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20 of Asia’s Best Activities for Active Travelers: Part 1 of 2

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20 of Asia's Best Activities for Active Travelers: Part 1 of 2

Lirene CilliersBy Lirene Cilliers   Posted 4th Jun 2024

Experiencing Asia is about more than hopping through temples, sunbathing on exotic beaches, and strolling through night markets in search of the best street food stalls – albeit those are important (very, very important). It’s also about getting out and experiencing one of the world’s best places to get active.  

Journey away from the busy cities into the mountains, forests and coastlines across Asia. Go cycling through ancient sites, hike through remote villages, kayak on jade rivers and more.  
After 20 years of cycling the back roads, we've compiled a list of our 20 favorite outdoor activities for active travelers in Asia. In this first installment we’ll be highlighting 10 activities, keep an eye out for part two. 

Making Soba Noodles in Japan

Making Soba noodles in a small village in the Iya Valley, Japan, is quite the special activity. Visit in the morning when the valley air is crisp and cool as you make your way along a small village road to a quaint house perched on the mountainside. This is where you will learn this ancient art.  

You will be greeted by two cheerful elderly ladies, whose faces light up with welcoming smiles. The workshop is cozy inside, with the earthy aroma of buckwheat flour filling the air.  

Your instructors will show you how to knead the dough, dusting it with flour as you work it smoothly. Once rolled out thin, you'll use a sharp blade to slice the noodles to perfection. Thick or thin, the trick here is consistancy. 

After cooking up a batch, you'll sit down to feast on the fruits of your labor. The light noodles are infused with the subtle flavor of buckwheat, making it even more delicious when dipped in savory broth.  

What makes this activity extra special is the warm and cheerful instructors. While a guide is necessary to bridge the language gap, the reward is well worth it, as they regale you with stories and folk songs.  

Ready to knead, roll, and chop your way through Japan? Explore our Japan cycling tours.

Cycling the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam

If you're a fan of the "Top Gear" series on BBC, you might have glimpsed the stunning Hai Van Pass, celebrated as one of the top coastal roads with exquisite views. 

Cycling over Hai Van pass is an incredible accomplishment as it is not an easy climb to make. As you begin the ascent, you're surrounded by lush tropical forests and scenic coastline. With each turn of the pedals, the panoramic views become more breathtaking. Looking out over the crystal blue waters of the East Sea (South China Sea), you feel a sense of awe at the natural beauty that surrounds you.

The winding road snakes its way up the pass, giving spectacular vistas around every bend. The fresh sea breeze kisses your face as you climb higher and higher. Your legs begin to burn with each pedal stroke but the scenery makes each ounce of effort worthwhile, and reaching the top fills you with immense satisfaction. 

Cycling over Hai Van pass is an epic accomplishment and a memory that will stay with you long after leaving Vietnam. Opt for our Vietnam Essentials Bike Tour with vehicle assistance readily available if you need a breather. 

Train Ride in Sri Lanka 

Sri Lanka is home to several train routes that are considered among the most beautiful in the world. The train tracks wind through the country's picturesque central highlands, passing through emerald valleys, verdant tea estates, and remote villages. As your train chugs along, gaze out the window at the dramatic landscapes unfolding before you.  

Perhaps the most famous is the journey from Kandy to Ella (or the reverse, Ella to Kandy). This particular train ride takes you through the heart of the Sri Lankan highlands and offers stunning vistas of rolling tea plantations, mist-shrouded mountains, and picturesque villages. 

The route, which includes the train segment from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, is particularly renowned for its breathtaking views as it chugs through the lush landscapes of the Hill Country. 

You can see waterfalls, lush forests, and get the opportunity to witness local life alongside the tracks. The journey can take between 6 and 10 hours, depending on the train service chosen, so you may wish to break the trip into segments. But it's an experience where the ride itself is a central highlight, not just the departure and arrival points. 

Exploring Sri Lanka by train allows you to mingle with friendly locals and gain an authentic taste of island life. As the hypnotic click-clack of the wheels lulls you into a Zen state, you'll find these leisurely train journeys to be a highlight of your visit. 

Once you've witnessed the splendor from your train window, keep the awe alive by swapping the tracks for the trails on our immersive Sri Lanka cycling tours

Kayaking on the Thu Bon River to a Cooking Class in Vietnam 

As you paddle through the gentle waters, the picturesque landscape of Hoi An unfolds before you, shifting from bustling riverbanks to peaceful countryside. 

Sights along the riverside are vibrant and ever-changing: local fishermen skillfully casting their nets, traditional wooden boats laden with produce, and local life playing out along the riverbanks. The historical architecture of Hoi An, with its distinct blend of local and foreign influences, adds a timeless backdrop to your journey. 

The final destination, a cooking class, is where you transform your journey's sights and smells into flavor. Through hands-on instruction, you'll learn to create traditional Vietnamese dishes, using local ingredients that reflect the essence of the region. 

Bike, hike, and kayak your way through Vietnam on our cycling tours. 

Walking Food Tour in Chaing Mai, Thailand 

Lace up your most comfortable walking shoes and get ready to dive fork-first into the heart of Northern Thailand's cuisine. If you believe Southern Thailand's Pad Thai is as good as it gets, think again! 

