THE CYCLE RIDE: CHIANG MAI TO BANGKOK

*Warning: excessively long post, only immediate family need feel obliged to read*

For anyone who knows us or has been following our blog, you would not be wrong to assume that we were not at all prepared for what lay ahead. For example, instead of purchasing appropriate road bikes, we opted for the cheapest bikes we could lay our hands on, which happened to be mountain bikes – not at all fit for our purposes (in fact they tethered us to the road!).

DAY 1: ‘NOT THE BEST START!’

Chiang Mai to Lampang – 106km/66 miles (Route 11)

cycle chiang mai

And so it begins… 0km down, 800km to go…

We’d aimed to start at 5.30am, so rising at 7.30 we were slightly behind schedule. We were slightly put out further when first mounting our bicycles and discovering our little rucksacks were far too heavy for the front baskets that we’d bought to save weight on our backs, and we couldn’t turn the bike handles to steer. Nevermind… they’re only little…. on our backs they go! Rather than panicking at these small hindrances, we went for a calming latte in Starbucks to send us on our way! Of course this was an error, and the enormity of actually doing the bike ride, rather than just talking about it, soon sank in.

cycle chiang mai

Breakfast of champions

Peddling along happily past big golden buddhas and munching down snacks, the first 50km were flat and smooth. “This is going to be a piece of cake!” we thought naively.

cycle chiang mai

A couple of Buddhas

cycle chiang mai

Sarah’s snack stop number 20

Then we were hit simultaneously not once, not twice, but thrice! The sun peaked at 36°, the road started climbing, and our lack of training was starting to show.

cycle chiang mai

*Please note: shorts are padded*

Wheeling our bikes one-handed up the mountain, Sarah using her free hand to flap like an angry bird for take off in an attempt to flag down a driver (before swearing loudly at each person who refused to stop) whilst Charlotte used her spare hand to robotically pummel digestive biscuits down her throat, we were eventually rescued by a kind stranger, who at about the 78km mark took us the remaining distance to our hotel. We were extremely burnt, and fearing the forthcoming days! We were also rather miffed that as our rescuer drove us around the corner, the mountain descended.

cycle chiang mai

So unhappy!

cycle chiang mai

Having the time of her life

Our top tip when reaching Lampang is to seek out Long Jim New York Pizza (https://www.facebook.com/longjimpizza) – it’s down a small dead end street but you won’t miss it!

cycle chiang mai

Sarah’s white shorts

Today we liked: biscuits and Thai knights in shining armour

Today we did not like: the mountain, the heat, the cycling.

Today we learnt: get up early, really early!

Today’s difficulty rating: 4/5

DAY 2: ‘WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN’

Lampang to Wang Chin – 80km/50 miles (Route 11 & 1023)

thailand cycle

A nervous grin

Learning from yesterday, we headed out of Lampang at around 5.30am. With sore bums and tender skin, it was fortunately quite easy to navigate the few hills and was so pretty that we were distracted from Day 1’s shock to our system. This was the first time we came across some scary looking dogs, but they were fairly easy to accelerate past.

Charlotte waits patiently at the top of a hill for Sarah

Charlotte waits patiently at the top of a hill for Sarah

thailand cycle

The view from halfway up!

After about 35km, we realised we had been climbing one ‘hill’ for a little while, until it became apparent it was in fact one big mountain. We cannot stress enough how big or steep this mountain was! It took us nearly an hour to get up it, mostly walking and pushing our bikes whilst gasping for breath and Sarah repetitively muttering, “this is just ridiculous”.

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Just a happy 600km to go…!

thailand cycle

We got more than a few curious looks….

The sharp decline on the other side completely bought us back to life, and only took us 5 minutes to cover a few kilometers. We couldn’t resist sticking our legs out and squealing like little kids. Weeeeeeeeeee!

thailand cycle

At the bottom of the mountain

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Enjoying the beautiful scenery

A turning to the right took us onto the last 20km into Wang Chin. The hills were small and rolling, which gave us a new tactic: no more relaxing going downhill, pedal and get enough momentum to completely take you up the next hill! There is one resort, and I’m pretty sure we were the only guests.

