January of 2019, I went cycling in Thailand. It was my first time in this country and I was looking forward to see beyond its touristy visage. Cycle touring was sure to provide a deeper and more intimate view of the country. I was eager for long rides. And this was the first time that I felt ‘prepared’ undertaking such an adventure. My earlier cycle tours were always accompanied with a feeling that I was doing something fairly new and unusual (and my luggage kept slipping off the bike). Not surprising because I come from a typical Indian background with no experience of camping or long distance cycling or endurance sports or any such.
Navigate using the below menu or keep scrolling 🙂
- Flying into Thailand
- Route Section 1: Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- Route Section 2: Bangkok to Phnom Penh
- Night stay options in Thailand for cycle touring
- Things to love & common challenges of cycle touring in Thailand
- is Thailand cycle friendly?
- Phnom Penh to Mumbai
- Other posts on my Thai cycle tour
Flying Into Thailand
I flew into Chiang Mai after an interesting Bangkok transit. Thai Smile provided me with free cycle carriage as long as the total weight was within the baggage limit. I got a free cardboard box from Decathlon to pack the bike, though it turned out to be a smaller size and so I used my plastic CTC bag. Off we went – me, my cycle, two panniers, laptop bag with laptop and yoga mat.
This was my first time cycle touring with a laptop, and it proved to be just fine. Useful to do a bit of work on the road, write blogs and email correspondences. But most importantly it helped me do any bank transactions which sometimes can’t be done on mobile.
Mentally, I had broken down this trip into 2 sections:
Stage 1: Chiang Mai to Bangkok [ cycled: 490 km]
I spent 12 days in Chiang Mai to get acquainted with the culture. Figure out how to use songtheaws, understand local vegetarian foods that I can expect, people culture, basic greetings, weather and other nitty gritties.
Another matter of note in Chiang Mai was that I got a camping gas canister. It was quite hard to reach the ThailandOutdoors camping shop as it is inside a Golf course private property and so only one gate is open to public. I first headed to the other gate which was behind some military check point, I then had to back track quite a bit. This camping store is one of the closest to the old city.
Chiang Mai to Chom Thong (90 km)
Chom Thong is the base town for Thailand’s tallest mountain – Doi Inthanon. And no, I didn’t ride up to Doi Inthanon, a lot of cyclists do. I rested, found vegetarians food spots, had ice-cream and enjoyed rolling around the small town.
This was the longest ride in the trip. I found out on this ride that the heat in this region was insane… aren’t there any rules about how HOT it can get in February? 😉
Here’s a podcast of this ride: Chiang Mai River Route to Chom Thong
Chom Thong to Hod (50 km)
Deliberately took it a bit slow on this ride. Part of the route was by a highway, and the last 15 kms was via some brilliant smaller roads. Found only one veggie place at Hod. The second meal was processed snacks from the super market (a common thing in Thailand as I was soon to find out).
Hod to Mae Sariang (in Songtheaw)
At Hod, I found out about the nearby Mae Sariang which was touted as one of the few, less touristy towns of Thailand. Felt curious, also it was in the Himalayan foothills, making me more curious. So I took a songtheaw to Mae Sariang. (Not ready to tackle mountains with luggage on cycle so far)
Mae Sariang was indeed lovely. And this region is recommended.
Mae Sariang to Mae Sot (in Songtheaw)
This was one of the most beautiful routes on the trip. Large parts of the route had really lovely views of the mountains and fields and streams and little thatched huts. Enjoyable ride, except when we started coming close to Mae Sot. There is a Burmese refugee camp there which doesn’t feel vibrant. And a horde of people jammed into the songtheaw including a very mutilated man. Mae Sot is the border town with Myanmar and consequently, a sombre place with many serious issues and surprising population diversity.
Mae Sot to Tak (in mini bus)
A 6 lane highway on a mountain. Who would have thought that Thailand has this scale of road infrastructure! Smooth ride into Trat and then a few kms onto the highway for the night stop.
Tak to Sukho Thai (82 km)
Another loooong ride (about time). By a highway but empty, lovely highway! Got very, very hot after 11.30 AM. But Sukho Thai turned out to be a total poetry with beautiful, long ride routes! Veggie food a challenge.
Old Sukho Thai to New Sukho Thai was another enjoyable 15 km ride.
Sukho Thai to Ayuthayya (in bus)
Long bus haul to have vegetarian food in Ayuthayya. 🙂 Due to its proximity with Bangkok, Ayuthayya is way more touristy (and non-magical) when you visit right after Sukho Thai.
Ayuthayya to Nonthaburi, Bangkok (70 km)
Another long ride. Very enjoyable and not as hot as compared to the North.
