Sure, the ease of modern travel is pretty incredible. Hopping on a plane and reaching your destination with zero physical effort (well, if you don’t count rushing to the airport that is) is a convenient luxury of our modern times. But when it comes down to it, getting back to basics is often the most rewarding way to travel: cruising on a open road and watching the world whizz past you. Whether you choose to embark on a scooter or in a car, or the healthy option – by bicycle, take a look at the list below for some the best scenic routes in Asia.
South Korea: Jeju Island
This famous island in South Korea has been featured in many travel guides and Korean dramas for its stunning scenery. Jeju is also a great place to get around by car as attractions are scattered around the island and cover a vast area. The island does not have a train network, so you save a lot of time by renting a car instead of waiting for buses to get around.
5-16 route – Mount Hallasan
The drive to Mount Hallasan, a natural conservation area located at the centre of Jeju Island, is renowned for its beauty regardless of the season. Standing proud at 1,950 metres, the mountain is the highest in the country and the dormant volcanic landscape is fertile ground for a diverse flora and fauna ecosystem.
If you missed the cherry blossom season, do not despair – Jeju is also well known its yellow rapeseed flowers which grow around Seongsan Inchulbong and the Noksan-ro road. Take the drive if you’re visiting in spring (late March to April) to witness a spectacular sight.
Sinsan-ri – Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak)
One of the most scenic drives on the island, the route will take you down the coastal road where you will witness the diverse landscape of Jeju first hand. Spot the breakwater-like structures along the road which were built by people who believed that it would grant their wishes. Take a stop along the shore in Jongdai-ri to gather seashells and enjoy the scenery at a popular fishing spot.
- An international driving permit is required for car rentals in Jeju so remember to apply for one before you depart
- Cars drive on the right hand side of the road in Korea
- Jeju enjoys wide roads and traffic is minimal for the most part
- If you don’t hold a valid driver’s license, you can rent a private car with driver for a reasonable rate
Vietnam: Hai Van Pass
The 145 km stretch that connects the towns of Hai Van and Hue is filled with rich history and a dazzling landscape. The Hai Van Pass was a strategically important location which formed the boundary between two ancient kingdoms; Dai Viet and Champa. It was also a strong defensive structure against armies on foot to move between the northern and central areas of Vietnam.
In the years of the Vietnam War, the pass was known as the ‘Street Without Joy’ – signifying the violence and bloodshed of the two towns it connects. Although the entire route can be completed within a couple of hours, take your time to visit significant towns and landmarks along the way.
A beautiful tropical island-like setting complete with palm trees, white sandy beaches and a lagoon, Lang Co had grown from a small town which survives on local tourism into a holiday destination with over a dozen luxury beach resorts. Stopover if the weather is nice and take a dip in the blue waters.
One of the major cities in Vietnam, the port city of Danang has a higher urbanised ratio than any other provinces or cities in the country. Danang is the place where many travellers choose to rest their head when visiting My Son, the ruins of ancient Hindu temples which date back from the 4th to 14th century AD. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, many of the structures have been damaged and are in ruins but there are still over twenty structures standing.
Known as the ‘Five Elements Mountains’ in Vietnamese, the cluster of five marble and limestone hills are named after the ancient elements of fire, water, earth, metal and wood. There are several Buddhist and Hindu grottoes and sanctuaries located within the mountains that you will spot as you climb up the summit of the only marble mountain accessible to visitors, Thuy Son.
- There is a lot to see along the route so be sure to plan beforehand so you are able to cover all the landmarks on your list
- The route can get misty so be careful during those times and make sure you are adequately prepared to handle the motorbike in those situations
- If you are hesitant to put your motorbike riding skills to the test, choose the option of being a pillion rider on a tour with an experienced guide and biker
Bali, Indonesia: Coastal Roads
As much as I love this tropical island, South Bali tends to get overcrowded with tourists, noise and motorised vehicles (especially during the holidays). Hop on the back of a rented scooter or bicycle and head to the less inhabited areas of the island to escape the hustle and bustle for the day. Whether it is the beautiful beach views you are looking for or a glimpse at the local Balinese life, there’s a road less taken that is perfect for you.
Kintamani to Ubud
Rent a bicycle or motorbike and head downhill from Mt. Batur, going on rural roads which are generally easy to navigate. You will head through small villages and paddy fields along the way as you go south towards Payangan town then moving east to Ubud. The 40km route is quiet and scenic with numerous scenes of local Bali to witness along the way.
Amlapura to Amed
Be ready for a challenge on this exhilarating 45 km coastal road with uphills, downhills, curves and sharp turns. The rewards are well worth it with beautiful hills, lush forests and tranquil backwater villages. Experience a new side to Bali which is far different from the hustle and bustle of the southern region – the silence and peace along this route allows you to enjoy the sounds of nature.
- Certain cycling routes can go through remote locations with minimal people around – mapping out the route beforehand may just save you getting lost for hours
- If you do get lost, approach local villagers who will be happy to point you in the right direction
- Not confident behind the wheel? Hire a private car complete with driver and guide to show you the island
Sado Island, Japan: Osado Skyline
Although it is Japan’s 6th largest island, Sado Island remains to be mostly popular among local Japanese tourists. The international tourism on the island is slowly growing though and it’s not surprising with its scenic rural landscape of green hills, golden paddy fields, rocky coasts and traditional Japanese architecture. The rustic charm of Sado Island makes it a perfect summer getaway away from the fast pace of the city.
The Osado Skyline is a one hour drive on a 30 km route along the ridge of the mountain range from Kanai to Aikawa. The panoramic drive features some of the best vantage points on the island and reaches the highest point of 942 m above sea level where a stunning view of the entire island can be seen. It is a drive best done in mid-October during the fall foliage season where the scenery is particularly beautiful.
- Winters in Sado Island can be harsh with strong winds and snow, which may affect transportation to and from the island, and in Sado itself
- Road access can be blocked at the northeastern part of the island in winter in cases of heavy snow
Have you traversed any of these routes before? What’s the most scenic road you’ve travelled on?