Exploring Bangkok by bicycle

if the monks can do it, so can you

When glancing around Bangkok’s busy streets, exploring by bicycle is not the first thought to cross a visitor’s mind. This is a pity as a bicycle is much more versatile than a car, or even the ubiquitous three-wheeled Thai tuk-tuk taxis, and allows cyclists to conveniently reach the city’s hidden gems and backstreet neighbourhoods.

Bicycles are able to negotiate narrow lanes (sois) and gain entry to the lesser known and more bucolic precincts of Bangkok. Some recommended rides include Rattanakosin Island, the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River in the environs of Thonburi, as well as the area known to foreigners as the Bangkok Jungle and to Thais as Bang Khachao.

For those who enjoy nature, Bang Khachao is the perfect place to go. Entering this district of Bangkok is like stepping back in time as it is a verdant location criss-crossed with canals (klongs). It features peaceful villages and colourful temples. As visitors cycle through Bang Khachao, skyscrapers on the horizon are the only reminder they are near one of Asia’s busiest cities.

Although Bang Khachao is not far from Sukhumvit Road, visitors have to take their bicycles on ferries across the Chao Phraya River because there are no bridges in this area. Raised pathways allow cyclists to meander through the tall forests and fruit plantations. Highlights of Bang Khachao are the lack of vehicles, an old Ayutthaya-era temple and cafés that sell refreshing cold drinks.

Another great Bangkok cycling tour is from the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) through uncrowded backstreets north to Phra Pinklao Bridge. Cyclists need to take their bicycles across the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun, but on the return leg they can use the bridge or another ferry. This trip takes in Buddhist and Chinese temples, as well as Christian churches.

The Wat Arun ride is a very good one to make at night because the temple is spectacularly illuminated and the back sois mostly have working street lights. Back on the east side of the river, Wat Pho temple looks almost magical with its stylish lighting. The park at Sanam Luang is busy with strollers, children playing and vendors selling snacks and beverages.

Another great ride is from the east side of the city in Bang Kapi to Minburi. This mostly off-road journey starts near Seri Thai Road Soi 43 and takes in peaceful parks and the Seri Thai and Bungkum lakes. The latter is an especially picturesque and pastoral location. Minburi has lots of irrigation klongs and rice paddies. Cyclists often find themselves riding on paths between the two.

Bangkok showing some progressive thinking for a change

A more central pedestrian and cycle-only path wends its way from the northeast corner of Lumpini Park in the general direction of Sukhumvit Road. Unusually for Bangkok, this path has clearly marked zones for cyclists and pedestrians. It crosses klongs and passes playgrounds and lots of charming old timber houses.

Because cycling tours of the Thai capital are a relatively new concept, there are not too many places in Bangkok where visitors can rent a bicycle for a day or so. Several locations in and around Khao San Road have bicycles for rent. The Hotel De Moc is five minutes from this legendary street and offers its guests free bicycles.

Velo Thailand is on Samsen Road, Soi 2, and is within ten minutes of Khao San. As well as selling new bicycles, the shop also has ones for rent at daily rates that are inexpensive. Probike on Sarasin Road near Lumphini Park is a cycle retailer that also offers mountain and tour bike rentals.

Bangkok Bike Rides is the city arm of leading Asian cycle tour operator SpiceRoads. The company rents out its fleet of Trek cycles when they are not being used on guided tours. The company’s Bangkok office is located on Soi Promsi 2, off Sukhumvit Soi 39.

Other cycling options for visitors include bringing their own bicycles to Thailand or buying one when they get here. This is a good option for people planning on travelling farther afield by bicycle. Both Thais and foreigner tourists now tour the country by bicycle. Two decades ago cyclists pedalling on hot days would have been an object of amazement, with locals scratching their heads and asking themselves why ride bicycles when there are taxis and buses available.

There are quite a few shops and sales outlets in Bangkok where visitors can buy a bicycle. Probike comes highly recommended and has a full range of machines and accessories. Bangkok’s famed markets are also good places to pick up second-hand bicycles, but many of these are past their sell-by-dates or are restored Raleigh models from the 1950s that look chic but are not particularly comfortable to ride.

Due to the increasing popularity of cycling in Thailand, several reputable tour companies now offer guided trips. The advantage of taking a tour is that the guides are extremely knowledgeable and well-maintained bikes and helmets come as part of the package fee. Cycle Bangkok, Exotissimo Travel, Bangkok Biking and SpiceRoads’ Bangkok Bike Rides are the principal cycle tour operators. 

Bangkok Bike Rides has been providing Bangkok cycling odysseys for the past decade and is the longest established of the companies. Bangkok Bike Rides has different cycle tour options that range from half-day ones in the city to multi-day ones to Pattaya and Ayutthaya. The 70km full-day ride out to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak is one of the more popular ones. 

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