There’s no better way to witness a place than by going it on your own. There’s no more liberating, badass way of doing that than by motorcycle. With this nimble, simple machine, you can weave through the thunderous traffic of Vietnam, around the twisting cliffs of California and into the towering Tibetan Himalayas. If you have the time and the means, here are our top journey recommendations…
Pacific Coast Highway, California
California’s Pacific Coast Highway’s epic 500-mile stretch from San Francisco to San Diego is full of seal-strewn beaches, redwood forests and limestone cliffs to be seen along the way. Gastronomic, celebrity-concentrated cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco lure city dwellers, and the snaking Big Sur shoreline, which boasts the most abrupt elevation change of the Pacific shore, satiates nature lovers’ appetites. From Santa Cruz’s Monterey Bay to San Luis Obispo’s art galleries to Santa Barbara that is the “American Riviera,” there’s something for everyone.
Laos only started welcoming tourists in the ’90s, and most of those who go visit the quaint, northern city of Luang Prabang, make their to Vang Vieng to tube down the Nam Song river, pass through the capital city of Vientiane and continue south to Laos’ Don Det of the 4,000 Islands. But somewhere along the way, between Vientiane and Don Det is Thakhek, a former trading port and 20th century, French colonial town. Few people know to visit Thakhek, but those who do are well aware that the Thakhek Loop is one of the best things to do in the country—it’s a motorbike trail thronged with limestone cliffs, green farms and river caves like Tham Ene that takes adventurers from Thakhek to Thalang, to Khong Lor and back to Thakhek in about three pastoral and peaceful days.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
The north of Vietnam usually draws travelers to cities like Hanoi, but those who venture a bit further up know that the Ha Giang motorbike loop is one of the most scenic drives in the world. The northeast is a bucolic corner of Vietnam teeming with rolling rice fields, dense forests, lakes and rivers ambling through limestone corridors. The trail of mountain passes that hang onto cliff faces towering above roaring rivers and back roads that thread through lush green forests winds through the Cao Bang, Lang Son and Bac Kan provinces, which are among the most sparsely populated in the country. It takes about four to seven days to complete the journey of about 530 miles.
The Troll Ladder ride is the stuff of legends, stretching from Geiranger to the bottom of Romsdal valley for just about 62 miles. While shorter than most of these rides, the 11 hairpin bends dropping down a nine-degree descent do something to adventure aficionados. Something that keeps them coming back to the wet, foggy roads made mistier thanks to the string of waterfalls along the way. The drive is a visual feast through the mighty nature of Fjord Norway, framed by lofty mountains with names like Kongen (“the King”), Dronningen (“the Queen”), Bispen (“the Bishop”) Trollveggen (“The Trolls Wall”), Romsdalshorn and Alnestind. The Trollstigen platform and two viewpoints attract those who conquer this ride by motorbike and even bicycle these days.
Imagine riding through the highest mountains in the world—well, you can. There are multiple two-week motorcycle tours in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet to take travelers through the Himalayas. Their end destinations are all Mount Everest from the Tibetan side. From Kathmandu, bikers typically cross the Chinese border and several three-mile passes to the Rongbuk Monastery and all the way to Everest Base Camp. The most impressive section of the drive is over Dang, a pass with breathtaking views of the five Himalayan peaks reaching five miles high, including Mount Everest.
Great Ocean Road, Australia
Victoria’s B100 from Torquay to Warrnambool is a ride that lures motorcyclists from around the world. It’s better known as the Great Ocean Road, as it’s a blend of bends and straights carved along the shores between 1919 and 1932. It takes about two days, though some do it in one, to make the journey, and the most scenic section is said to be between Lorne and Apollo Bay. The whole stretch, however, snakes the rugged coast and nips across Otway National Park for views of wildlife.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
The Amalfi Coast is about a 31-mile stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, in the Campania region. And the SS145 between the southern Italian cities of Sorrento and Salerno is about a 37-mile long scenic journey through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the rugged shoreline, the road winds past small beaches, pastel-colored fishing village, grand villas, terraced vineyards and cliffside lemon groves. It swerves through small towns like Positano, with views of the Tyrrhenian Sea sit below.