Cycling in South Thailand
Cycling in south Thailand means avoiding the mountains but it doesn't mean it is all flat. Some regions are surprisingly hilly though never high. South Thailand is very different from north Thailand. It offers some of the most spectacular beaches on earth, some of the most beautiful national parks, exceptional diving spots and great cycling options.
Few travelers make it to Pak Barra. The beach looks better than it
really is. Low water you see why: mud!
Cycling in south Thailand means a lot more than visiting Koh Samui, Phuket and do some diving here and there. I've cycled south Thailand several times, some regions more intensive than others.
What if you don't want to cycle all the way?
There's plenty of other transport forms available to almost any thinkable destination in south Thailand. The most convenient, at least to me, is the train or the bicycle (of course). At the Bangkok railway station you can ask for a time schedule for the Southern Line.
There are 14 different trains daily from Bangkok anywhere south. The express trains will have a luggage carrier for your bicycle. Usually you pay a small fee to get your bicycle in the train.
I have done this now countless times in trains to north and south Thailand and never had any troubles. It's a good way to get out of Bangkok.
What to bring
Bring as little as possible. You're cycling in a tropical country with day temperatures of about 30°C and night temperatures are usually not below 24°C.
Cycling has become increasingly popular with the Thais. The consequence is that in many cities proper bicycle shops can be found.
Should you need major repairs, I still suggest you do that in Bangkok in in one of the recommended bicycle shops there.
However, there are good bicycle shops in Phuket, Hat Yai, Krabi, Trang, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Hua Hin and many other cities.
I use several maps for cycling in south Thailand. The two best are the Nelles Map and Berndtson & Berndtson's Roadways. The last one I found in a 7-Eleven shop in Ranong. Michelin's maps are good though a bit less detailed. More details about maps for Thailand on this page
Dangers and annoyances
Thailand is a safe country to ride your bicycle. Avoid as much as possible big and on going road, never use the expressways. But even the main on going road (road 4) out of Bangkok was still OK to cycle. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't fun and I wouldn't recommend it but it wasn't dangerous.
Many of the roads you want for cycling in south Thailand are in excellent condition. And they are kept in excellent condition. Road marks are almost everywhere clear and reliable.
Over the last 10 years I have been cycling in the south Thailand problem zone: Hat Yai, Yala and further to Betong. Although the problems with radical Muslims have never been solved I have never encountered any problems.
It doesn't mean there ARE no problems, but I think the region is far less dangerous than for example Amsterdam or New York City. Still, before you decide to cycle this area, make sure you get the latest info. Hat Yai is usually a good and reliable source, here live many people with relatives eastward and they know if it is OK.
Avoiding the heat
The heat can certainly be a problem. If cycling in the heat is difficult for you, start early, get up at 6.30AM and cycle for a few hours until the heat gets too much.
Find a nice place to rest until the heat gets less, usually around 3-4PM and cycle another 2-3 hours. Remember the sun goes down around 6-7PM.
Hotels, restaurants, camping
You will find hotels and guesthouses almost every 50 kilometers. Outside the main tourist areas it will be cheap, calculate about 20 to sometimes 40% cheaper than in the hot zones.
Camping, as in most Asian countries is not common. There are some camp grounds here and there in Thailand, mostly in tourist areas at beaches.
For some areas you may need to book your rooms in advance, especially in high season.
You may like to pitch your tent on the beach, if the locals allow you. And, if you camp, do not leave any garbage, keep Thailand clean.
Food and drinks
Like in north Thailand, food is always available although western food is only available in the touristy areas. Typical breakfast include noodle soups, rice porridge and chicken rice. Road side restaurants are everywhere available. Drinks can be bought too. Here's some of my own experiences with food in Thailand.
The border with Malaysia
There are basically 4 main entry points into this part of Malaysia. Sungai Kolok on the Thai east coast for Kota Bahru is mostly used by travelers by train. On the west coast you have more options:
There are 3 border crossings at Padang Besar:
If you cycle, you will use #2. The road most travelers use leads via Sadao to Padang Besar. Much nicer is the alternative:
Take the road out of Hat Yai in the direction of the airport. Take the junction to Khlong Ban Khong (about 9km from Hat yai). Follow this road until you find a junction to Khlang Ngae (left) and Sadao (right). Follow the direction to Khlang Ngae (don't follow Sadao) and Kuan Lang (road 4135).
Continue to Khlang Ngae. You will eventually arrive via road 4040 at road 4. Cycle in town until the railway crossing and before the crossing, go right with the railway on your left hand. Cycle from here to the end of the road, a T-junction and go right. There are roadsigns for Padang Besar but you don't really need them, it's all straight ahead.
Lesser known border crossings are Wang Kelian and Durian burung, both reasonable new bordercrossings but both are allowing foreigners to cross into Malaysia/Thailand. Betong is located much further south.
Should you want to cross the nearest town with a hotel is Kuala Nerang, 35km south while on the Thai suide, it is Hat Yai with hotels avaialble. I've cycled Yala - Kuala Nerang which was a very long day but possible to do. From Kuala Nerang you can either continuing to Baling, Alor Setar and if you want Penang (145km).
The Wang Kelian border is available from Kangar, about 40 km away. Add another 20 km to Satun or even more to Hat Yai. needless to say this border crossing sees no tourists at all (except me).
Satun has 3 times a day a ferry to Langkawi, B 300/RM 30 plus about B100 for your bicycle (but that depends, I have been on the boat without paying at all). The boat takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.
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From Surat Thani to Krabi
It's an interesting road to cycle leads from Surat Thani via Krabi
Songkhla to Phattalung
Many travelers use the highways to cycle, but there ARE alternatives. Say, you want to cycle Songkhla to Phattalung (or back), this is what you should consider to do:
Krabi and Ao Nang
Krabi, or better Ao Nang is one of the major tourist destinations in south Thailand. Check out out hotels in Krabi and Ao Nang.