Struan Robertson has been running SpiceRoads since 2003 and been living in Asia for almost 20 years so we thought we would get his views on cycling trips in Asia.
How did you end up running SpiceRoads?
Hamish (who founded SpiceRoads) and I had been friends for a long time and he knew how much I had biked in Asia and how much I loved doing it. I had already helped him as a tour leader on various tours and done some research work for as well. In fact I even had some input into the SpiceRoads name (so I was there from the start), so when he asked if I wanted to help set up the company and expand the tours in Asia I thought it was the natural thing to do.
What was the first SpiceRoads trip you went on?
The first trip I went on with clients was to Cambodia in August 1999. It was the first Cambodia tour and although I was still working with Unilever, I helped Hamish run the tour. Most of the clients on that tour are still SpiceRoads clients today (in fact 2 did a private Kerala trip in Dec). 12 years ago this was pioneering stuff, vastly different from Cambodia today. The war had just finished and people were literally returning to their homes.
However the first tour I actually did was without clients in March 1999 to North Western Vietnam with Hamish as a reccie trip. This was a very hard trip we did not know where we would stay and one day we spent 12 hours on a bike and carrying our own gear. Again I might have some photos of Hamish and I on this trips. It was really was a great trip.
What is the toughest trip you have ever done in Asia?
Probably Lhasa to Kathmandu. I did this in 1999 and I was very fit. 12 years ago the road was not sealed and the accommodations were very primitive. We would cycle uphill for 8 hours and then stop. With the weather and cold really meant I suffered. Saying that it was spectacular and I am very glad I did it. During the trip we met some guys from the Basque region, who were doing it unsupported, which must have been brutal as I was utterly exhausted each night. I think our new SpiceRoads cycling trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu is much easier as we miss out a lot of climbs, but now we make it accessible for a lot of people. Going to Everest base camp was for me the highlight and when we got there the weather was fantastic and so I have a few pictures of me cycling away from Everest. I love cycling in the Himalayas but I definitely have a love-hate relationship with that trip.
What is your most memorable trip you have ever done in Asia (not necessarily SpiceRoads)?
Sikkim, India, in 1997. Maybe it was because it was my first serious biking trip, but the variety of the things we did (not just the cycling) and the people on the trip made this very memorable trip. We already have some cycling holidays in India but I would love to run SpiceRoads trips here as it really is a magical part of India.
Are there any places in Asia you have never cycled that you still want to go to?
Yes for sure. I think Pakistan is an area that would be brilliant for trips which is why we have just launched our new tour – “Biking Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway“. I am looking forward to going on this trip later this year. Also I would love to cycle in the areas of Iran and up into Uzbekistan. These ancient civilisations, cultures, scenery and history make these such fascinating destinations and would make fantastic bike trips
Also after seeing Patricia’s recent trip to Philippines that also looks superb. While we already do one mountain biking tour in the Philippines there is so many biking opportunities there.
If you could pick your favourite SpiceRoads itinerary what would it be?
Probably our Mongolia Off-Roads bike tour. I loved the place and the cycling was top notch. There are few places left in the world where you can go and experience a place like this. Be warned it is a tough place to go to but certainly worth the effort.
Any tips for someone who is thinking about a cycling holiday for the first time?
My main advice would be not to be put off by anything, as long as you come with an open mind and are able to put up with things that are peculiar to the destination then you will have a great time. I know that is what I do and have enjoyed everywhere I have been and still look forward to exploring more and more.