With Thailand being one of our favourite countries in the world, it was a no brainer that we would include it in our round the world cycling itinerary. And not only did we end up including it, but have spent more time riding here than any of the other countries we’ve visited.
Over 3 months we’ve cycled from Bangkok north to Chiang Mai and Pai, east to Nong Khai, and all the way down south to Trang, taking in some of Thailand’s most beautiful islands, and riding the Lanna Kingdom bikepacking route along the way.
Ten years ago Laura and I met here in Thailand, while living and working here. So this amazing country and the people who live here hold a special place in our hearts. But even while living here for years, we never experienced Thailand like we would from the seat of a bicycle.
We first arrived with our bikes in Bangkok, putting them together in the airport surrounded by friendly and inquisitive security guards. No strangers to riding in large busy cities, we were excited to get out onto the streets and begin our journey north.
Our first destination was the old capital city of Ayutthaya, famed for it’s ancient temples that were partially destroyed by the Burmese invasion over 200 years ago. Our route took us through small villages, following many quiet canal paths, and gave us a good glimpse into everyday Thai life outside of the major cities. Continuing north we visited several national parks including Khao No, a huge mountain sticking up in the middle of the countryside. A great view awaits at the top, for those not afraid of a steep climb, or the thousands of monkeys that surround it.
Our destination in the north was Chiang Mai, not only to get our fill of delicious khao soi, but also to ride the Lanna Kingdom bikepacking route. The 393km route took us north out of Chiang Mai, past elephant sanctuaries and hill tribes, mainly following dirt trails surrounded by jungle. With many challenging climbs, river crossings, and amazing views, this route took us all the way to Pai and back, and was an absolute highlight of our riding in Thailand.
As well as being a challenging ride for our legs, it was a battle for our lungs, as were riding in the north in March, which in northern Thailand, is burning season. With farmers setting fire to their fields as an economic way of clearing the land, the sky was full of smoke for more than a month, and forced us to give up our riding in the north after the Lanna Kingdom, and head back southeast, finishing this part of our trip by crossing the border into Vientiane in Laos.
After a few months exploring some other Asian countries, we rode back into Thailand, now looking forward to riding south from Bangkok, visiting as many beaches as possible along the way.
Out of Bangkok we again followed many of the quiet canal paths, this time heading in a southwest direction. Many people worry about the challenge of riding out of Bangkok as a city, but it’s really not as daunting as it might seem, and before long we were into the tropical countryside, surrounded by palms and banana trees.
We met the gulf of Thailand around Samut Songkran, and from there made our way along the coast, trying to get our riding done in the cooler early mornings so we could spend the afternoons relaxing with a drink on the beach.
From Hua Hin to Chumphon, there’s no shortage of decent, well priced accommodation along this coast, so we could ride for as long or short as we liked each day knowing that we would be able to find somewhere to rest our head for around $20 each night.
We decided to leave the east coast at Chumpon, at which point it’s a good days ride over Ranong in the west. We crossed over here so that we’d have the chance to choose from as many islands along the Andaman Sea as possible, and started with the beautiful and chilled out Ko Phayam. After a few days here, we continued south, enjoying the change in culture and cuisine that this part of Thailand offers.
The roads along this stretch of coast were mainly quiet country lanes, often surrounded by palm oil plantations. Sometimes we would need to use the highway to connect to more rural roads but they were never too trafficy, and always lined with good food.
After visiting some friends in busy Phuket, we continued our search for new islands to visit, and found our way to Ko Jum, and Ko Lanta. Being smaller and less touristy, we found these islands to be extremely relaxed and quiet, and the perfect place for a break from riding each day.
It’s no secret that Thailand is one of the world’s best holiday spots, with endless good food, affordable accommodation and stunning islands to explore. And now we’ve discovered that it’s a bike tourers paradise too, with quiet backroads taking you from beach to beach in the south, to more adventurous gravel odyssey’s in the north.