Home A superb 7 day, 600 km ride (approx.) from the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, across the border into Thailand and all the way up the coast to SuratThani. Safe, flat, good food and accommodation and a laid-back trip through the 'forgotten corners' of Malaysia and Thailand.
exotic Thailand: North to ChiangMai!
Leg1: Malaysian border to SuratThani
Leg2: SuratThani to Bangkok
Leg3: Bangkok to ChiangMai
The Ride: A superb 7 day, 600 km ride (approx.) from the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, across the border into Thailand and all the way up the coast to SuratThani. Safe, flat, good food and accommodation and a laid-back trip through the 'forgotten corners' of Malaysia and Thailand.
Traffic: Reasonably thin the whole way. Not a problem.
Hills: There aren't any.
The Ferries: Two. One at the Malaysian - Thai border and the other at SongKhla. See 'The ride in detail', below.
The ride in detail: If you're flying into Kota Bharu the airport is a quick 10 km away from town along a flat road. Malaysian Airlines domestic will take your bike free of charge, no problems. No need to pack it. Just turn the handlebars and deflate the tyres.
Kota Bharu is an interesting Malaysian town with a great outdoor night market selling terrific food. Keep an eye on your bike though, there's a slightly seedy air wafting in from the bus station and back alleys.
The most interesting crossing into Thailand from Malaysia is at Pengkalan Kubor. This 40 km ride up from Kota Bharu is dotted with interesting Mosques and cafes, and as you approach Thailand, the Wats begin to kick in. About 10km before the border there's an enormous six story golden Thai Buddha. It looks back over Malaysia; just keeping an eye on those crazy Muslims down south, I guess.
(The more popular crossing into Thailand is through SungaiKolok, but the run up from Kota Bharu is boring, busy and Sungai is just another crappy border town.)
Crossing the border is a breeze. There's a ferry running constantly back and forth, a large duty free market and a bunch of sleepy cafes. Passport Control on the Thai side at the little town of TakBai is snappy. Welcome to Thailand!
Your first night in Thailand will probably be at Narathiwat, about 40km up the road from TakBai. Because of the Islamic influence, there's not as much public drinking and whoring going on here as the rest of Thailand, so things are pretty docile at night. If you've ridden up all the way through Malaysia though, you'll enjoy the contrast. Lots of good food and friendly Thais to pass the time with.
Another 95 km up the coast is Pattani, a fascinating traditional Thai town with no tourists. There's a great night market in the centre of town and colourful boats plying the river. The people here have that slightly stunned look when you walk into their shop: 'Ooh, a farang (foreigner)! I wonder what planet he's from?' Once you get past the nerves, crack a few jokes, admire the toothpaste, things go exceedingly well.
The road continues flat and easy for the next 100 km to SongKhla, a modern Thai city with a great beach and plenty of amenities. Not a bad place to hang out in for a few days if you need an all mod-cons break.
SongKhla has a small community of Western ex-pats (there's oil rigs off the coast) so you can get Western food as well as cheap second hand English books (in the magazine shop near the central market cnr. Phetchakhin & Saiburi Rds.- but make sure you ask the manager, the shop girls are a little too nervous with foriegners to be of much use). Over by the beach there's lots of food stalls and Thai families having fun. You might join them for a swim or an evening's stroll.
The ferry port is 3 km north of SongKhla town and if you take it, it'll save you a good hour over the more roundabout road south on Highway 407. The ferries run constantly and take a half hour to cross the inlet, letting you down on the coast road, from where it's straight on to HuaSai and NakhonSiThammarat.
At HuaSai, 110 km away, it might be an idea to stay at the hotel on the right hand side of the road 1 km before you turn left (west) into the town centre. I rode straight past it and stayed in the guest house at the other end of town, which was friendly but overpriced and grubby. Man, they don't see many foreigners here! (See 'Mr Pumpy - town drunk!' at left.)
To get to NakhonSiThammarat you can go straight inland on Highway 401 for 70 km, or take the more scenic route via PakPhanang, which is not that much further. NakhonSiThammarat is a lively town selling cappucinos at the 'Hoa Coffee Cafe' in Bovorn Bazar, which warrants a stop if for nothing else. You start to see a few tourists here who come down from nearby SuratThani and KoSamui.
40km straight up the road is HatSichon, a beautiful beach with good bungalow accommodation. You might want to overnight here and have a swim, as it's another 100 km on to SuratThani.
SuratThani, 100 km past HatSichon, is one of my least favourite Thai towns. It has an uneasy, 'border town' air, and I never stick around long. It's the jumping off point for trips to KoSamui and KoPhangan, two very popular nearby tourist islands. If it's sex, drugs, rock and roll you want, get on the boat.
You'll notice the traffic starting to pick up around SuratThani as the three major southern arteries dovetail here before continuing north to Bangkok as Highway 41 (becoming Highway 4 further north at Chumpon).
If you're heading further north, go to Leg 2: SuratThani to Bangkok, above.
The Bike: A racer, hybrid or touring bike would be perfect for the job. I rode my mountain bike, but in Thailand it's probably not the most efficient choice.
Other Cyclists: Didn't see one on this Leg, although the friendly ferry driver at the Malaysian border told me he carried a Dutch cyclist once. When, I'm not sure, but yep, he was Dutch and he was on a bike.
Places to stay: Plenty of good hotels spaced out nicely along the whole route. No worries.
The locals and security: My Thai friends in Bangkok are aghast that I would ride 'down there' in the southeast by myself. 'It's full of robbers with guns!' they say. Seemed pretty safe to me, and anyway, the Southerners say the same thing about the people from Bangkok. Just take the usual precautions.
Transport: Local buses going past most of the time. If you're really stuck try hitching. You should get a lift here without too much trouble.
Bike shops: In the major towns. Usual deal, no worries (see Ride 6: Through exotic Thailand).