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Cycling North East Thailand: Bangkok to Laos

Are you considering cycling in North East Thailand and wonder if it is interesting enough? Here you will find your answers. There are 3 sections:

  • Bangkok - Chong Mek
  • Bangkok - Mukdahan
  • Bangkok - Nong Khai

Train to Khorat
The train to Khorat

The first leg will bring you to Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat). Essentially there are only two choices.

The first is to cycle the highway to Saraburi and another highway to Khorat. It's not a pleasant 250 or so km's. The alternative is to cycle out towards Min Buri and from there follow the smaller road to Prachin Buri.

Here you follow the highway to Aranyaphratet for 54 km. At the junction to Khorat, there is a hotel. What follows is another 140km highway to Khorat. Agreed, both options don't really look interesting.

It's why I recommend to drop your bike on the train to Khorat. The scenery on the way is around Khaeng Khoi very nice as you cross the hills.

Khorat - Phimai - Buri Ram - Surin

Khorat is a nice overnight stop with a few sights you want to see, a good night market with great and cheap food (as usual). The journey continues to Phimai, Phanom Rung, Muang Tam and further to Surin. This journey takes 2-3 days and is further in detail described.

Phanom Rung
Phanom Rung

Surin - Ubon Ratchathani - Chong Mek

In Surin you have to decide how to continue. It's a 3 days journey to Chong Mek, the border with Laos which gives you the opportunity to visit the far south of Laos and cycle into Cambodia.

You will follow the highway to Sisaket (in 2013 it is being upgraded at parts to 4 lanes) and Ubon Ratchathani. I've cycled this road the first time in 2001 and was not much impressed.

Ubon Ratchatani to Chong Mek

That said, this is the land of plenty of Khmer ruin complexes: Wat Sa Kamphaeng Yai Sanctuary, Kamphean Noi and Preah Vihear, which is located at Cambodian territory and which is claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia as their national heritage. Sisaket is home to Kamphean Noi but around Ubon Ratchathani you will find other Khmer complexes that see few visitors.

The last 75 km's to Chong Mek are easy and flat too.

Surin - Yasothon - Mukdahan

Alternative you can cycle north to Yasothon (a few good hotels, one near the night market, one more upmarket (400B just a kilometer north of the city center), a good 145km on all flat roads. There are two options to cycle further to Mukdahan, one is straight (about 122km). If this is too much, take the road to Amnat Charoen (before you enter the town center, there's a hotel on your right, B400) and add another 110 to Mukdahan.

View from Mukdahan to the 2nd Friendship Bridge with Laos
View from Mukdahan to the 2nd Friendship Bridge with Laos

The far North East

An interesting option several cyclist try out is to cycle along the Mekong on the Thai site. You can start in Nong Khai and make it all the way to Chong Mek. The journey will take you about a week and you will pass Nakhon Phanom, Wat Phra That Thanon and Mukdahan. There are ferries to Laos at Paxan and Thakhek but it seems you're not allowed to bring your bicycle on the boat (I got this message in Mukdahan). But this road along the Mekong is as local as you can get it in Thailand.

The Mekong at Nong Khai
The Mekong at Nong Khai

Nong Khai - Udon Thani - Khon Kaen - Khorat (with a side trip to Kalasin)

This is not an option I recommend. You will cycle primarily on highways (though not always busy). There isn't a whole lot to see on the way too. Probably the national park of Kalasin is the most exciting but Khon Kean and Kalasin didn't have an appeal to me.

If you are on the way back from Vientiane to Bangkok, you probably are better off with taking the overnight train from Nong Khai.

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One of the must visit sites in north east Thailand is Phimai Historical Park where you can see one of the best preserved and largest Khmer complexes in the country.


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