After 1,000 kms of cycling in Thailand it is time to make the case for why this might be just the best place on earth to cycle.
This is of course well known, but Thai people are lovely and this really is the land of smiles. Whether you are in Bangkok or the tiniest village, Thais are there to help whenever you need it. One day Gord and I both slipped and fell from our bicycles on a greasy turn and within seconds a man stopped to make sure we were ok.
The food of course makes the list whether you are eating a green curry in a fancy restaurant or braving the yummy morsels served up in the street markets. Perhaps even more important to cyclists is its availability. All small towns have some basic soup or noodle stop and snacks, including important items like ice cream bars and nuts, are available almost everywhere. I am not a fan of global chains, but 7/11’s can be found in bigger towns and every 10 km on major highways.
Desserts also deserve a special mention. The Thais credit the Portuguese, the first western nation to have a presence in Thailand, with the introduction of many of the popular desserts. What cycle rest stop could be better than a coffee and cake shop?
Thais also have their own traditional sweets, such as sticky rice with mango and luscious battered deep fried bananas.
The majority of Thai roads are amongst the nicest roads you will find anywhere. Major highways and secondary roads usually have broad shoulders, many of which are specifically designated for cyclists. Surfacing is also excellent. Minor rural roads are often well paved. Traffic is respectful and light most of the time. While they are scenically spectacular, mountain roads do not make the list, however, with their15% grades on repeated climbs and descents.
In the last few weeks in the North, the highs have typically been around 27 and the lows around 14 degrees Celsius. This is somewhat below the norm, but excellent for cycling.
Water: We bought two large bottled waters in Bangkok and have been able to refill them at reverse osmosis water vending machines for 1 baht (3 cents) per liter ever since. Spotting the machines is one of our favourite games. When machines are not available bottled water is easily found.
Washrooms: Gas stations, police stations and rest stops are frequently passed and all have washrooms you can use. Trees are available in between.
Guesthouses, hotels and resorts are plentiful and at least something is available in most good sized towns.
Shady rest shelters are one of my favorite things about cycling here. They are located on most roads, often less than a kilometer apart.
After reading all the travel warnings about dogs with rabies in Thailand, and my previous experiences on cycle tours with aggressive dogs, it was a pleasant surprise to meet the Thai dogs. In 1000 km of cycling only three gave us a little chase with barking, the rest either moved out of our way are were completely disinterested. Rabies is a serious issue in the country, and if bitten you must seek medical attention ASAP, but from our experience so far, the majority of pooches here are some of the mellowest a cyclist could hope to meet. Many are well loved and sporting t-shirts and jackets to keep out the winter chill.
You can travel very comfortably here for a modest amount. The roadside noodle shops will make you a nice bowl of soup for about $1, and for a bit more you can usually get a plate of delicious pad Thai. Fresh fruit such as papaya, bananas, and oranges are also readily available at little cost. Accommodation costs vary widely, but we can often obtain a double room with ensuite for $14 to $20.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t love elephants, but make sure you are visiting a genuinely ethical center. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center, located between Lampang and Lamphun, is highly recommended.
9. Buddhist Temples
10. Hill Tribes
The border areas of Thailand are home to a number of ethnic minority groups with colourful traditional costumes and handicrafts.