Thailand

This was a 3,200 kilometer ride from Singapore north along the east coasts of Malaysia and Thailand. At Phetchaburi we went inland to Kanchanaburi (of River Kwai fame) and cycled north of Bangkok before heading northeast on the main road to Vientiane. We then retraced our route to U Don Thani in Thailand and took buses and trains to Chiang Mai and finally Bangkok.

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 Cycling conditions: We cycled on the main highways for about 75% of the route and took smaller roads for the remainder, primarily for the section between Kanchanaburi and Nakkon Ratchasima. Except for about 20 kilometers in Malaysia, the main roads had wide, smooth shoulders and were very safe for cycling. The road was flat almost the entire route, with less than 5% being hilly. Since we were cycling in July and August we had the salutary effects of the Southwest Monsoon (i.e., a steady southwesterly tailwind). The monsoon rains had no impact on our cycling as the skies would only open in the late afternoon, well after we had stopped for the day.

Accommodations: We did not bring tents for this trip because campgrounds are few and far between and the tropical heat and humidity are too high for comfortable camping. Cheap and good places to stay (usually with air conditioning) could almost always be found along the route within an 80 to 100 kilometer ride. In Thailand we often had numerous options and our biggest dilemma was deciding on how luxurious we were willing to go. Outside of Bangkok and the main tourist areas it was possible to get four star hotels for about US$40, so we occasionally took advantage and stayed in the kind of places we wouldn’t dream of staying on other trips.

Problems: The only thing that keeps this area from being a cycling paradise is the tropical climate. It took us a long time to acclimate and we found that the best way to handle things was to cycle from dawn until around noon. The heat generally became stifling around 11:00 a.m. and almost intolerable (particularly if the sun was out) around 1:00. In order to avoid this heat we sometimes had to ride hard and steady in the morning in order to get to destinations a hundred or more kilometers away.

Although the traffic is chaotic in cities throughout Southeast Asia, the rural areas are very safe. We did have a couple of close calls while cycling in Malaysian towns and in Chiang Mai, and we only cycled briefly in Bangkok (an activity I would advise only for hard core thrillseekers).

We did not have to take malaria pills, as we never entered a malaria risk area. If we had gone further into Laos we would have had to have taken the pills. Mosquitoes were not a problem anywhere on the trip. In Thailand, dogs are everywhere and so you need to be cautious around them (and have an “action plan” for when they do come running after you). Generally Thai dogs are far more passive than their counterparts in the West but there are some that will chase cyclists.

Personal Highlights: I found the Buddhist culture of Thailand and Laos to be delightful. It is taboo to show anger and we never heard anger expressed by a local. Whenever I did hear shouting or angry voices, the source was inevitably European or American. We found Buddhist wats (monasteries) to be wonderful places of sanctuary. We often stopped to picnic or rest from the heat at wats and were never bothered. Another highlight was cycling with Jenne and Anneliese, a Dutch couple who had been on the road for more than a year. We first met on our second day out of Singapore and then got together (both planned and unplanned) a number of times all along the route to Vientiane.