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Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Cycle Touring Routes   >  Thailand  
Cycle Touring in Thailand
BEST TIME TO CYCLE IN THAILAND

November to Mid-April  
The last part of October the rainy season ends and the "cooler
days" begin.  Around mid-April Thais celebrate Songkran (Thai
New Year) marking the beginning of the hottest time of year and
the rainy season.  The heat during the day can go as high as 101
degrees (38) on a daily basis and the humidity is drenching.

The rainy season can also be considered refreshing and a nice
relief from the blaring sun, but it also brings monsoons and
flooding in most areas of the country making many roads
impassable and some cities streets inundated.

ROADS/TRAFFIC/DRIVERS

Primary and Secondary Roads - All the roads we took on our
rides were sealed. The only time we pedaled on a less than
sealed road was when there was roadwork going on.  

Most roads, especially the major highways, have a wide shoulder.  
Some secondary roads may not have a shoulder but the traffic
level is lower and drivers are very aware of scooters and cyclists
using the side of the road.

Roads and Shoulders-

Nice sealed roads.  Nicely paved wide, shoulders on the main
highways and secondary roads.  

Thai drivers are courteous and very patient.  The fact that we are
such a unique vision makes most Thais pause and give us the
right of way.  

Lots of locals use scooters to get around no matter what their age
or gender.  They pile on 3, 4 up to 5 people on a scooter.  No
helmets.  A surreal vision is a granny buzzing past with her skirt
yanked up, or a new mom beeping at us non-stop as she holds
her tiny baby in one arm and steers the scooter with the other.  
We've actually seen a couple of dogs driving scooters.

Honking and Hellos -  Thais use their horns to communicate while
driving.  At first we thought the drivers were honking at us because
we were doing something wrong.   Then we thought, "Oh, they're
so nice.  They're honking to say hello".  
Both of these theories are right and wrong.  While they do honk to
say hello or to tell you that you are veering into traffic, most drivers
honk to alert you that they're coming up behind you, so don't get in
their way.  Once we figured this out, it made for a much less
stressful ride.  

Left-hand Drive - Thais drive on the left side of the road.  When I
initially started pedaling in Thailand I felt a little disoriented by the
direction of traffic.  Not so much on the main roads those were
pretty straightforward, it was when we entered a populated area
that I had to really concentrate on which direction the traffic was
coming.  

Tip!   My handle bar mirror is meant for right side traffic.  I really
use my mirror and find it very helpful to keep an eye on motorists,
especially the scooters that zip in and out of traffic.  I would
recommend a mirror that unclips or velcros to the handlebars so
that it can easily be moved from side to side.  

HAZARDS ON THE ROAD

Dogs on the Road - There are lots of dogs in Thailand.  Thais
seem to have a fetish for pets, especially puppies and tiny toy
dogs.

Pedaling from town to town we seem to encounter the other kind
of dog.  The one nobody likes.  The scruffy, mean guard dog or
strays that hang around in packs at the entrance and exit of most
towns or on the side of the roads in rural areas.  Most gas
stations, where we make our regular pee stops, seem to have two
or three mangy dogs running the place.

Pedaling on the roads the dogs generally bark loudly but others
bolt out after us and give us a good run.

Tip!  How to handle chasing dogs - Other cyclists we've met on the
road have offered their tip on how to handle these dogs.  Some
riders squirt water on the dogs from their water bottles.  Other
riders have tried kicking the dogs only to lose their balance and
fall off their bikes.  Rich has offered this tip.  He keeps a stash of
small rocks on his handle bar bag under the plastic map cover.  
He doesn't hesitate to throw the occasional rock to stop a chasing
dog.   Even a fake throw seems to persuade the dog to go the
opposite direction.  Good tip, Rich.   

Road kill - Snakes on the Road.  Luckily, the most popular road kill
so far we have encountered are snakes.  Skinny, long snakes are
splattered flat and lifeless on the shoulder of the roads.  I've
counted 80 so far.  They seem to be squished by the scooters and
the sidecar motorbikes.  Nobody really seems to cry over a
flattened snake.  Oh well.

BICYCLE SHOPS

Bangkok has several well-stocked bicycled shops.  
Worldbike - 8km Ram Inthra Road.  I have to admit we did not go
into Worldbike, but we heard they're the one-stop  bike haven with
imported bikes, spare parts and everything a cyclist could desire.  
02-946-4117.

