Home A great 2,000 km ride (approx.) from the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu all the way north to Bangkok and onto ChiangMai. Safe, mainly flat, good food and accommodation and a journey through one of the world's most remarkable cultures.
Updated: 26 Aug 99
Through exotic Thailand:
North to ChiangMai!
Leg1: Malaysian border to SuratThani - 600 km
Leg2: SuratThani to Bangkok - 700 km
Leg3: Bangkok to ChiangMai - 800 km
The Ride: A great 2,000 km ride (approx.) from the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu all the way north to Bangkok and onto ChiangMai. Safe, mainly flat, good food and accommodation and a journey through one of the world's most remarkable cultures.
Riding about 100km per day you could do this ride in about 3 weeks, but realistically expect to take between 4 to 6 weeks. Thailand is such an enjoyable place, what's the rush?
The Road: The 'A' and 'B' roads are paved the whole way and excellent for riding (see, however, 'Tips & tricks' below). Some of the back roads are unsealed and a bit shabby, but not too bad. It's a toss up whether you need a racer or a touring bike.
Traffic: This is your biggest hassle in Thailand, everything else being pretty sweet. The traffic is actually very well behaved towards cyclists, its just that on some stretches it gets a bit busy. The roads to try and avoid are the main arteries leading into Bangkok from SuratThani and out of Bangkok all the way (directly) to ChiangMai. There is, however, a way around it (see, 'Tips & tricks' below).
Riding in Bangkok itself is a surprisingly good experience. The locals actually give you space, and often a wave, and you can get across town faster than any motorised transport. If you've never done it, you'll have to trust me on this! I never go to Bangkok without my bike.
Tips & tricks: The trick with this ride is to get off the main arteries and onto the 'B' roads.This will not only make the riding easier, it will also enrich your cultural experience no end. Ah, Thailand! I just love the place. I'll deal with each leg briefly here, but see Legs 1, 2 & 3 above for a fuller description:
Hills: The trip is pretty much dead flat except for 3 notable hills, right at the end of your trip, south of Lampang (100km from ChiangMai). They're quite steep and will each take you roughly about 45 minutes to get up. On a hot day the third one's a bit of a struggle.
Best time to go: Thailand has a complex monsoon pattern which varies from south to north, and with the vagaries of each year. As a rough rule of thumb, the monsoon comes between about May and October, and the dry season happens between November and March.
I like to ride with a bit of cloud cover and think the odd shower or two cools things off a bit, so my preferred riding time is just post monsoon, around October - November. Most people prefer the dry season. Temperatures can be anywhere during the day from 20 to 38 degrees Celsius and at night can drop down as far as 15, depending on where you are.
The Ferries: There's only two. One crossing into Thailand at the Malaysian border and the other at SongKhla, crossing the inlet to connect with the main coastal highway. Both run back and forth every half hour.
Other Cyclists: A few. I ran into an American chap near Chumphon and a Canadian woman not far from Bangkok (both Leg 2). Always a nice experience to stop and compare notes on the road. Near Pitsanulok (Leg 3), on a blazing hot afternoon, I passed an African-American going the other way. Although our relationship was brief (he rode straight past without acknowledging me), I think he was suffering from heat exhaustion. It's that crazed look in the eyes that gives them away. I hope he's alright.
General: There is a wonderful aspect of 'polite chaos' about Thailand; it's one of those places that has 'spark'. I've travelled there, lived there, studied there, go back often and never get sick of it. The food's outstanding, the scenery's terrific but the overriding attraction is, naturally, the people.
On the bike, in the out of the way towns and villages, you'll find a Thai hospitality and sense of fun that'll bring joy into your life no matter how weird your upbringing. The people are generous, inquisitive, polite and trustworthy. The Thais have a strong sense of being Thai, and enjoy Westerners, if only for their odd behaviour and hairy forearms.
There is of course a darker side. Rampant corruption, human rights abuse, high levels of HIV infection and rising unemployment have made life difficult for the average Thai. Like all societies, there are ongoing family problems but realistically, unless you decide to stay in Thailand for an extended period, these things won't really touch you.
Thai etiquette: For a seemingly laid back folk the Thais actually have a strong sense of social ettiguette, and without going overboard, it's worth getting a little of it under your belt. It'll pay handsome social dividends; the Thais won't punish you for making social gaffs, but they'll subtly reward you for making an attempt to be civilised (see 'I am not a baboon!'and 'My bike's on fire!' at left).
Language: Thai is a tonal language, and somewhat difficult for Westerners to speak well. However, it's easy enough to get the basics down and with just a few stock phrases you'll have Thais openly complimenting you - 'Oh, you speak Thai goo-ood!' The numbers, a few pleasantries and some bargaining words are all easy to master.
Quite a lot of Thais speak at least some English and besides, they're used to Westerners, so you'll have no trouble making yourself understood.
Places to stay: There is many a hovel I've stayed in Vietnam, Indonesia and India and wished I was back in dear old Thailand. The digs are cheap, plentiful, generally spotless and the service is efficient and done with a smile. Who could ask for anything more? 5 to 10 dollars will get you a terrific room pretty much anywhere.
The locals and security: Take the usual care with your bike and valuables. Thievery is common enough in the main tourist areas, but security improves exponentially the further you get out into the boonies. If you park your bike out of view, lock it. At night, most Thai hotels won't want you taking your dusty bike into their pristine rooms, but will look after it for you in the foyer or store room. I've never had a problem.
Food & drink: Thai food in Thailand is a dream. Be adventurous, try the lot! Soft drinks, noodles, tasty snacks and bottled water are readily available all along the road. No need to take any supplies.
Transport: The local transport is very good and reliable. Hitching is also a possibility. I've done it a few times with my bike and had no problem.
Bus: You can hop a bus or samlor (small pick-up type taxi that fits about ten people, a goat and you and your bike) when you need to. Local buses will throw your bike on the roof, no problems. Modern air-con buses require you to strip the wheels off so it'll fit in the luggage compartment.
Aeroplanes: You can take your bike on Thai Airways international and domestic flights unpacked for no extra charge. I've done both. Just deflate the tyres and turn the handle bars. Like most things in Thailand it's 'no pob-pem!'
Trains: Trains are easy, fast and reliable and my preferred choice of motorised transport in Thailand. You can load the bike in the luggage compartment and sit back and enjoy the ride.
Thai Bike Shops: There are bike shops all over Thailand, and getting something fixed, a wheel trued or even just a 'clean and oil' is a cheap and fun experience. The local bike guys will be appreciative of your travels, will charge you peanuts and do a thorough job.