I only started cycling about 3 years ago and still consider myself a beginner, despite having cycled over 10,000 km so far. Thailand is a great place for bicycle touring for many reasons but it I found myself commenting often during our month there on how perfect it would be as a person’s first bike tour.
The first thing to strike me when we crossed the border from Cambodia at Koh Kong was how much more developed Thailand is compared to the other countries we have toured so far. The second thing I noticed – a 7 Eleven shop. I was beside myself with excitement. The snacks, the drinks, the air conditioning, the overwhelming choice of cheap products. Obviously this shouldn’t be the main draw of a trip through Thailand but after months of dusty, mini-market shacks with fish-flavoured cardboard snacks, this felt like such a luxury. It was instantly relaxing knowing that there would be a reliable shop every few kilometres so we never needed to plan our days around where we would be able to stop for a rest and get a drink. We just stopped whenever we felt like it. It also meant that we didn’t have the extra weight of carrying enough water for a whole day. We could get some more whenever we needed. A pit-stop for a Cafe Amazon frappe and 7 Eleven sandwich became part of our daily cycling routine. Supermarkets like Tesco and Big C meant we could get fresh food like fruit, dairy and bakery items cheaply instead of the packaged cookies and cakes we had been living on before. Other conveniences are nice public toilets at petrol stations and Wi-Fi almost everywhere.
The road surfaces in Thailand are fantastic. No skidding through gravel and avoiding potholes here. The main roads are busy but there is usually a decent hard shoulder (or occasionally a dedicated bike lane!). There is often an option to take rural roads instead of the highway as long as you don’t mind a few extra kms and a bit of navigating. These roads are just as well surfaced and are surprisingly quiet…some were almost traffic-free. On the rural roads we could relax and look around more, often seeing colourful (and loud) birds and monkeys. One drawback of the back roads is that there is a much higher chance of being chased by dogs.
I had been dreaming of Thai beaches since setting off on our around the world trip 9 months ago. At the same time, I was a bit worried that everywhere would be packed with other tourists and that it would be a bit spoiled. It’s true that some beaches are complete tourist traps but we purposely avoided these places and were surprised at how many perfect stretches of empty beach we came across. The road from Hua Hin south to Chumphon along the coast is dotted with small resorts catering to locals and quiet beaches. It feels a world away from the Thailand of full moon parties and tourist scams. Often, the road runs right next to the beach so you can cool off in the sea when you need a break from pedalling.
If you are just starting out with bike touring and don’t want to tackle high mountain passes just yet, then Thailand is perfect. The route we took: Trat – Chumphon – Ranong – Satun was almost completely flat. We found it very relaxing and it meant that we could complete long distances quickly without spending too long in the blazing sun. It would be great for building up bike fitness at the beginning of a longer tour.
Accommodation in Thailand is plentiful and cheap so the extra weight of bringing a tent is not essential. Dorm beds in hostels are a few dollars while ensuite rooms in guesthouses and hotels can be found for 10-20 dollars. Tip: Agoda has more options than Booking.com in Thailand and prices are usually a couple of dollars lower.
There are plenty of ATMs in Thailand so you don’t need to worry about changing lots of cash at the border. However, beware the huge charges at some ATMs. Most that we came across charged between 200 and 300 baht per withdrawal. The purple AEON ATMs found near Tesco stores had a lower charge of 150 baht.
Packs of stray dogs roam Thailand and often chase cyclists. We have found that talking loudly when approaching dogs helps with not startling them. I have convinced myself that complimenting dogs dissuades them from chasing me. I’ll say “Hello puppy! You are so cute! Good doggy! Good doggy doggy!” even if it is the most ancient and mangy thing I’ve ever seen. If the flattery doesn’t work and they charge, we dismount with the bikes between us and the dogs and try to look confident. They usually stop when they see we are just humans and let us be on our way.
Don’t underestimate sandflies
If your visa is running out, a few days in Myanmar (pics above) is a good option as a visa run. The crossing from Ranong to Kawthaung is an experience and relatively hassle-free. Click here for more info.
If you don’t want the stress of cycling through Bangkok, take the ferry from Pattaya to Hua Hin, avoiding the capital. We had heard that you can’t take bikes in the ferry but had no problems when we tried. We went to the office at Pattaya port the day before the sailing and bought tickets that specified we were taking bikes. Ferry staff loaded and unloaded the bikes for us without needing to take off the bags. It was all really smooth.
Click here for an interactive map of our route in Thailand.
More videos of our bicycle tour around the world can be found on our You Tube channel.