The next two bikes shops we visited.
Cannasia  - Cannondale Asia at 73/1 Sukumvit Soi 3, near
Bamrungrad Hospital. Bangkok, Thailand  
www.thaicannasia.com  The British/Thai owners are
knowledgeable and run a well stocked shop that does it all
including  tune-ups and repairs.  Rich had some work done on his
wheels here and was satisfied with the service.

Probike -  237/2 Sarasin Rd.   Across the street from Lumpini
Park., Bangkok, Thailand.  Large first rate shop with a great
inventory.  www.probike.co.th

The bike shops are great places to buy replacement parts,
accessories or make major repairs to equipment.

The shops also carry all the top of the line cycle touring equipment,
saddles, panniers, bikes computers, accessories, clothing, etc.  If
they don't have the item in stock, they know where to get it.

English is spoken at both shops.
Both shops are located in areas that can be easily reached with
public transport.  

Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, has an exceptional bike shop.  
TOP GEAR.  173 Chang Moi Rd.  www.topgearbike.com.  
The ex-pat owner has refurbished bikes for sale for cycle touring,
mountain biking and road riding.  They specialize in sales,
service, tours and accessories.  The staff is well informed,
extremely helpful and the shop is well stocked.

SAFETY

Thai people are very mellow and smiley.  Thailand is the perfect
low stress country to begin a cycling adventure, especially for
women.  Amanda was able to run, walk and sightsee on her own
in the major cities and smaller towns with no hassle.  She never
got the feeling of being unsafe.

This didn't mean we put our guard down.  We rarely stayed out
late at night, or strolled in isolated areas, or ever left our panniers
and bikes unlocked or unattended.  

Thievery - Thailand is a relatively safe country to travel in.  We did
use our PacSafe mesh to lock up valuables in our guesthouse
room.  We also kept our money belts on when we were not in our
room and did not leave any valuables out of our sight.

At the central markets, Amanda felt comfortable opening up her
hands and displaying a palm full of baht change.  She would
encourage the local vendors to choose the appropriate coins as
payment.  Amanda never felt any of the vendors took advantage of
this gesture nor did she feel overcharged.

Bike Safety -  The majority of the guesthouses/hotels, around
99%, allowed us to pedal our bikes directly into our room.  

If that option was not possible, Rich was shown a safe place
inside the hotel lobby or inside a guarded/locked room.  If we
didn't feel comfortable with the area we would make gentle
suggestion for another place to lock our bikes and the majority of
the time the staff would accommodate our request.

When we pedaled around the towns and stopped to shop
somewhere that perhaps seems questionable, one of us would
always stay with the bikes.  If the place we stopped seemed okay,
for example a parking garage or bike area with a guard, we would
lock up our bikes and go in together.  

Con Artists - When cycling we seem to encounter less interactions
with hotel touts, tuk-tuk drivers and other con artists that seem to
linger around bus stations, train stations and the popular tourist
areas.  Our bikes give us a lot of freedom.   We are able to get off
a train or bus, load our panniers and pedal away without the touts
harassing us.  

There are plenty of scams going around Thailand and other
Southeast Asian countries.  The guidebooks are very good in
describing some scams and other travelers you meet are a wealth
of information.   

GUIDEBOOKS AND MAPS -  NEW & USED

Bangkok, Thailand has a couple of well-stocked chain bookstores
as well as other major cities.   

Asia Books and Kinokuniya are both located (sometimes next to
each other) in the big malls along Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok.  
The bookstores carry a good selection of regional maps and
guidebooks for Thailand and most of the world.

Prices for the current issue of Lonely Planet, Roughguide and
Let's Go guidebooks are comparable or a bit higher than those in
the US, but the road maps are at least 1/3 cheaper.   

Bookazine is another chain that is more geared toward keeping a
well stocked magazine and newspaper selection for ex-pats
looking to stay on top of their hometown news.

For the best selection of used worldwide guidebooks; Lonely
Planet, Footprint, Let's Go and Roughguide and the latest
bestsellers, go to Khao San Road near the Royal Palace (river
boat stop #13 Phra Arthit (Banglamphu).  
Vendors set up along the Wat wall on Rambutri Road (just off of
Khao San Rd.)   Several formal used bookstores and stalls are
also on Khao San Rd.  

