A cycling holiday in Thailand
Considering cycling in Thailand? I’ve been in Thailand for the last three weeks, cycling with Sophie from near Bangkok to near Phuket. Here’s a write-up.
Is it safe to cycle in Thailand? Yes. The worst points were when we had to use a dual carriageway. The route from Bangkok to Phuket mostly follows Route 4. Wikipedia describes Route 4 as a “major highway”, and because Thailand is long and thin, Route 4 is sometimes the only viable road. However, most of Route 4 is actually a small single carriageway, and we found that it was very quiet. Cycling is popular in Thailand compared to surrounding countries, and we found the light traffic very accommodating to cyclists. And even the most rural Thai roads were in better condition than those in the UK! Potholes in the road were very rare, and snakes in the road only slightly more common. (Scared of us, it quickly slithered off the road. But from that point, every stick in the road looked like a snake.)
Rather than taking our own bikes across the world, we hired bikes from Velo Thailand in Hua Hin, and dropped them off in Phuket at the end. They were good quality and good value.
Bags: you can fit everything in a pair of panniers.
We travelled in monsoon season (tickets were cheap!). Before the visit, we saw predictions of storms every single day for three weeks! But we found that this was an extreme overestimation. We were caught in the rain while cycling only once. While the rain is intense, it’s warm, it passes quickly, and a kind man let us shelter while it passed.
I didn’t take any waterproof clothing, and I don’t regret it. Everything gets soaked in sweat immediately anyway.
We only got one puncture in 650 kilometers of cycling.
However, other tourist cyclists were a rare sight. We saw perhaps one other group of cyclists per day.
The country is 95% Buddhist, and they love to build giant Buddha statues. But the most common shrine is the spirit house, which you’ll see all along the route, at nearly every house. Strangely, all the spirits drink red strawberry Fanta, which is offered up to the spirits with a convenient straw.
Where you don’t feel like cycling, the best alternative is Grab. Grab is the Uber of Southeast Asia. In cities, you can also get a tuk-tuk (usually a converted motorcycle), though they’re not cheaper than Grab! But the tuk-tuks do provide fun, if slightly scammy, tours. In Bangkok, we were stopped by an odd local feeding a squirrel, who impressed Sophie by knowing the French for “squirrel”. He then sent us on a tuk-tuk tour of several Big Buddhas, which strangely also stopped at a tailored suit shop.
Okay, yes, I got a suit. Yes, I got another suit with it. And a shirt, belt and some ties. No, I wouldn’t have got any of it if the tuk-tuk man hadn’t taken me there. Do I regret it? No! Everything was made to measure from good quality material for a good price. Also, they gave me free beer.
In London I’m vegan, but I quickly dropped that in Thailand. Most meals contain meat (even breakfast - salty rice soup with floating meat was a common one). But it’s fairly easy to be vegetarian. Street food is everywhere, even in the most rural areas. My favorite was the sticky rice with mango. Everything vegetarian is strangely sweet, which is good for cycling food, but can leave a craving for savory food. For some Western relief from Thai tastes, 7-11 is also everywhere. Just don’t get takeaway. I got one takeaway, which was the weirdest “salad” I’ve ever eaten. It was made of corn, corn-flakes, and raw onion.
Airbnb is illegal in Thailand. But hotels are cheap! We booked everything through booking.com, for an average of £15 per person per night. You should add some rest days between the cycling days, and choose fancier hotels for these. Our rest days were at Ban Krut, Ranong, and Khao Lak. Fancy places are still cheap, like this place with an bath on the balcony, and this place with an enclosed shower outdoors. (Washing outdoors sounds like poverty, but it’s actually fun; particularly showering during a warm monsoon storm.)
Animals: I mentioned a snake, but the most common animals you’ll see on the way are wild packs of dogs and troops of monkeys. The wild dogs are docile; we only got hassled on the way by pet dogs defending their houses.
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