Chiang Mai is renowned for its distinctive culinary scene, blending traditional Lanna flavors with a wide range of local ingredients. Among the must-try dishes is:

  • Khao Soi, a creamy coconut curry noodle soup enriched with crispy noodles and served with a variety of condiments, captures the essence of Northern Thai cuisine. 
  • Sai Oua, a fragrant and spicy Northern Thai sausage packed with herbs and spices, offering a taste of the region's culinary heritage. 
  • Gaeng Hang Lay Moo, a tangy and slightly sweet pork curry that exemplifies the complex flavors of Northern Thai cooking. 

In November, Chiang Mai is especially lively for the Festival of Lights, known as Loi Krathong in Thailand. Colorful lanterns and lights decorate the sky while locals release candlelit floats on the river. It's a magical time to experience Chiang Mai's culture.  

Don't forget to leave space in your luggage for handicrafts and souvenirs as you explore the maze of market stalls. With so much to see, taste, and take home, you'll be glad you spent some time in Chiang Mai. 

Cycle past verdant tea plantations, marvel at the iconic White Temple, and pedal through lush forests on our eBike tour of Northern Thailand

Kayaking with Dolphins in Kratie, Cambodia 

Kratie is a small town in northeastern Cambodia, situated along the banks of the Mekong River. It is known for its stunning riverine landscapes, including beautiful sunsets over the Mekong, and it's famously home to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. The town itself has a relaxed atmosphere, with a mix of colonial-era buildings and traditional Khmer homes. 

Kayaking in Kratie is a peaceful and eco-friendly way to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat along the Mekong River.  

While silently gliding over the water, you can observe these rare mammals up close, without disrupting them, contributing to conservation efforts by minimizing noise and pollution.  

Bike, hike, and kayak through Cambodia on our cycling tours

Cycling Shimanami Kaido in Japan 

Japan's Shimanami Kaido presents an unparalleled opportunity for cycling enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Stretching approximately 60 kilometers (about 37.28 mi), this scenic route connects Japan's main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku, weaving through six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea along the way. Renowned for its breathtaking views, the Shimanami

Kaido boasts well-maintained, bike-friendly paths that offer a seamless journey across impressive bridges and through charming island communities. 

One of our favorite highlights along this route is pedaling along the mile-long Tatara Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. Unlike most bridges where cyclists and pedestrians use a separate pathway.  

The steady ocean breeze keeps you cool as you marvel at this incredible feat of engineering, and the amazing 360 degree views over the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.  

Gliding high over the sea to quiet coastal roads and rural villages on our Japan cycling tours.  

Hiking in Laos 

Escape to the lush landscapes of Muang Xai, Laos, with a hiking excursion that takes you from the comfort of your eco-lodge and up into the hills to discover local life and natural wonders. As you ascend the meandering trails through verdant jungles adorned with bougainvillea and aromatic frangipani, the sounds of hornbills and gibbons fill the air. 

You'll venture into a Hmong village, where you're invited to witness the intricate art of textile-making and gain insights into the daily routines of these resilient mountain communities. Meander beside terraced rice fields and vegetable patches, exchanging warm greetings with the farmers immersed in their daily work. 

After a few hours trekking through this inspiring terrain, you'll arrive at a secluded spot where crystal-clear natural pools await. Take the opportunity to plunge into the cooling waters for a well-deserved swim, the perfect refreshment to cap off your exploration.

Bicycle past stunning karst mountains, alongside rivers and through remote hill-tribe villages on our Laos cycling tours.   

Hike and Kayak in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Khao Sok National Park is a lush jungle oasis in southern Thailand, home to towering limestone cliffs, winding rivers, and exotic wildlife. Rent a kayak and paddle down the Sok River where limestone karsts jutting straight up from the river's edge.  

With luck, you may spot macaque monkeys foraging along the shore, or a family of elephants gathered at the water's edge. When the paddling gets tiring, it's easy to hop out of the kayak for a refreshing swim in the cool river. The water is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. 

Cycling Jatiluwih in Bali

Okay, let's dive into an extraordinary biking adventure that leads you through the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

What makes this journey truly unique is the diverse array of landscapes, terrains, and scenes you'll encounter along the way. 

The roads wind through jungle canopies draped with vines and over hilly ridges blanketed in coconut groves. One minute you're coasting down gentle slopes, and the next you're leaning into a steep climb with stunning panoramic views waiting as your reward at the top. 

As you pedal along the quiet backroads, the scenery transforms from lush rainforests to terraced rice paddies carved into the hillsides. 

With the tropical sun, be sure to stop regularly to take photos, chat with friendly locals, and sip fresh coconuts. 

This cycling route offers a pleasant combination of easy routes and mild inclines. It's certainly not as challenging as a stage in the Tour de France, yet it's far from a simple jaunt. However, by opting for an e-bike, this undulating landscape becomes perfectly manageable, giving you the chance to soak in the stunning vistas without the sensation of participating in an endurance race. 

Your Next Adventure 

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we hope this look back on some of Asia's top active travel experiences has inspired you to embark on your own adventure.  

With so many exciting options across the regions, the hardest part is narrowing down where to go first! But you really can't go wrong. Each location promises beautiful scenery, cultural immersion, and the chance to challenge yourself physically. 

If you're ready to start planning your active Asia vacation, browse our cycling tours to find your perfect match. With two decades of experience leading active travel tours, our experts will ensure your trip exceeds your expectations. 



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