Most guidebooks are the current year.  Vendors start prices pretty
high at 850 b ($25.00) but they are negotiable and trade-ins are
welcome.

ACCOMMODATION

Accommodations in Thailand vary from the basic guesthouse with
shared bathroom and fan for around 200b ($6.00).  Dorm beds
prices can be as low as 70b ($2.00).  A mid-range room with two
double beds, A/C, TV, mini-bar and en suite bath go for around
600b ($17.50).  The high-end accommodation with all the bells
and whistles can go as high as you want, but most are around
1350b ($40.00).

Most cities in Thailand have accommodations at various levels.  
Even the smallest of towns has some sort of basic
accommodation.

Camping - When we pedaled down the coast of the US we
camped every day, except for one.  In Thailand we didn't find many
opportunities for camping. Accommodations in Thailand are so
inexpensive and well spread out along the rides that carrying a
tent was not practical for us.  A few of the national parks in the
southern region had camping options, but most had the
equipment available for rent or had primitive huts.

TRANSPORTATION

Train transportation in Thailand is comfortable, inexpensive and
reliable.  Trains run throughout the country and can accommodate
a bicycle for an extra cost.  

Make sure the train that you are taking has a cargo cart attached.  
Some trains do not have a cargo cart and you may end up on one
train while your bicycle rides on another all by itself.  

Bicycle tickets are purchased at the cargo window in the train
station.  The cargo office is separate from the passenger ticket
window.

Overnight trains are the best way to travel long distances in
Thailand.  
Meal cart with waitress is attached for an evening meal.

Tip!  Book the bottom bunk.  You get a window, nightlight, two flip
down shelves for packs and easy access in and out.  

The seats are assembled into beds by the employees around
7:00 p.m. and include clean sheets, a pillow and blanket.  The
bunk also has full curtains for privacy.   

Double tip! Keep your earplugs and eye covers handy for a good
nights sleep.  

Buses -

Buses in Thailand are comfortable, have a toilet and can "easily"
load bicycles underneath in the luggage compartment.   Some
buses require you to take off the front wheel and turn the handle
bars.  Extra fee is charged for bicycles.  Usually, 1/2 a regular
ticket price.

Other public transport options. Tuk-tuks, a two person cart with
roof pulled by a motorcycle.  Tuk-tuks are fun for getting around a
town, but don't work for bicycles.

Songthaews (transport in rural areas or in lieu of a minibus) is a
small truck with a covered back and two long benches facing each
other.  The songthaew is a better option for transporting bicycles
and panniers to get you out of a pinch.  They run between towns
and make frequent stops along the road.  The price for a ride
should be negotiated.

FOOD DURING OUR RIDES

One thing we can say without a doubt,  "You will never starve in
Thailand, no matter where you are riding."  Of course that can only
be true if you are not a very picky eater.  

Every small village, town and city has numerous eating options
from vendor carts, open face roadside restaurants, food areas at
the markets, huge food courts in the malls all the way up to elegant
restaurants in most major cities.

Even though we heard that people drink the water out of the tap in
Bangkok, we never actually attempted this feat.  
A 950 milliliter of bottled water sells for about 5b (.14) and can be
found everywhere along the road during our rides.

7/11 stores are a convenient stop.  Most are well-stocked with
everything a cyclist may need on the road.   Beverages galore,
chips, nuts, seeds, some ready-made food, sundries.   Most
towns and gas stations have a 7/11 or some version of a 7/11
such as Family Mart.  

Some gas stations on the major roads are similar to the rest stops
in Europe and the US.  They normally have several sit down
restaurants, a specious food court, a mini-market/convenience
store, restroom facilities and food vendors.  

Most central markets have vendors that sell sundries, toothpaste,
detergent, soap packaged goods, snacks and dry goods in
addition to fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and bread.

Meals in Thailand, especially on the road, include fried rice or
fried noodles.  There are variations.  Some dishes come with
meat, some with fish, some with vegetables, but the gist of it is the
same.  The price per dish is around 20b (.60).

Supermarkets such as Tesco/Lotus, Tops, Big C can be found in
the bigger cities and at times have western products such as
cheeses, cereals, oats, peanut butter and pasta.  Some have
ready-made meals with a salad bars or a food court.

Snacks on the Road - Below is a list of snacks we found in
Thailand that stay fresh for long periods of time, pack well in our
panniers and are easy to find at most convenience shops in the
gas stations along the road.

