Can You Bring your Wheels With You?

Bikes on Planes in Asia

The lakes of Sakon Nakhon, Northeast Thailand.

Mention bicycling in Asia to a large enough group of people and you’re likely to get some incredulous stares. “Biking? In Asia? Are you insane?” For those who haven’t been here, this seems like folly of the highest order. Isn’t it too hot? Isn’t it too dangerous? How can you ride a bike in the jungle?

To the surprise of many, Asia is actually a really awesome place to ride a bicycle. Even in the capital cities, from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok, the number of people riding has visibly increased over the past several years, with variations from city to city. But it’s when you get out of the cities that Asia’s potential as a bike riding destination really comes into focus.

Flying to nearby airports with your bike opens up a lot of new, great cycling locations.
Flying to nearby airports with your bike opens up a lot of new, great cycling locations.

It’s easy enough to escape in a car and ride on the many quiet country roads in the ‘burbs, but as much as we love doing that, the landscapes usually lack anything resembling spectacular panoramas. It’s when you head out on a ride in the middle of the countryside or the outlying provinces that the scenery really begins to sing, and the fastest way to get there is by air.

The past few years have seen a giant uptick in low-cost regional airlines that zip across Southeast Asia on short hops lasting no more than an hour or two each. They include, but are not limited to, Cebu Pacific, Tiger Air, Scoot, Nok Air, Jetstar Pacific, and AirAsia (including all of its local variants, ie, Thai AirAsia).

Almost all of them allow bicycles as checked baggage, but this isn’t always guaranteed – some staff might not know the rules, be unsure and say no in an attempt to keep things simple, or cause random delays as they try and figure out what to do. To avoid this, make sure to check with your airline’s website ahead of time, and print or bookmark the page to show at check-in if any dispute arises (in multiple languages, if possible). Most airlines charge a small fee for sports equipment, but it’s usually not much and varies from airline to airline.

[Tweet “Take your bike with you on regional Southeast Asian airlines!”]

The easiest thing to do is get a travel bag, which can be bought at most bike stores. Failing this, you can use a thin cardboard box or – a method gaining popularity – a large plastic bag. Deflate the tires, remove the pedals, lower the seat, turn the handlebars 90°, and tie the wheels to the frame with string. Wrap that baby in plastic and run tape around it a few times. Bam. You’re ready to fly.

Some airlines allow you to check your bike as is. No removing wheels, or packaging necessary.
Some airlines allow you to check your bike as is. No removing wheels, or packaging necessary.

If that sounds like too much work for a weekend get-away, Nok Air, which flies all over Thailand and to Yangon, Myanmar, will check your bike as is for a 200 Baht fee (just be sure to let most of the air out of your tires so they don’t explode). And Bangkok Airways has recently announce their free bike check-in service on all their routes in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Hong Kong (some pre-check-in and packing conditions apply).

It really is hard to overstate how beautiful Asia can be on bicycle, and what a great way it is to get an unfiltered peek into life at ground level. Indeed, a group of foreigners rolling into a seldom-visited town on bicycles looking for some great food and new friends is likely a story that will be told long after you’ve left.

Get out into the wilderness for a weekend rather than taking a week to ride there!

No matter if you’re rolling through the lush hills of northwestern Thailand, next to the ocean along the coast of Vietnam, or past millennia-old temples in Cambodia, there’s simply no better way to connect with Asia than by doing it on two wheels, where you can literally stop and smell the flowers. And these days, it’s even easier to get from A to Z by giving your bike a temporary pair of wings.

Want to add some cycling adventures to your next trip in Asia? Contact us and one of our adventure travel consultants can help you plan the perfect itinerary and connections!