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The Wangthong Resort

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At the resort restaurant we just pointed at pictures and hoped for the best….

Today we liked: little rolling hills

Today we did not like: lack of water stops

Today we learnt: that we can do this!

Today’s difficulty rating: 4/5

DAY 3: ‘SHOW AND TELL’

Wang Chin to Si Satchanalai – 75km/47 miles (roads 1125, 1177 & 101)

After rising so beautifully early the day before, today we were tricked by our blackout curtains and when 6am struck we were convinced we had only just gone to bed.

cycle thailand

Jittering along over small rolling hills, the 1125 was an easy ride, and the markers passed quickly, which spurred us on. The right turning was quite difficult to see, and after asking several locals (with varying success) we discovered it just after the petrol station.

cycle thailand

cycle thailand

The school kids waved and cheered!

We turned onto an unnamed road, and after some directional problems, we discovered the correct path. This took us past a school, where we were finally recognised as the Olympic champs we are! All lessons were put on pause whilst every student raced to wave and cheer us on!

cycle thailand

cycle thailand

A left turn at the crossroad led us into the quietest road yet, and we were able to peddle beside each other chatting, before joinging the main road that leads in Si Satchanelli.

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Si Satchanelli town

Si Satchanelli itself is a lovely small town along one long road, but it was fairly difficult to find a hotel, and (Sarah grumbling heavily) we had to cycle about 4km past the shops.

cycle thailand

Today we liked: being the talk of the town

Today we did not like: being lost

Today we learnt: how differently the Thai locals live to us

Today’s difficulty rating: 1/5

DAY 4: “THE WHEELS ON THE BIKE GO ROUND AND ROUND’

Si Satchanalai to Sukhothai – 90km/56 miles (road 101)

Today was one of the easiest days, and was the beginning of much smoother, flatter roads. After the three previous strenuous days, we were struggling slightly with aches, but leaving before the cockerels really gave us a boost and it was much cooler.

Thailand cycling

There were coffee shops lining the road, and although there was the occasional terrifying dog, the temples and Buddhas were beautiful and other cyclists on the road waved happily!

Thailand cycling

Thailand cycling

We arrived by lunch – a delicious meal in the Pai Cafe. Sukhothai had a very fancy night market, and the streets were buzzing with tourists. We decided to skip this is favour of a traditional Thai massage to prepare us for fifth consecutive day of cycling tomorrow. It was quite a ‘cosy’ massage, all us naked women together in one room! We also spent a considerable amount of time scouting out a pharmacy – Sarah’s knee was collapsing under the strain and needed some support!

Thailand cycle

We spent the night at Garden Home; VERY basic huts but a steal at 450baht (no Wifi but excellent air con…)

Today we liked: flat roads

Today we did not like: dodgy ligaments

Today we learnt: to be kind to our bodies

Today’s difficulty rating: 3/5

DAY 5: “THE HALF-WAY-DAY”

Sukhothai to Kamphaeng Phet – 87km/54 miles (road 101)

With another very early rise and the same long, flat road, we started our day really optimistically. However, there were much fewer places to stop today, and without our regular coffee boosts we found it much more difficult.

Thailand cycling

Charlotte’s rucksack felt the strain today. One strap broke. Then the waist belt broke. And then the other strap broke. With now all her luggage, food and water piled into her front basket, steering was much more difficult.

The last 20km was stressful to say the least; Charlotte’s bike wobbling with the leaden bag and Sarah’s body wobbling with a strained knee. We also developed a strange Thai stalker, who rode alongside us for hours on his moped chatting in Thai…. unexpected!

Thailand cycling

Coming into Kamphaeng Phet was lovely – we cycled through the historical park and stopped to take the obligatory photographs.

Thailand cycling

We chose to stay in the Navarat Heritage Hotel, which at 700baht felt like luxury after the hut. We ordered room service and used the amazing WiFi to contact all our family and friends at home.