Finger bananas - Sweet little dried bananas.  A great treat.
Sunflower Sesame Seed Bar - 70% Sunflower seeds, sesame
seeds, honey and a tiny bit of vegetable oil.
Sunflower seeds packets - roasted with salt
Pumpkin Seeds packets - roasted with salt
Fresh fruit such as papaya and pineapple chopped and sealed in
a plastic container.
Whole apples or pears - They carry well and don't wilt with the heat.

COSTS | FINANCES

Exchange Rate  34 Baht = $1.00
For a current up to date exchange rate go to
www.exchangerate.com

Average Daily Expenses - Two people staying in mid-range
accommodation, cooking their own food and occasionally eating
out, using local transport such as buses and subway in bigger
cities and fees for typical tourist attractions such as museums and
archeological sites.

$32.00/day for two people.

ATM's and banks are found in all major cities and the bigger
towns.  ATM's are available 24 hours and banks are open M-F
9:30-3:30 pm.

Negotiating - I have to say that Thailand is a country where
negotiating for items, including hotel rooms is not uncommon.  It is
just hard to figure out their negotiating style well enough to explain
it.  

Most transactions go something like this...  

Foreigner - "How much for this scarf?"  
Vendor - "450 baht.  Special price for you."  
Foreigner - "I was thinking more like 250 b."  
Vendor - "No. No. This is good price.  450 b."  
Foreigner - "Is that your best price?"  
Vendor - "Okay, for you 400 b."  
Foreigner - "That's still too much.  Thank you, though".
Foreigner begins to walk away.  
Vendor - "350 b.  350 b.  My best price."  
Foreigner keeps walking away waving no with her hand.  
Vendor calls out- "Okay, 250 b.  250 b."
Foreigner comes back and buys scarf.

Conclusion - Have a price in mind.  Play it as if you could do
without.  Vendors are everywhere - Shop around.

Tipping - Coming from Latin America where we tip for everything
imaginable, Thailand is a nice relief.  Tipping is not common, nor
is it expected in the majority of services, but there are a few
exceptions.  Tip a waiter/waitress, private driver, guide or any
other service that you feel was above and beyond the norm.

Tipping is not the standard 10% -20% we are accustomed to.  For
average service in a restaurant it is common to leave 60 b.  If the
service was really good, then 100 b.  If you leave the standard
10% you will keep the staff smiling for a very long time.

A LITTLE ABOUT THAILAND

There are approximately 62 million people living in Thailand and
over 90% are practicing some form of Buddhism.  

This is a bicycle friendly country.  Bicycles, scooters and other two
-wheeled modes of transport are used regularly by many Thais.  

In southern Thailand, the country is surrounded by two bodies of
water, the Adaman Sea on the west coast and the Gulf of Thailand
to the east.  Beautiful beaches, countless islands and lush national
parks are in this region.  To the north of Bangkok, Thailand is
saturated with breathtaking mountains, ancient archeological sites
and the culture and traditions of the hills tribe people.  

Thailand's geographical position allows for overland access into
four southeastern Asian countries; Myanmar (Burma), Laos,
Malaysia and Cambodia.   

The Royal family, especially the King of the current monarch, King
Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit are revered and highly respected
throughout Thailand.  Posters and pictures of the royal family,
especially the royal couple is visible in every building. Billboards
are displayed along on all major roads.

The National Anthem is played twice a day in public areas such as
bus stations and parks.  Everyone stops what they are doing and
stands for the anthem.  At the movie theaters everyone stands for
a brief tribute to the King.

Shoes are taken off to enter holy places and some Thais homes.

Enough of this intro.  Thais are very friendly and you will find that
any gesture or effort to learn about the Thai culture is highly
appreciated and rewarded with many smiles.  The rest you'll pick
up as you travel through.

VISA

This information pertains to travelers holding a US passport.

Length - 30 days
Cost - Free
Process - Get it when you enter the country by land, sea or air.   
No picture necessary.  

The Thai visa was the only one we got before we started the trip
for two reasons.  Primarily because we were entering the country
with a one-way airline ticket and we heard that Thais would rather
have foreigners come in with a booked outgoing ticket   We also
wanted a visa for a longer stay period than the standard 30 days.  

