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The Complete Guide to Cycling in Thailand
By Pankaj Mangal •
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 coastal south with a long shoreline. Dense tropical rainforests, carpets of velvet green rice paddies, stark limestone mountains, and beautiful sandy beaches fill 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 is the Best Time to Cycle in Thailand?
Being located close to the equator in the northern hemisphere, the best time for cycling in Thailand is between October to March, 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 a cooler climate than the rest of Thailand. The cycle tour season here consequently runs from October to March. During the months of December and January, night-time temperatures may dip below the freezing point in some parts.
The best time of year is winter (November through February). It is the dry season and temperatures are cooler. The north normally has no rain. Temperatures in the north are in the mid to upper 20s.
March through May is quite hot in the north (the upper 30s and low 40s) and probably a good time to avoid trips north of Bangkok.
June through October is the rainy season (or green season as the hotels like to call it). In the north rains peak in August and are winding down in early October. Rain tends to be short but heavy tropical downpours, then clearing out, usually happening in the afternoon or evening, so cycling tours are still possible.
In a nutshell, winter is great (Nov - Feb), summer (Mar-May) no go in the north, and the rest of the year is ok.
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.
The best time of year is winter (November through February). It is the dry season and temperatures are cooler. The south gets a scattered shower every few days. Temperatures in the South are in the low 30s.
March through May in the South is warmer, but only fluctuates a couple of degrees during the year.
June through October is the rainy season (or green season as the hotels like to call it). September and early October peak in the south. Rain tends to be short but heavy tropical downpours, then clearing out, usually happening in the afternoon or evening, so cycling tours are still possible.
In a nutshell, winter is great (Nov - Mar), and the rest of the year is ok in the South.
What are the Best Places to Cycle in Thailand?
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and the Golden Triangle - Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are cities about 200 km 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 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 snorkeling adventures. Phuket is a mountainous island in southern Thailand that is famous for its seaside resorts. The terrain in this region is generally flat with the occasional hills.
Travelers wishing to enter Thailand have two options: through an airport or overland. Regardless of the mode of entry, the same rules apply to all travelers. Citizens of countries that can enter visa-free will receive a 30-day entry stamp, while those with a Tourist Visa will receive a 60-day entry stamp. Travelers from countries eligible for a Visa on Arrival will receive a 15-day entry stamp and a visa at the airport.
To comply with the rules, travelers entering visa-free or applying for a VOA must present an airline ticket that departs Thailand before their initial entry period ends (30 and 15 days, respectively). Other travelers may also be asked by the airline to show proof of a departing flight.
When applying for a VOA, travelers must be able to demonstrate that they have 10,000 THB for an individual or 20,000 THB for a family. For those entering visa-free or with a Tourist or Non-Imm visa, proof of financial ability must be shown in the form of 20,000 THB and 40,000 THB, respectively. It's important to note that cash is the only acceptable form of proof of financial ability, and credit cards or bank statements do not count. Any major currency equivalent is acceptable.
Although the majority of travelers are not asked to show proof of financial ability, some travelers may occasionally be asked to do so at Immigration. Therefore, travelers should always be prepared to provide evidence of their financial ability.
Here is an excellent resource on Thailand visas that may be worthy to look at.
Vaccines and medicines
Although there are no specific vaccinations required for Thailand travel by their local law, you are strongly recommended to meet with a medical provider to determine the vaccinations needed for Thailand. Your medical provider will give you specifics on which vaccinations for Thailand you are recommended to have based on your prior vaccinations and other health factors.
Our travelers normally don't do any special vaccination before visiting Thailand and we also don't recommend any particular vaccine.
Here is an excellent resource for recommended vaccinations for Thailand that may be worthy to look at.
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 by far the most widely practiced 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 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 - The 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 into it for around USD 5.
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 traveling 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 traveling 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 major cities.
Ready to Bike
Check out some of our amazing bike tours in Thailand. Here in Thailand, you will bike alongside soaked rice paddies in the lap of tropical forests and spectacular beaches. We beckon you to Thailand by bike!