Today we liked: being able to talk to smiling and proud relatives

Today we did not like: lack of places to stop

Today we learnt: if you buy a Northface rucksack for $5 in Vietnam, it’s probably not real

Today’s difficulty rating: 3/5

DAY 6: “A VERY LONG FREE-WAY”

Kamphaeng Phet to Nakhon Sawan – 137km/91 miles (route 1084)

Having had no breaks over the last five days, we were… ‘dubious’ about doing 137km, and we desperately tried to research the route and find a halfway town to stop in for the night. Unfortunately, Google failed us and none prevailed, and our plan for the day was to just keep going until we found a hotel along the route.


Thailand cycling

What proved absolutely hilarious was that there were just no hotels along the route. At all.

Thailand cycling

Having left at about 7 after our complimentary breakfast, we set off very slowly, still encumbered by the rucksack and knee problems.

At 90km in, you’d be amazed how excited we got to see the familiar face that was Tesco. Sunburnt and with an urgent need to sit down, we bathed in the supermarket’s air con (although we had to venture to the arcade and use the children’s coin operated rides as seats).

Thailand cycling

Today was the day of free goodies. Sarah tried to buy bananas at a street stall, but her money was refused and the vendors, so excited to meet us, insisted she just took them. After being chased by a ferocious dog, Sarah was quite shaken up and a lovely local pulled up alongside her and generously gave her an iced bottle of coke.

It was also the moment we gave up on finding a hotel somewhere before the Nakhon Sawan, and we took a break in a family cafe (come discotheque) with the hope of finding WiFi to book at hotel at the end of our long journey. They were very excited to see us, we were introduced to all extended family members. Charlotte held the newborn baby. Grandpa disappeared and came back with more free goodies for us; this time a filled ice bucket for our water and some tiger balm! They were so helpful with directions and gave us some much needed motivation. When asking how we could show our gratitude, they simply smiled and said, “welcome to Thailand!”

Thailand cycling

Thailand cycling

When closing in on Nakhon Sawan, we started to lose the plot slightly. We spurred each other on and kept close together in the fading sunlight by singing at the top of our voices (despite swallowing fly after fly).

Thailand cycling

We refused to even go half a km back on ourselves when we reached a highway where the only option was to go up and U turn back down, and instead chose to throw our bikes across the embankment in the middle. Sarah ran through the long grass first, bravely assessing the rat/snake/dog/insect/nettle/bog situation!

Thailand cycling

We stayed at the Bonitos Chinos hotel, which was beautiful. Knowing we only had half that distance to cover each day from now on, we celebrated with large beers and big piles of noodles sitting on the rooftop restaurant, listening the Thai ‘lady’ singer belt out Elton John.

Today we liked: Thai culture

Today we did not like: swallowing flies

Today we learnt: what we’re physically capable of

Today’s difficulty rating: 3/5

DAY 7: “TOO HOT TO HANDLE”

Nakhon Sawan to Chai Nat – 50km/31 miles (route 1)

After yesterday’s long slog, 50km seemed soooo easy! We had a little lie in and a luxurious long breakfast in our nice hotel.

Big mistake! Today was the hottest day so far and reached over 40C. We only got about 15km down the road before giving in! The prospect of cycling back up a hill into Nakhon Sawan was too much, so we decided to camp out in the Jungle Cafe all day, with endless coffees, smoothies and slices of cake.

Thailand cycling

At 4pm it was finally cool enough to set off again, and we peddled as fast as we could to the Chainat Thani hotel. The hotel was in the middle of nowhere, and the security guard didn’t want us venturing out for food, so he personally ran to the nearest market and picked us up some fried rice!

Today we liked: Thai chivalry

Today we did not like: the weather

Today we learnt: get up early no matter what

Today’s difficulty rating: 2/5

DAY 8: ‘BREAKING BAD AND BREAKING LEGS”

Chai Nat to Sing Buri – 60km/37 miles (route 32)

After two days of length and heat, today seemed quick and (relatively) painless. The route was dull – one long straight road to Sing Buri, and we reached our destination by lunch time.

