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The complete guide to cycling in Thailand

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By Pankaj Mangal

Understanding Thailand

Thailand (officially, the Kingdom of Thailand) is a tropical country in south-east Asia situated between the latitudes 6° and 20° N and longitudes 98° and 105° E. The country is about the size of Spain and is shaped like an elephant’s head, with a broad northern hinterland and a narrow, elongated, southern coastal strip resembling an elephant’s trunk. The country has a diverse geography, with a mountainous north, flat central plains, and a coastal south with a long shoreline. Dense tropical rainforests, carpets of velvet green rice paddies, stark limestone mountains, and beautiful sandy beaches f0rm the landscape of much of the country. Thailand has a pleasant tropical climate with high levels of precipitation throughout the year. It is rich in biodiversity and is home to several endangered species of flora and fauna such as wild elephants, tigers, Malayan sun bears, and pileated gibbon. The country has a population of about 70 million most of whom enjoy a relatively good standard of living, though some parts of Thailand are markedly more prosperous than others and significant income inequality exists at the regional level. Thailand’s economy is dependent on exports of goods and services including cars, electronics, textiles,and tourism. The country has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world and among the highest per capita incomes in Asia. Its capital city, Bangkok is a hub of global business and finance with many of the world’s largest multinational corporations having their regional headquarters there.

When to Go

Being located close to the equator in the northern hemisphere, the best time for cycling Thailand is between September to May, with regional variations as described below:

Northern Highlands - Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai - The northern highlands in which Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are located have cooler climate than the rest of Thailand. The cycle tour season here consequently runs from September to May. During the months of December and January, night time temperatures may dip below freezing point in some parts.

Southern Thailand - Bangkok, Phuket: Southern Thailand is coastal and mostly flat. The cycle tour season here runs from November to March when the weather is sunny and pleasant. April to June are the hot summer months and July to October is the rainy season when southern Thailand receives considerable rainfall.

Where to Go

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and the Golden Triangle - Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are cities about 200 kms apart located in the mountainous north of Thailand. The region is inhabited by diverse hill tribes that make it one of the most culturally rich and colorful regions in Thailand. Chiang Mai is dotted with temples and ruins of historical structures, some of them as old as a 1000 years. The city is surrounded on all sides by hills. Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon (2565m) is situated 100kms west of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is also home to some of the best elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. Chiang Rai has some fabulous Buddhist architecture and great nature trails in its vicinity. The Golden Triangle is the tri-junction of three countries - Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. It is set amidst a serene landscape of coffee plantations, lazily meandering rivers, and green hillsides. The terrain is generally hilly, interspersed with rivers, and is great for people who love riding in the mountains. Biking Thailand thus also offers you a chance to visit the borders of Myanmar and Laos too.

Bangkok, Koh Thalu, Phuket - Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and its largest city. A bustling metropolis of close to 11 million people, it is known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful Buddhist temples, and luxurious spas. Located in the southern part of the country, a cycle tour from Bangkok typically heads further south along its long, narrow coast, passing through beautiful beaches skirting the clear blue waters of the Indian ocean, mesmerizing waterfalls, dense jungles, and quaint fishing communities. Koh Thalu is a private island on the Thai coast known for its crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and snorkelling adventures. Phuket is a mountainous island in southern Thailand that is famous for its sea-side resorts. The terrain in this region is generally flat with the occasional hills.

Handy Info

Currency - The Thai Baht (code THB, symbol ฿ ) is the official currency and legal tender in Thailand. As of August 2021, 1 US Dollar equals 33 Thai Baht. Most ATMs will dispense only the Baht, and it is usually the only currency accepted at most business establishments. It is advisable that you carry sufficient Thai Baht with you to meet your expenses. The Baht can easily be exchanged with all major currencies at airports and designated money exchanges. Mastercard/Visa are accepted at larger business establishments.

Transport - Tuk-tuks are one of the most recognizable visual mascots of Thailand and are a convenient way of getting around in Thai cities. The city of Bangkok has an efficient public transport system, with the Skytrain, an elevated rail transport system being the most cost and time-effective way of getting around. Taxi cabs are easily available too. For traveling between Thai cities, rail and bus service is available while the major cities and tourist destinations such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, etc. are connected by air.

Language - Thailand is a linguistically diverse country with 62 officially recognized languages. However Thai is the most common language in the country. English is widely spoken and understood, especially in cities as it is taught as a second language in many schools.

