Amateur cyclists Becky and Jules cycled from Bangkok to Phuket. Here they share their hard-won tips on surviving the heat, the traffic and evil monkeys
With temperatures in Thailand regularly hitting 35 degrees, and humidity hovering around 65%, overheating is a very real danger, especially when you're wearing helmets. The best thing to do is ride between dawn and 9am. But if, like us, you're not an early riser, there are other things you can do to keep your temperature down.
Becky's Camelback, for instance, was a God-send. Basically a hydration pack you wear on your back and sip from, it was pooh-poohed by many a male road cyclist along the route – until their water bottle got warm and nasty or they ran out of water between hard-to-come-by local shops! We filled ours with ice several times throughout the day and it was a lifesaver, not just for drinking but for draping on the back on your neck.
Keep an eye out for air-conditioned 7 Elevens too. They became our favourite hang out in the midday heat. Fellow British cyclist, Geoff, also suggested trying the blueberry shakes at the chain of petrol station cafés called Amazon, also air conditioned.
It didn't take long to realise that the large-scale maps we brought with us to Thailand weren't going to get us off the beaten track. Indeed, if we followed them we would have spent the entire trip sucking petrol fumes from Thai trucks as we trundled down the main road to Malaysia.
Thankfully, we lucked upon a bike shop on the outskirts of Hua Hin where the wonderfully welcoming staff sold us squishy, comfy bike seats and recommended a great map that covered the local area. We bought the map – and another Thai roadmap to cover the rest of the trip – ripped out the relevant pages and Googled the place names and translated them into English. The Thai roadmap also meant we could ask locals for directions as we could point to the Thai name even if we couldn’t actually pronounce it!
Our trip was always meant to be about adventure and fun. We wanted to do something personally challenging but also have a giggle while we did it. Thus, when faced with a punishing 45Km cycle along Highway 4 (the Thai equivalent to Britain's M1) we had no hesitation in hitching a ride in a local pickup truck.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip: bikes in the back, sitting beside a bemused Thai man and his son. The cultural barriers came down further when they noticed us giggling at a group of German cyclists ahead on the busy road and took great pleasure in beeping the horn ferociously and joining in on the gag.
If you are not precious about cycling every mile then hairy rides in the back of pick ups are great fun for many reasons.
One of the best things about cycling, we think, is that you can eat as much as you want with no danger of piling on the pounds. And in Thailand, the added bonus is that the cheaper the food is, the better it is. The undoubted highlight of our day was stopping at roadside noodle bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants and eating what the locals ate. Indeed, the first thing we would ask people was 'Where do you go to eat?'
In the more remote areas, we were treated like minor celebrities every time we stopped to eat. The ladies wanted to mother us and practice their English, we got chatted up (mostly by old men but it still counts), and everyone wanted their pictures taken with us for Facebook.
Best of all, the spicy, yummy food was always out-of-this-world and usually cost no more than 50p. Lots of Thais have set up shops and cafés in their front gardens too – these are always fun to stop at for respite from the sun and some much-needed hydration. Our 11am coke and peanuts stop was typically in a homely local store, and involved sharing life stories with the family living there.
We were nervous of cycling directly from the bustling major streets of Bangkok, so we started by getting the train down to Phetchaburi. (Only certain trains take bikes so check – Becky bought the wrong ticket twice.)
After Hua Hin, this part of Thailand becomes more rural and it was here that we could really get off the beaten track and enjoy the cycling, meet people and find some beautiful, quiet beach stays. We loved Ban Krut (Rachawadee Resort) but only managed lunch there and stopped at Thung Wua Lan beach just north of Chumphon for two nights for a fabulous $5 massage, some sunbathing, few cocktails and a well earned rest. We loved it – Chumphon Cabanas is a very low key Thai resort with the most pristine beach and hardly a tourist in sight.
All dogs in Thailand never stop barking and love to chase cyclists – and it is scary. The only way to deal with them is to pedal faster.
Watch out for the monkeys too. They usually hang out around temples and will mug you for food, money or your bicycle bell! They are evil.
The great thing about Thailand is that there is accommodation to suit every budget almost everywhere. We stayed in an eclectic mix of hotels and hostels, which again was one of the fun parts of the trip – everything from $5 backpacker rooms where we blocked up 'rat holes' with the guide book, to the coolest boutique beach property with our own private pool. So leave the tent at home. It will only weigh you down.