Article by Doug Anderson
Although many people may feel that bicycling in Bangkok is not a tenable proposition, it can be done with relative safety and offers much convenience for many excursions that would be time-consuming and exhausting if done by foot.
Bangkok has made a weak attempt at supporting bicycles by sporadically marking sidewalk lanes for bikes, allowing bicycles on the MRT (subway), the BTS (SkyTrain), and riverboats. However, the MRT and riverboats require that the bicycle be of the foldable type and be folded to be allowed aboard. Also, there is a long elevated walkway that links the north end of Lumpini Park with Sukumvit Soi 10 which provides a convenient, safe and fast transit between Lumpini Park and the lower Sukumvit area.
Right of Way
The general right of way rule in Thailand is that the largest/heaviest vehicle has the right of way; pedestrians have the lowest. In short, “if it’s bigger than you, it will kill you unless you get out of its way”. My rule is to give right of way to all vehicles and pedestrians. This prevents unwanted confrontations with both vehicles and pedestrians. This applies especially to sidewalks, since many sidewalks are marked with a bicycle lane.
Although many sidewalks are marked with about a 1 meter wide bike lane, the use of the lanes by bikes is so light that it is often cluttered with mobile vendors and pedestrians.
Often, in tourist areas especially, the sidewalks have vendors and pedestrians so it is difficult to continue riding safely, so the bicycle should be walked or the sidewalk abandoned for the street.
The Bicycle Bell
It is often important to let a pedestrian know that you are approaching from behind by using the bell as far away as possible so that they have time to recognize it and act accordingly… if they hear it, that is.
Sidewalks or Street?
Because of the crowded or poor conditions of many sidewalks, it is often necessary to alternate between the sidewalk and street. This is especially true when trying to make the best time in a trade-off with safety. Some street traffic conditions are potentially unsafe due to high-speed traffic and the fact that dedicated bike lanes in Bangkok are rare. The buses are the biggest offenders with their seemingly oblivious attitude and frequent stops. From both safety and rapid transit perspectives, gridlocked traffic is the best for a bicycle on the street.
These are probably the most dangerous part of bicycling. The advantage the cyclist has, is that he or she can decide to cross an intersection as either a pedestrian or a vehicle depending on the situation.
Cycling in Lumpini Park
Lumpini Park is large with many wide paths and roads with little to no traffic; there are many canals, lots of greenery, a few snack bars, and several areas with tables and benches. The park allows bicycling from 10:00 – 15:00 seven days a week. There are security guards to enforce these hours. The nearest train station to Lumpini Park is the Silom station on both the MRT and BTS lines, at the south west corner of the park.
Elevated Pedestrian and Bicycle Walkway
This metal structure is about 3 to 5 metres or more above ground level. It is about one kilometre long, starting at the base of Sukhumvit Soi 10 and ending at the north-east corner of Lumpini Park. It is quite wide, maybe 10 meters, and is divided into a pedestrian part and a bicycle part. The times that I have been on it, it was almost totally empty with never more than 5 people walking and one cyclist; it seems most people are unaware of its existence.
Stairways up to the overpass have a ramp to allow bicycles to be pushed or ridden up, but they are a bit steep; you will need strong legs and/or a multi-gear bike to ride up.
If you use this overpass to get to Lumpini, you end up at the intersection of Sarasin Road and Wireless Road. The gate to Lumpini is to the left (south), about 60 or 70 meters along Wireless Road, just past the school.
For the intrepid, bicycling in Bangkok offers an attractive alternative to walking or incurring the cost and lack of spontaneity or control of using taxis, motorbikes, and tuk tuks. Bicycling is very good for short-range shopping trips or getting to know the local neighborhood. Consider it as a sort of ‘high-speed’ walking with the option to actually walk, if so desired.
With the allowance of foldable bicycles on MRT (subway), BTS (SkyTrain elevated railway), riverboats, and buses, the same advantages can be had for long-range trips or trips anywhere in Thailand.