Culture - Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with the Thai king being both the head of the state and a Buddhist religious figurehead, and being thus invested with both political and religious authority, is held in deep reverence by the Thai people. Thailand does not have any official state religion and the free and fair practice of all religions is guaranteed by the country’s constitution. However Buddhism is the by far the most widely practised religion with over 93% of the population identifying as Buddhists. Muslims, Christians, practitioners of folk religions, and small numbers of Hindus and Sikhs make up the remainder of the population. Religion occupies an important part in the everyday lives of most Thai people, especially in the rural areas. Most rural settlements have at least one Buddhist temple where Buddhist monks reside and oversee the life cycle rituals of the community according to traditional customs. Certain regions have larger concentrations of specific religions. For instance southern Thailand has a large Muslim population, while northern Thailand has a significant Christian presence. It is advisable to be respectful of local traditions and customs when traveling. It is recommended that you dress appropriately when visiting sacred places. Thai people are warm, welcoming, and hospitable, and often may not object to being photographed out of politeness. However, it is advisable to seek permission before photographing people. Avoid taking photographs of military establishments.

Appliances and Devices - Electricity supply voltage in Thailand is 220V at 50 Hz. Most countries in the world use electricity at 220-240V with the exception of North America and Japan where 100-120V is used.You should check the back of your device to see if it is compatible with the voltage before plugging it in. If not, you might need to use a voltage converter before plugging in your device into an electrical socket. Certain devices have converters built into them and may not require one. Most hotels in Thailand use Type A, Type B, and Type C sockets. Type A has 2 flat pins, Type B has 3 flat pins and Type C has 2 round pins. If your device has a plug that is not compatible with these, you should carry an adapter with you.

Mobile Coverage - Thailand has good cellular coverage across the country with affordable tariffs compared to those prevailing in most western countries. You can use your mobile phone in Thailand to make calls if you have international roaming activated. You can also buy a new SIM card if you plan to stay longer. However, you may need to have your phone unlocked to install a new SIM card. This can be done at most mobile stores in Thai cities. AIS, Orange, TrueMove, Happy, and DTAC are the primary cell phone operators in Thailand. You can also buy a new smartphone for anything between USD 70-100 and have a new SIM card inserted in it for around USD 5.

Visa – As a tourist friendly country, Thailand has a visa exemption rule under which tourists from over 64 listed countries are allowed to enter Thailand without a visa, provided they fulfil the following conditions:

  • They must enter Thailand through an international airport.
  • They must have arrived in Thailand strictly for the purposes of tourism.
  • They must possess, at the time of arrival, a return ticket for no later than 30 days from the date of entry.
  • They must have funds equal to a minimum of 10,000 THB per person at the time of entry.

Tourist visas may be valid for 15 to 30 days and need to be renewed if you wish to extend your stay. Longer visas of up to 90 days are issued to foreigners who wish to enter Thailand for business, study, or other special purposes.

Cuisine – Being a tropical country well-endowed with the bounties of nature, Thailand’s cuisine is rich, varied, and intricate. Rice is the most widely consumed cereal crop and forms the staple of Thai cuisine along with noodles. Pork and chicken are among the most widely consumed meats. Due to the proximity of the sea to most parts of Thailand, seafood is also widely consumed with fish, shrimps, prawns, crabs etc. forming an important part of Thai cuisine. Soy and dishes made from soy are also popular. The coconut tree is a common sight all across Thailand and predictably, the coconut finds its way onto most Thai menus. If you are allergic to any of these foods you might want to inform your tour guide beforehand.

Time Zone– The Thai time zone is GMT+7.

What to Pack

Clothing – Cycling shoes, rain jacket, sunglasses, dry bag. If you are travelling to north Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle) in December-January you might want to carry light woolens as nights can get cold.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will traffic be an issue while cycling in Thailand?

Our itineraries are carefully designed to avoid cycling through major cities or busy highways, hence most cycling happens on backroads with little traffic. We use shuttles to drive out of the city traffic. Occasionally though, one might pass through a busy town with some traffic.

Apart from Covid-19, do I need to get vaccinated for any other disease/ailment when travelling to Thailand, such as Malaria or Yellow Fever?

It is recommended that you get yourself vaccinated against Hepatitis A, B, and rabies before traveling to Thailand. Diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, Japanese Encephalitis, and Yellow Fever though present in Thailand, are more of a risk to travelers planning on staying for extended periods in rural, remote, and forested areas. Medicines and treatments for such diseases are readily available with local healthcare agencies, though healthcare professionals in rural areas may not speak English.

I’m entering Thailand by air but plan on exiting the country by road as I am traveling onwards to Myanmar and Laos by road. Am I still eligible for visa exemption?

The visa exemption rule is applicable to cases where the entrant provides a confirmed exit air ticket out of Thailand for no more than 30 days from the date of entry. However, in certain cases, an overland exit ticket such as a bus ticket may also be treated as a valid exit ticket. You should get in touch with your local Thai embassy for confirmation.

Where can I exchange my currency for Thai Baht?

Currency can be easily exchanged at airports, most banks, and travel agents in the major cities.