There is a Thai consulate in Los Angeles, CA. where we mailed a
completed application, one picture along with our passport.  We
included a brief letter explaining our plans to cycle through their
country and why we did not have an outgoing airline ticket.  

We received a 60-day Thai visa through the mail within 7 days.  
Extended Visa costs $25.00.

COMMUNICATION/STAYING IN TOUCH

Thai is a difficult language to learn, but it's not impossible to
communicate.  Any attempt to speak Thai is highly appreciated by
the locals.

The basic niceties include;
Hello - sa wad dee ka (f) sa wad dee cup (m)
Thank you  - kob koon ka (f) kob koon cup (m)
Toilet - hong nam
Market - talaat
Drinking water - nam plao

The post is as reliable as anywhere in the world.  Hours are
generally 8:30-4:30 pm M-F and 9-12 on Sat.  Thailand is a good
place to ship excess stuff home or have packages shipped to your
hotel.  The touristy cities have DHL, Fedex and URL.    

Telephone calls - Local calls require dialing the country, city code,
plus the phone number in matter the distance.  Payphone take pre
paid cards and coins.

Skype is the way to go when making telephone calls.  
www.skype.com  
Opening an account is similar to registering a new email account.  
The cost of an international call is free if you call another computer
that also has a Skype account.  When calling a regular phone
number there is a minimal cost.  You pay in advance into the
account.  The cost to the US to a regular phone number is around
1.2 cents/minute.  You can also request a phone number through
Skype In.  It costs extra to have your own phone number, but
people can call you and leave messages on you Skype account
and it doesn't cost you a thing.   

Internet available in all towns no matter how small.  Average cost
about 40 Baht (1.17) per hour.


MEDICAL/HEALTH ISSUES

Vaccinations   -

There are three exceptional hospitals in Bangkok, Thailand that
have travel clinics and give vaccinations.  www.istm.org - Website
with travel health issue information and location of travel clinics
throughout the world.

We went to the BNH Hospital in Bangkok a modern, well run
facility to update our vaccinations.  www.bnhhospital.com .  
Located at 9/1 Convent Road.  Between Silom Rd and Sathorn
Rd.  Sky Train stop -  Seam Luang.

The prices charged are 10% of the cost of what we would have
paid in the US.
We received the three rabies shots for 580b ($17.00) each and
the typhoid vaccination for 500 b ($14.70).   We also asked for a
prescription of Diamox, for altitude sickness, at 15 b (.44) per pill.

There is a minimal fee for the doctors' consultation and for the
injection service.  
The doctors' consultation is only for the first visit so prepare
questions and medications/prescriptions that you would want filled
that way you do not have to pay for a second consultation.  

The consultation was invaluable.  We had a list of questions and
some suggestions as to what we wanted and the doctor answered
all our concerns and gave us information that we needed to
continue our travels through Tibet, Nepal and India.  Doctor and
staff spoke fluent English.  No need for an appointment.  We
walked in and they began the process immediately.

Opticians are located in the international hospitals such as
Bumrungrad, www.bumrungrad.com BNH, www.bnhhospital.com
and Samitivej Hospital, www.samitivej.co.th.

Dentist -

We had our annual dental check up at the Bangkok Dental Group.  
236/3-4 Soi 2 Rama 1 at the Siam Center, Bangkok.  
www.bangkokdental.com
SkyTrain stop Siam, exit 4

The price for a filling is 800 b ($21.00).  Cleaning is 800 b
($21.00) and check up is free.  The staff speaks English and the
offices are professional, clean and modern.

NEW & USED CAMPING EQUIPMENT

There is used camping equipment in the Khao San Road area of
Bangkok.  Makeshift vendors set up tables along the Wat wall on
Rambutri Road (off of Khao San Road).  Shoes, tents, tools,
stoves, backpacks, pacsafe mesh and much more.  Prices start
high.  Negotiate.  

HOLIDAYS

We can only comment on three holidays that we've personally
experienced in Thailand.

Last day of the Vegetarian Festival - Mostly celebrated in southern
Thailand where locals parade in front of the entire community
while committing acts of self-mutilation.

Mid-April - Songkran - Thai New Year.  A three-day event that is
mostly celebrated by drunk, dancing drenched tourists in the city
streets by throwing water and smearing talcum powder on
unsuspecting passersby.

December 5 - King's Birthday.  Music and fireworks accompanied
by the release of hundreds of paper balloons with candles inside.