In December of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand to experience one of our new tours, the Bangkok and River Kwai Short Break.
Freedom Treks has recently expanded our range of tours in South East Asia, and many have Bangkok as the starting or finishing point. This was a great chance for me to re-acquaint myself with the city and local area while cycling the whole of this 4 day, 3 night itinerary. What really struck me was how much was packed in to a short time, both on and off the bikes. For a first-time visitor, this tour is a perfect introduction to Asia. It also makes a fantastic add-on for anyone starting or finishing a trip in Bangkok, or for someone who’s travelling in the region and wants to fit in some cycling as part of a longer holiday.
Here are a few photos from my time in Thailand which I hope will show why a cycling holiday in South East Asia is a completely unique experience.
Bangkok is a huge, bustling city. Its temples, markets, street-food and nightlife make it worth spending a few days there. I arrived on a Monday and met up with our company chairman, Richard, ready to start the tour bright and early on Tuesday morning. The temptation was to spend the day by the hotel pool after a long flight, but we went out to explore by tuk-tuk, scooter taxi and canal boat.
Cycling is booming in Thailand – the streets were lined with colourful models of bikes in the run up to the ‘Bike for Dad’ event, organised by the Royal Family, where up to 100,000 cyclists ride a loop of the city.
Despite the jet-lag starting to kick in, we held on for dinner and a few Chang Beers on the roof terrace at Ching Cha Swing Bar, overlooking the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat temple.
Some interesting pub quiz trivia – Bangkok’s official name holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest place name, with 168 letters. If you’re interested, it’s Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. Don’t ask me to pronounce that!
This tour offers some incredibly varied and scenic cycling, while still being accessible to all. The daily rides are 30km which, with all the things to see along the way and the warmer climate, is just right. Each day’s route offered something different, cycling through coconut palms, rubber plantations, rice paddies, skirting around the base of limestone peaks or exploring temples and heritage parks.
A few highlights of the cycling:
Off the bikes
With the shorter daily distances, there’s lots of time spent off the bikes. When we weren’t cycling, the days were filled with visits and activities. Straight from Bangkok we visited the floating market at Mae Klong. It was fascinating to see how trade was carried out in days gone by, with traders canoeing the canals selling their wares. Now, you’ll see more plastic jewellery and elephant t-shirts than daily staples, but it was still a vibrant hive of activity.
Much of the route focuses on the area around the River Kwai, where a day was spent visiting the museum, and the war cemetery, followed by a ride on the Death Railway over the famous bridge. It was an interesting, but sombre visit, after which some time spent cycling and reflecting was very welcome.
The final stop is at Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. The historical park there is set in a large green space full of temples and stupas, some restored and others slowly decaying and being reclaimed by nature.
When you’re cycling and sightseeing in the heat of Thailand, having a comfortable hotel at the end of the day is really important. The accommodation on this tour ticks that box in a big way. Luxurious without being pretentious is how I’d describe the hotels, which had spacious, well appointed rooms, full of character in beautiful locations. My highlight was the Boutique Raft Resort, with rooms floating on the River Kwai, a totally unique experience and it was incredible falling asleep to the sound of the water flowing past outside.
Our guide was Korn, Bangkok born and bred, full of stories and facts which brought the tour to life. Sunit, Korn’s comedy sidekick, was driving the support van which was always close at hand. Whenever we stopped for a break, a cool box in the boot would be opened up to reveal ice cold drinks, fruit and local treats. Korn had a puncture on one of the rides, so we pulled over. A new tube was fetched from the van and we were back on the road in no time. The van proved invaluable one afternoon when one member of the group was feeling unwell, but was able to ride in the van to recover in air conditioned comfort while the rest of us continued the cycle.
As you’d expect, the food was delicious. Thai cuisine is known for its variety and combinations of spice, fragrance and fresh ingredients. We weren’t disappointed. With Korn and Sunit on hand to help with recommendations and tips on local specialities, we ate very well. They helped us to order, taking into consideration the preferences of the group, ensuring that everyone had dishes to suit their tastes.
Back in Bangkok
We were dropped back in Bangkok at the end of the tour. It would be feasible to get to the airport and fly home that evening, but I had one last night in Thailand. The following day, my flight was in the late afternoon so, to make the most of my time, I signed up for a half day guided bike tour in the city. It was an absolute revelation. I met my guide just off the Khaosan Road, right in the centre of town. Within minutes we had cut down a sidestreet and we were cycling through quiet neighbourhoods, following canals and alleyways, seeing a side to Bangkok I never knew existed. Despite the rain, it was a great morning, finishing with one last fresh and spicy lunch before I made my way to the airport.
Contact us to ask us about our range of day and half day tours in Bangkok, a perfect way to see a bit of the city before you start, or after you finish a multi-day ride.
My Top Tips
- December to March are the best times to visit South East Asia. It’s the dry season. It’ll be (relatively) cool in December and will warm up from January onwards.
- Cycling in Asia will almost certainly be warmer than you’re used to. Take advantage of the water and energy drinks available to stay hydrated. You’ll receive a brand new water bottle with your bike, for you to keep. Make sure you wear sunscreen.
- Do some background reading on the areas and sights you’ll be visiting. It will give some context to what you’re seeing and to the information your guide is sharing.
- Bring a small backpack in the van with you. Carry a spare tshirt and maybe some flip flops to change into once you’ve finished cycling for the day, as some days you’ll transfer from the end of the cycling route to your hotel.
- If you wear lycra, it’s a good idea to have a longer shirt and some loose trousers to put on over your cycling gear when you’re visiting temples or other religious sites.
- You won’t have a pannier or handlebar bag on your bike on this tour, so wear shorts or a cycling jersey with a zip pocket to carry a camera or phone with you.
- You’ll receive a souvenir cycling jersey on many of our Asia tours – so that’s one less thing for you to pack!
Here's a short video from my trip, I hope it sums up what a fantastic experience this was!