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8 spectacular driving adventures
It's not getting there, but the journey that counts, so forget the plane and get on your bike or into your car for some of the most stunning road trips in Asia
It’s so convenient to jet between Asia’s cities, that we sometimes forget the romance of traveling on wheels, whether by train, bike or automobile. Asia offers many types of road trip driving experiences including coastal routes, scenic countryside and treacherous mountain passes. Here’s a selection of eight to suit every driver from novice to thrill-seeker. Unless otherwise indicated, all you need is a valid international drivers’ license.
1. Clearwater Bay Road to Po Toi O, Hong Kong
Arrive at a picturesque fishing village at the end of the drive.
Driving in Hong Kong can be a stressful affair with constant bullying by mean taxi and mad minibus drivers. But head just outside of the bottleneck areas, and there are some great roads for weekend cruising. For a great afternoon excursion, take Clearwater Bay Road all the way to Po Toi O. Be sure to arrive at Po Toi O just before sunset; it’s a picturesque little fishing village where you can feast on delicious, fresh seafood Canto dishes. And just before hitting Po Toi O, on Tai Au Mun Road, one might catch sight of a row of cars parked off to one side. The drivers are likely flying their model airplanes on the cliff overlooking the beautiful bay.
2. Hokkaido Scenic Byway, Japan
You don't need to fly to Europe to admire fields of lavender stretching to the horizon. There are six designated scenic byways in Hokkaido offering landscapes not unlike those in the Swiss Alps or Provence in France. Just go for a drive on the Taisetsu-Furano scenic byway. This route trumps Provence in one very important way -- it has hot spring baths. To soak your cares away, check into the onsen resorts of Highland Furano or Furano La Terre. For a bit more country charm, check out the quaint, little Hutte Barden Kamifurano.
3. Jeju Island coastal drives, South Korea
South Korea’s resort island of Jeju offers vacationers an easy-going leisure drive along its coastal Ilju Road (Road 12). If staying at The Shilla, cruise the 5.6 kilometers from Mount Songaksan to the base of Mount Sangbansan. Drive up Mount Songaksan for beautiful ocean vistas. The island’s inactive volcanoes, Mount Hallasan, Seongsan Ilchulbong and lava tubes at Manjanggul Cave, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
4. Phuket Northeast Loop, Thailand
Tired of lazing around the villa pool? Then go for a road trip on Phuket’s Northeast loop. From Heroines Monument, head east along highway 4027. Along the way, pass by fishing villages and shrimp farms, admire the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay with its James Bond island (named because it appears in "The Man With The Golden Gun") and other islands in the distance. You can also take a drive past Mission Hills Golf Course.
5. Tibetan Highlands, China
On the Road in China organizes a 16-day drive from Kunming, Yunnan or Chengdu, Sichuan through the eastern Tibetan Plateau onto Lhasa. Try yak butter tea, picnic by the side of remote glacial lakes and join crowds of colorful Tibetan pilgrims, murmuring prayers as they circumnavigate the Jokhang Temple. Driving in China requires a Chinese driver’s license, which On the Road in China can arrange.
6. Hai Van Pass, Vietnam
Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson described Hai Van Pass thus: “A deserted ribbon of perfection -- one of the best coast roads in the world”. But on this route, the going gets a little more tough. Hai Van means “ocean clouds” in English. The pass, near Bach Ma National Park, no doubt got its name from the ocean mists that cloud visibility on this winding mountain road overlooking the South China Sea.
7. Leh-Manali Highway, India
This road trip to Ladakh is definitely not a drive to be attempted by fair-weather or weekend motorists. The Leh-Manali Highway, which crosses some of the highest mountain passes in the world (up to 5,000 meters), is driving for adrenaline junkies and those not prone to altitude sickness. Due to snow and the possibility of landslides, the road is only open from June to mid-September. Worth visiting are the many Buddhist monasteries perched high up on cliffs in the region such as Hemis and Lamayuru.
Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor to Australia
Wheel-2-Wheel is planning a 100-day, 20,000km fundraising motorbike journey through Asia in support of one local charity in each country. Following in the footsteps of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round bike trip, a camera crew will follow Morgan Parker and Simon Lock’s adventures through Asia raising awareness for a whole host of charities including Child’s Dream in Laos, New Hope in Cambodia and Baan Gerda in Thailand, among others.
Parker is looking forward to riding through the remote southeastern provinces of Laos: “Over 100 twisting, mountainous kilometers from Attapeu to Paksong is a world happily dislocated from the 21st century. The combination of dense wildlife and symphonic falling water produces an immersive acoustic reward for the adventurous motorbike rider.” So, why not raise some money on a road trip?