South; North West; North East
The entire route in the south is really flat, with the exception of the 100km north from Chumphon where it was quite undulating, but not hilly by any means.
We took small roads most of the way until Surat Thani. For the next week’s riding to Hua Hin we had almost constant rain, which forced us onto Route 4 (the Phetkasem Road) for the most part, as there was lots of flooding on the roads leading off that. North of Phetchaburi there are more limited options for smaller roads if you’re heading north, unless you have a lot of time to pick your way along, so you will probably be funnelled onto the Phetkasem at some point. This becomes the main artery from the peninsula to Bangkok, so it gets very busy and doesn’t really let up until well past the capital, even if you stay away from the city itself as we did.
We had a very noticeable headwind from around Chumphon all the way to the north. In hindsight we would not have done this route south to north. The headwind was still present all the way to Chiang Mai, but it was milder as we got further north.
We took an extremely meandering route in the north west of Thailand, with an ultimate destination of Chiang Mai.
The routes around Phitsanulok/Sukhothai/Kamphaeng Phet/Tak/Chai Nat/Lopburi were mostly lovely. Lots of options for quiet roads, and nice rural scenery with views of the northern mountains in the background. We thought the historical parks at both Sukhothai and KP were worth a visit. They are easy and relaxed places to cycle round.
We followed Route 1 between Tak to Lampang, and then Route 11 for about half of the way to Chiang Mai. These roads are very busy, challenging and not very scenic. The climb past the Elephant Conservation centre and Khun Tan shrine was not as bad as we expected, but you can see virtually nothing of the landscape. That was partly due to the haze from the controlled burning at the time of year we did it (December.) We did a loop from Mae Tha off into the Doi Khun Tan National Park, and it was spectacular and the roads were in great condition.
From Saraburi east to Nakhon Ratchasima was very challenging; we found the hills as bad as anything in the north, but it didn’t help that this area is full of dust, factories and horrible busy roads. North from Ratchasima to the Laos border was unspectacular and functional for us. We had a headwind the entire route, so didn’t enjoy it at all.
Roads & Safety
Driving is on the left in Thailand.
Almost without exception, the road surfaces on both the main roads and small rural routes were really good. Anything other than the latter will have a moped/motorbike lane both sides of the road (although it’s not always marked as such,) which is about half the width of a normal lane. As such, Thai roads are really safe for cyclists, even on major routes, the exception is when negotiating turn offs or when the side lane is being invaded. With the turn offs, Thai drivers don’t get into the turning lane until the very last minute, even if the lane opens up well before the turn and is completely empty. If we are going straight on and get ourselves into the correct lane, drivers will often overtake us and then cut over to the left just before the turn rather than just f******g getting in the correct lane to begin with. It’s often safer for us to just pull over and wait to cross when there’s no traffic.
As for the side lane/shoulder being invaded: Apart from the very small rural roads, there is usually a central reservation separating the carriageways, which makes it impossible to cross. There are designated U turns but sometimes they are very spaced out, so very often mopeds ride the wrong way down the road using the side lane. They are very polite about it; the riders will often either go off road when passing, or stop and wait until you’re passed, so you don’t need to leave the lane. The bigger problem is when cars or lorries are parked in the lane. Not looking before opening the door, pulling off without signalling and even reversing randomly back down the road are all really common manoeuvres.
Hotels are great value. A decent, budget room is around 350-600 baht for a double (depends on location,) and sometimes includes breakfast, especially if it’s in a town. Hotel rooms in Thailand are massive. All hotels will have air con, and provide a couple of bottles of water and usually a fridge. The really cheap options on the road are called “resorts” which essentially means that they are a collection of stand alone huts/cabins on stilts, with a reception building, or they are a row of one-storey terraced rooms, a bit like an American motel. They are not resorts in the Western sense. These are least likely to offer breakfast, but will be the most likely ones to have a kettle so you can make instant noodles and coffee, and if they don’t the front office will happily let you use theirs. Traditional hotels tend not to have kettles, but do sometimes have a communal hot water urn in a common area. The resorts are usually just on the road, at junctions or in small villages. There usually aren’t full restaurants around, but there will be food carts or stalls. Having food delivered to hotels is very normal in Thailand, and particularly in the resorts. Food Panda and Lineman are the main delivery services, with Grab also popular in places. It’s well worth getting the apps for these.
We have never asked for our bikes to be in our rooms, but it’s been offered a few times when we’ve asked about storing them. In the resorts we are happy to keep them right outside our window, in traditional hotels usually either in a storage area or outside locked up in a car park.
Food & Miscellaneous Costs
Away from tourist spots, at sit-down, open-air, informal restaurants, 3 generous dishes (which includes boiled rice with a curry or stir fry) with 2 drinks was about 200-300 baht. At a fixed food cart selling a specific dish, with plastic seating beside it, a meal is around 20 (noodle soup type dish) to 50 baht (rice with meat and sauce.) At a roadside food cart, 4 sticks of meat (like kebabs) with a packet of rice was about 60-80 baht. Restaurants are usually open all afternoon, but close early. It’s not uncommon for them to shut around 8.30pm. Night markets and roadside food stalls fire up around 5 and are open much later.
7 Eleven shops are everywhere, and have sandwich toasters, hot water and microwaves behind the counter, and staff will heat up the food you buy if you ask (pot noodles, toasties, ready meals etc,) which is not a bad option for quick food on the road. A meat dish with rice ready meal for 1 is about 40-45 baht.
If you’re on main roads, then the PTT chain of petrol stations is linked to 7 Eleven, and in addition to the shop will usually have fruit stalls and meat-on-stick stalls, as well as toilets. Most other chains of garages don’t usually have shops or services, except for sometimes toilets.
Tap water is not safe to drink in Thailand. Bottled water is about 14 baht for 1.5 litres. Filtered water is used for ice, so you don’t need to avoid that.
Thailand is quite expensive for toiletries, with moisturiser/body lotion and sun lotion eye-wateringly expensive.
Dogs are an enormous general problem in the south of Thailand. In a day we could easily pass 100 of them. They are not usually aggressive; a lot of the time they couldn’t even be bothered to bark. On the odd occasion there was a bit of a chase, but it was more playful. There were only two occasions where dogs chased us in an aggressive way, and both times it was a domestic dog and not a stray. If you are scared or nervous of dogs, then the sheer number of them will give you pause. There were very few stray dogs in the north, and in the east they were around eastern European numbers – noticeably a thing, but not as bad as in the southern peninsula.
Most Thai women don’t use them. I never found them in the north (east or west,) except in Chiang Mai. They were more common in the south, but still hit or miss so stock up when you find them. You do really have to look hard for them on the shelves, as there are usually only a couple of boxes tucked in the corner of an aisle. The ob brand in small 8 pack boxes were the only ones I saw.
Blog posts for Thailand