Thai cycling Thai cycling

We arrived at the Golden Dragon hotel, and spent a hugely enjoyable afternoon relaxing and watching Breaking Bad in bed and eating endless supplies from 7-11! Never before have we quite so acutely felt that food really is fuel. It was also the first day we caught sight of ourselves in full length mirrors. Sunburned and sweaty, but ooooh, definitely skinnier. This is what happens when there isn’t enough time in the day to consume the calories you’ve burned. (Not a great diet plan if you have a full time job).

Today we liked: reaching our destination early in the day

Today we did not like: having to move far from our cosy duvets

Today we learnt: what cycling can do for our fitness levels!

Today’s difficulty rating: 1/5

Day 9: OUR LAST DAY OF CYCLING

Sing Buri to Ayutthaya – 73km/45 miles (route 32)

This was our final full day of cycling, as after a lot of research we concluded that the safest distance we could cycle into Bangkok was Ayutthaya, the previous capital of Thailand and closest city. This left us in positive spirits. The route was really pretty, cycling across little wooden bridges over streams, and the roads were so quiet and wide we could ride side by side, playing music from the rucksack and singing along. But fear not, this was us two cycling so of course drama ensued.

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We developed a new found phobia of dogs; they were relentless in their pursuit of the bicycle wheels and were terrifying. Sadly for both them and people who would cross their paths, it was clear many were disease ridden. We researched online that the best way to handle dog attacks was to use chilli oil on their backs, so when one appeared out of absolutely nowhere chasing both of us, we accelerated as best we could; this dog was scary and fast. ‘Quick Sarah, you’ll have to use the oil, it’s right behind you!’ resulted in Sarah throwing the oil behind her, but not at the dog, but over Charlotte’s mosquito bite ridden limbs! A little touched the dogs tail and fortunately it backed off. After a lot of swearing and apologising we were free to clean up Charlotte with our drinking water.

We were accustomed to a slightly different way of doing things in Thailand as opposed to England, but surely anyone would agree that re-tarmacking an entire road in the middle of the day with cars, cyclists and people travelling along wasn’t very practical. Tarmacked from head to toe, wheels sticking to the floor, we weren’t very happy. But only 20km to go to Ayuthaya….

It was bound to happen eventually. One of us fell off our bikes. With only 10km of cycling left to go, a crazy wild dog started chasing Charlotte’s spinning spokes, snapping at her ankles. Unbalanced by her heavy broken rucksack in her basket and desperately trying to speed away, she landed flat on her side, nearly on top of the dog! Without many other options, and refusing to look down at the messy hole in her knee, we managed the final 10km.

Thailand cycling

Upon looking at her injuries once we had reached a hotel, it was firmly clear we would need a hospital. Asking the manager where to go, she noticed our excellent English skills and Charlotte, too polite to decline, ended up responding to email to her entire English-speaking clientele (as she bled)…
Thailand hotel Thai cycling
Today we liked: easy, flat roads
Today we did not like: hotels with pushy managers
Today we learned: look before you throw chilli
Today’s difficulty rating: 3/5
DAY 10: THE TRAIN RIDE
Ayutthaya to Bangkok – by train!
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We had heard horror stories of perople trying to cycle in Bangkok via the hectic roads, so we decided the safer (and far more fun way!) was to take our bicycles onto the train. We had to purchase extra tickets for our two wheeled friends, and ride in a special cargo carriage up front! This way was actually more interesting, as we got to see the guards preparing themselves to see their wives upon arrival in Bangkok – nasal hair trims and all…
Thailand cycling Thailand cyclingThailand cycling Thailand cycling

The train into Bangkok felt incredible. Yes it was delayed, yes we were eaten alive by bugs, yes we arrived to our hotel only to find they had overbooked and couldn’t take us, but none of it mattered (too much), this is Thailand! And we could safely say that we now knew this country pretty well.

Charlotte & Sarah X

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