Nonthaburi to Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok (50 km)
I had assumed I will get a songtheaw or some other transport in Bangkok. But it wasn’t to be. Had to cycle 50 km in proper city. The last 15 kms were a total hustle. Finally, reached Sukhumvit road, a haven for Indian veg food!
Stage 2: Bangkok to Phnom Penh [total : 515 km cycling]
Stayed for a week in Bangkok. Mostly gorging on Indian vegetarian food. I did go to find another camping gas stove because I realised that I would have to heavily depend on my camping stove for food. Finding this gas canister was really tough and I got a tour of a lot of malls and shopping areas due to this search.
Sukhumvit, Bangkok to Jomtien, Pattaya (190 km)
Start of the second phase of riding and I was all geared up! 3 days riding about 200km to Jomtien, Pattaya.
Bangkok to Phan Thong
Phan Thong to Si Racha – the second longest and one of the most beautiful rides
Si Racha to Pattaya
Detailed read with the route map: Bangkok to Pattaya
Jomtien to Rayong (70 km)
Another beautiful route found impromtu after maps.me showed me some uninteresting highway route. Rayong is where I finally hit the beach stretch in Thailand!
Rayong to Chak Don (60 km)
Long beach rides, but with very expensive accommodation options. Finally, turned inland to find a place to stay. But even here the prices were high (by Thailand standards).
Chak Don to Liam Sing (80 km)
Another long ride. Enjoyed by the beach. Also entered Chanthaburi province which has some good cycle lanes.
Short video on the Prasae River confluence in this region.
Liam Sing to Trat (70 km)
One of the last rides, was feeling quite lazy to ride all the way and thought of taking a songtheaw but didn’t. Kept rolling instead. Very, very hot after 11.30 AM. (Could have finished this ride much sooner, but was lazy and took so many rest stops haha)
Trat to Hat Lek border crossing (30 km, partly Songtheaw)
There are some high hills on the second half of this ride, so I took a songtheaw over those. Before waving down a songtheaw, I tried taking a lift from passing by cars but to no avail. A few songtheaws passed me by and refused to take me with cycle onboard. But one guy finally stopped.
Hat Lek – Cham Yeam border crossing to Koh Kong, Cambodia (10 km)
Smooth border crossing. Hot. Koh Kong had a few scares for me.
Koh Kong – Phnom Penh (in bus)
The bus ride from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh had a few more scares. And finally, in Phnom Penh I had a nice AirBnb to literally hide in and binge watch on movies.
Night Stay Options for Cycle Tourers in Thailand
Unlike other travellers who can usually reach a larger city by night fall, the cycle tourist may find him or herself in the middle of nowhere at the end of the day. So where do we stay?
Hotels: One of the best things about Thailand (and some other countries of South East Asia I hear) are the frequent hotel stops. Every 10-15km I would say there would be a decent hotel to stay in. Though these may often be highway side motels which I don’t always prefer. Finding a hotel by a quiet lane is a bit more challenging. Typically for a budget of 450-650 Baht (900 – 1300 INR) one can get a really nice room with AC, hot water and appealing ambiance. They are usually very clean. This is why a lot of cycle tourists don’t carry camping gear in south east Asia.
Temples: Another choice for cycle tourers are the temples. Located every 3-5 km, makes them very, very convenient night stops. If we plan to stay at the temples then we can cycle as much as we want in any direction, because there is always some temple on the most random route. The problem however, is that for solo women this becomes very tricky as I found out. The monks have very strict rules with regards their conduct with women and often they would just rather ignore me completely than risk their reputation or their heart 😉
Camping: If you do plan to camp, then temples or schools make for good night spots for camping. There are also rest areas on the side of most roads, one could camp inside. Or ask any local and camp in their court yards or fields.
What I loved most about cycling in Thailand:
Thai Milk tea : there are many small vendors and grocery stores on most roads that sell some drinks like Thai Milk Tea. They also have coffee, hot tea and other drink options. These can be really enjoyable.
Grocery Stores: Along with the above vendors selling drinks, there are a plethora of grocery shops almost every 3-5 kms. This makes it very easy for us to load up on drinks, snacks and other riding needs. It also eases the pressure of being loaded up with snacks always.
Temples: every 3-5 km there are Buddhist temples. These temples often have little resting areas, bathrooms and possibly other amenities. Other cyclists have said the monks are usually very friendly and offer free water and food and even night stay. However, I didn’t experience this friendliness as mentioned earlier, they have a plethora of rules with regards their conduct with women.
