In China, I’m fortunate enough to be able to pedal daily, so it was a nice break while in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to spend the good part of a day in each city on a bicycle. Following is a short summary of those experiences:
Bicycle rentals are plentiful in Chiang Mai. It would be hard anywhere else in the world to find the cost more reasonable. The going rental rate is the equivalent of $1.55 usd per day.
The province of Chiang Mai has roughly 1.6 million people, but the city is only about 172,000, making cycling around town an enjoyable activity.
Old Town is a wide and particularly nice area to bike through. You could, as I did, spend hours roaming around inside the fort-like perimeter where you’ll find lots of temples, restaurants, museums, guesthouses, massage houses, and plenty of character watching. It’s also quite easy to head out of town in any direction without getting (too) lost.
I rented a bike late morning and returned it by 5pm and had a leisurely 30 mile day spending several hours in Old Town and the balance riding out of town following the Ping river, up one side and down the other, while stopping for lunch at a local conglomeration of food stands/tables that don’t see many foreigners.
Outside of Chiang Mai, there are tons of areas to do some serious riding. One day, (while trapped in a car) heading past Mae Rim (outside of CM), I saw a trio of road cyclists, complete with spandex training gear, riding 23 mm tire bikes, and moving at a good clip. I wanted so much to catch them and talk with them to see what they were up to, where they were going, how far, etc, etc. but….
In short, biking either in Chiang Mai or around the area is a big giant plus that I’d heavily recommend.
Bangkok is estimated at about 8.4 million population, which makes it almost the exact same size as New York City. One significant difference is that NYC has made huge strides in the last few years turning the city in a bicycle friendly direction. What NYC has done in the last 10 years is remarkable. Bangkok, on the other hand, not so bike friendly.
There are bikes, and in fact where I stayed I saw several foreigners during this trip who looked to be commuters. They also looked like they knew which roads to take. Many of the main roads are “ride at your own risk” as in many cities, but BKK is one of those cities where the risk factor is considerably higher than average. I was therefore thrilled to receive a recommendation about a bicycle tour of Bangkok, so I immediately signed up.
The last time I had signed up for a bike tour was in Madrid, several years ago, which took our group through key areas of the city, stopping for short explanatory moments, but they managed to keep us peddling most of the day. It was a city tour well done.
The bike tour I took in Bangkok was on of the most difficult times I’ve had — staying awake. It was soooo sloooow.
The tour was 5 hours, and the cost was equivalent to $50 usd, bike included. To be fair, the tour company and guides were professional and polite. They run two 5-hour tours daily, from 7-12 and from 1-6. There seems to be quite a demand. If the groups are too large (more than 10), they split them up. Our group was a total of nine, all of them from Europe except for me, the oddball American.
The tour starts at the company’s headquarters adjacent to Chinatown and proceeds directly into tiny alleys just wide enough for a bicycle. The riding is slow enough that you can barely get a full peddle stroke in before needing to brake. Most of the ride was: slow single peddle stroke, coast, tap brake; slow single peddle stroke, coast, tap brake…. If you’ve seen one Chinatown alley you’ve seen them all so why the tour needed to zigzagged through so many of them was beyond me. The riding was slow enough that riders often had to put a foot down for balance.
Luckily, a large part of the bike tour was taken up cruising through canals on a long-boat, which was refreshing. There was also a 45 minute lunch stop at 3pm which was not advertised. Even though I had eaten lunch prior, the break was preferable to falling asleep on the ultra-slow tour.
At the lunch table, the group, mostly from Denmark, spoke their own language. As they passed the dishes, one of the guys said, “hey, Mr. America, would you like some rice?” I looked at him with a deadpan stare and said, “no thanks. And that would be Captain America to you pal.” The entire table stopped and stared at me, mouths half open. A few seconds later I smiled to let them know it was humor. I think they (kind of) got it, but to be safe, I let them eat and went to feed the fish in the canal.
After lunch the peddling was equally slow, this time along small canal paths outside of Bangkok. The scenery was nice as was the lack of city noise, but again, sloooow. Out of the 19.5 total miles clocked by Strava, by far, most of the distance was covered by boat. Subtracting boat and lunch time, perhaps a total of two hours riding covered roughly 8 miles, making average speed about 4 miles per hour, or the speed of a brisk walk. Actually, it would have been an easier walk than ride.
If what you are hankering for is a diversion, not really a bike tour, then this may be just what you are looking for. But if you are into peddling, get ready to fall asleep. I was, nevertheless, most grateful for the recommendation and the chance to peddle. It’s an experience I’ll keep safely tucked in my back pocket.