail will make you feel like a Genghis Khan, but on a metal horse!|
|Difficulty||Intermediate to Advanced|
If you are fascinated by remote destinations that exist far beyond the edges of civilization, this is THE tour that you must make.
And Mongolia has some of the most fascinating landscapes in entire Asia. Since this is not a frequented route that you will find readily on the map, it’s best to take the help of a trustworthy travel agency.
This two-week journey starts from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and enters the Gobi-Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Note, Gobi is a cold desert that extends into China. But it gets more complicated than just cold. In reality, it’s a proper temperature whiplash that will scorch you during the day and freeze your bone marrow overnight.
While moving across the gravel plains, you will cross the stunningly colorful cliffs of Tsagaan Suvarga and enter the picturesque Yolyn Am Valley.
The end of the first week will see you crossing sand dunes and riding towards the Khangai massif across vast green steppes. This is the area where legendary Mongolian racehorses are bred. This breed was used by the nomadic armies of Genghis Khan who were known as “Hell’s Horsemen.” Quite an apt name for a modern horseman riding a pile of metal!
After experiencing some of the best features of the Mongolian landscape and spending a few nights in traditional Mongolian yurts, you return to Ulaanbaatar. While you will end up sweaty and dirty (and with quite a few bruises on your rear end!), this epic trip is perfect for reinventing yourself.
4. Trans Tibet Motorcycle Tour
|Route Name||Trans Tibet Motorcycle Tour|
|Length||500+ mi (800+ km)|
|About||Mount Everest – what else is there to say? Two more things: don’t even try this one if both you and your bike aren’t in top shape. If you are, pick your season wisely.|
The thing is, going for a motorcycle ride in China isn’t so simple. Not only are motorcycles banned in some of the major cities and expressways, but you will also need a Chinese driving license to drive in the country. The best option is to do your homework before you depart – or seek professionals to help you get things arranged.
But the incredible vistas of the Tibetan region are worth the hassle. And the best part is, you will ride to the Everest Base Camp and spend a night in Rongbuk Monastery under the shadow of the world’s tallest mountain. We’re talking 17,000 feet above sea level.
This means scenery that’ll knock breath out of you – and sometimes quite literally! Get ready for altitude sickness episodes that can best be tackled by taking frequent acclimatization breaks.
Also, your bike had better be shipshape for this feat.
This 9-10 day trip will also take you to some of the beautiful high-altitude lakes of Tibet, like the Yamdrok Lake and the Namtso Lake. Beyond that, you will also visit some exotic Buddhist monasteries that will provide a glimpse into Tibetan culture.
After a close encounter with some of the highest Himalayan peaks, you will head back to Lhasa to end one of the best motorcycle tours in Asia.
Note that the map above doesn’t include the Everest Base Camp as it’s not an option as of this writing. As with almost every other route on this list, this one’s heavily seasonal. So if you choose any other time of year than the ideal one, you’ll have to reroute quite often.
Pro tip: The best time to enjoy the magnificent vistas in Tibet is between September to October. Avoid the winters as they can get not just bitingly cold but downright fatal at higher altitudes.
Warning: This is a high-altitude ride that will take you above 5000 meters. It’s a serious altitude and while your bike might handle it, you may not. Be aware of the symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) and keep acclimatization in mind while planning the trip. In any case, it’s probably wisest to just take a guided tour!
5. Goa to Kanyakumari Coastal Route, India
|Route Name||Goa to Kanyakumari Coastal Route|
|Length||660 mi (1,060 km)|
|About||If you’re craving sea sunsets and tropical climate, the left coast of India will sunbeat you. The tour ends at the tip of the Indian subcontinent, but you can easily hop across to see Sri Lanka too.|
|Difficulty||Beginner to Intermediate|
This is a magnificent coastal trip across a culturally rich landscape that can be completed in 9 days. Since this isn’t a technically difficult route, it’s great for intermediate riders. But make sure that you get used to the Indian rising conditions first.
The roads will take you along the coastline of the Arabian Sea to the tip of the Indian subcontinent in Kanyakumari. This is a unique town where three water bodies – the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean – meet.
Starting from Goa, you will move through some beautiful beach cities like Gokarna, and Bekal. In the next few days, you will drive over scenic coastal routes along the Malabar Coast and reach Fort Kochi – a quaint city with a medieval vibe.
Next, it is time to ride to Alleppey and enjoy a boat ride through the famous backwaters of Kerala. The last phase of the journey will take you to the beautiful beach of Varkala and finally into the surreal setting of Kanyakumari. End the journey at the sunset viewpoint to watch a magnificent sunset over the water.
Pro tip: Since you will pass through the original ‘City of Spices’, Calicut, make sure to enjoy the spicy Indian cuisines, including the ubiquitous ‘dosa’, a crepe made of rice and lentil.
Warning: The rainy season or the monsoons can be extremely wet in this region and not suitable for motorcycle rides. The winters are mild and comfortable, making them the best time for this journey.
6. Delhi to Rann of Kutch Motorcycling Trip, India
|Route Name||Delhi to Rann of Kutch|
|Length||1,560 mi (2,500 km)|
|About||An epic cultural tour to see the remains of the ancient Indus Valley civilizations, and salt. (LOTS of salt.)|
|Difficulty||Beginner to Intermediate|
This 9-day journey is an amazing cultural experience in a fascinating landscape. The final destination is the Runn of Kutch – one of the largest salt marshes in the world. At first glance, it looks like a gigantic snowy plane. Except that it isn’t snow but actual salt, just like the one you sprinkle on your French fries!
The journey will start from the capital city of Delhi and cross the beautiful state of Rajasthan. You can visit the magnificent royal palace in the city of Jaipur on the first day. Then move ahead to the hill station of Mount Abu to marvel at the architectural beauty of the Dilawara temple.
And how about riding next to 5-millennia old remains of urban settlements? After Dilawara, you’ll enter the state of Gujrat and reach the city of Dholavira – a site that contains the ruins of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. On the 5th day, you can enjoy a magical ride from Dholavira to Dhordo to experience the true beauty of the Rann.
If you plan your trip during winter, you will witness the colorful “Rann Utsav” celebrations. It’s basically a fascinating potpourri of art, culture, and cuisine. After spending a night in the salt desert, you can start the return journey to Delhi, via the cities of Udaipur and Jaipur.
Pro tip: If you want to experience the magical charm of the white desert, plan your trip during a full moon night. The white-caked surface and the vast nothingness look surreal under the full moon.
Warning: Since the Rann is an international border area, you may need special permission before you enter. Ask around or seek the guidance of a reliable travel agency to enquire about the exact process for obtaining permission.
Not everyone prefers to end their days with a mouthful of diesel fumes. But for those who don’t mind the hardships of long road journeys, these motorcycle trips are the ultimate form of travel.
But considering the rich cultural experience and immense natural beauty that you will experience, these trips are worth going beyond your comfort zone. (So much so that you might easily wish never to get back.)
And that’s the point of any motorcycle journey: experiencing rides that are truly transformational.