Road Infrastructure: amazing road infrastructure! Didn’t expect it to be this good. I took many a small and nondescript kind of roads and even they were impeccably made. Loved it. Moreover, every few km there are rest stops on the side of these roads. Sometimes these rest stops overlook beautiful fields and ponds making it a lovely stop on the ride.
Water units: to refill bottles for cheap.
Challenges & difficulties of Cycling Thailand:
Extreme non-vegetarian food: being a strict Indian vegetarian is difficult. Every single thing has to be checked before eating. The silver lining is that most people understand “Je” food – which is vegan without onion and garlic. There are often Je restaurants in towns and some grocery items are also marked with this symbol. So communicating that you are vegan is easier. But being vegetarian and especially, an Indian strict vegetarian, is difficult. And I had to depend largely on my camping stove to cook my food.
More than this however, there is a lot of meat and butchered animals on display EVERYWHERE. This is very hard to take.
Heat: I didn’t think it could be this HOT in February (winter?!). The northern part was really, really hot. And after 11.30-12.00 AM it was very difficult to ride with potential danger of serious dehydration. The area around Bangkok got better but again towards the Cambodian border it gets very hot.
Note: field burning season starts around March in the North, so that can make things hotter and worse.
Language: everyone in the countryside speaks mostly Thai and only a little English. Being a tonal language, even if you know the Thai word, people may not understand because your tone is different. Google translate does make things easier but even so a lot of country people don’t know how to use it. And will just stare at it in wonder instead of using it. Keep some written notes with you for frequent matters and also Google translate.
Dogs: almost every cycle tourer narrative from Thailand mentions these scary dogs. Sometimes they run behind in packs, sometimes alone. But they are quite a problem especially on the very empty, small village roads where they don’t expect their territory to be challenged by many outsiders. What worked: telling them in a very loud voice “MAI” (which means NO in Thai) and then cycling away quickly.
Most of the dogs don’t bite but they bark very aggressively. But a few dogs do bite, have a friend who has spent a lot of time in Thailand and has been bitten once.
Is Thailand Cycle Friendly?
There are two things that make Thailand cycle friendly,
People ‘adjust’ : mostly seen in poorer countries, the local people are happy to make a few bucks by adjusting their services. The mini bus from Bangkok to Chachoengsao didn’t have any luggage space for my cycle but the guy thought about it and then sold me the front 3 seats – where I could squeeze in with my cycle. Similarly, the bus from Sukho Thai to Ayuthayya didn’t have any formal process for carrying a cycle but again they kept it for my in the luggage hold. Some random extra charge was levied.
As long as people are happy to ‘adjust’ their services for you, then the cyclist will find the place friendly enough for their needs. Same can be seen in India – while it doesn’t have any formal cycle infrastructure but sometimes transporting cycles in cheaper and easier cause people make room for a few rupees.
Cycle tourers are frequent & many Thai folk cycle : cycling and cycle tourers are frequent in Thailand. I passed 3 different international cycle tourers on my rides and saw many more Thai cyclists. This means there is decent cycle repair shops and people to consult in case of some trouble.
Apart from this, there is still no real formal infrastructure for cycles. Chanthaburi was the only province where I encountered lovely cycle lanes on the roads and some other cycle infrastructure like stands and signs. Other than that most places there isn’t any formal infra for the same. Transports options with the cycle are somewhat limited – songtheaws and buses are the best bet I would say.
Surprisingly, there aren’t easily available cycling route maps. Maps.me is a decent app to use but a lot of times it plots a highway side crappy route. When I took some random small roads, I found some amazing ones.
The local culture of frequent temples, grocery stores, hotels and rest stops caters very well to the cyclist.
Phnom Penh to Mumbai
The plan was to cycle further from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, but for a lot of reasons I decided to head back to India. Will write a longer post on this but I found Cambodia difficult. Moreover, I had been eating only one proper meal for 2 months now and with all this cycling, it finally got a bit much for me. In hindsight, I think 2 month trips are more than enough when I am not getting proper food.
Bangkok Airways offered me free cycle carriage as with Thai Smile earlier. I got the cycle packed in a box at a local shop for $10 (yea, Phnom Penh can be expensive). The cardboard box spiked my baggage weight by a few kilos. I had 25kg baggage allowance, but my luggage came up to 30 kg, Bangkok Airways staff let me off with a warning and didn’t overcharge me. 🙂
Other related blog posts:
Thai People thought I was a Muslim
Thailand visa: when the VFS guy gave me a 101% rejection warning
That’s basically my crazy cycling adventure in Thailand. Hope to populate the above article with lotsa links with detailed post on the various matters. For any queries or to share your experience of cycling Thailand please comment below!
Get my new posts in your email inbox.
Once a month newsletter.