We gave you our tips on having an epic bike tour in Thailand, but what is it really like cycling Thailand? I could tell you how we made friends with our guide, Tick, and driver, Vinny. I could tell you how they introduced us to authentic Thailand out in the countryside away from the hordes of tourists. Of course, there is the mileage; 150 miles spread out over four days, but we can pound miles at home. The scenery, food, and culture make biking Thailand different from any other ride in the world.
Cycling Thailand Day 1 – 20 Miles Riding – Khao Tao Temple to Sam Roi Yot Beach
The Grasshopper van pulled left into an unassuming Buddhist temple complex called Khao Tao. Beyond the temples sat the emerald waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The van was running out of road, so we knew that we were about to begin cycling Thailand.
Before biking, it’s always good to check your bikes out and make any adjustments. This is especially important for Jenn’s artificial knees and T-rex length arms. Back home, she uses a women’s specific Trek to accommodate her short torso, but our Tick was doing a good job switching out headsets to adjust her reach. Vinny was making tea, which left me to explore the temples with some barefoot kids playing in the area. They were happy with the strange company and ecstatic that I shared my chocolate with them.
These weren’t the grand temples I have seen plastered across Instagram, but their smaller cousins built for the local community. It was more like visiting a rural church than a Gothic cathedral. I recognized the gilded Buddhist iconography and cherished its novelty. Before too long, but not after a cup of tea, we officially started our dream Thailand bike tour.
I have always identified with Jack Skellington, the enigmatic hero from a Nightmare Before Christmas. This often happens after some event goes catastrophically wrong (“I never intended all this madness”). I could always console myself with having done my best and at least leaving stories to tell. There is a sub-genre amongst my friends of “Ed Stories”, which the survivors of my adventures retell regularly. Today, however, it was Thailand’s newness that made me feel like Jack entering Christmas Town..
The sights, the sounds
They’re everywhere and all around
I’ve never felt so good before
This empty place inside of me is filling up
I simply cannot get enough
I want it, oh, I want it
Oh, I want it for my own
I’ve got to know
I’ve got to know
What is this place that I have found?
What is this?
Newness filled my soul from every direction as we pulled out of Khao Tao. We looked back and saw a giant Buddha statue sitting across a lake. NEW! Biking down backroads, we passed pastel houses with miniature spirit house in the front yard. For some reason, this reminded me of birdhouses in midwestern suburbia with a decidedly Thai twist. NEW! I have stopped by roadside fruit stands before and always love the sweetness of fresh tropical pineapple. But the Thai fruit stand had pineapples conjoined together to form a heart specially grown for temple donations and spirit houses on termite mounds to appease the Earth spirits. NEW! Everywhere we looked, there was something new to discover.
We discovered four sights that became staples on our Thailand bike trip: fishing boats, ornate temples, bayside views, and oceanfront rides. As we passed the Pranburi River, we stopped to study the fishing fleet. We learned to tell the difference between boats by their function and design. Squid boats are decked out with lights to attract them to the surface on moonless nights, and crabbers have flat bottoms to place traps next near the river banks. At the Wat Summanawat Temple, we learned that the monks take care of the strays. That’s why there were more dogs at the temples than anyplace else. Beside the tranquil waters of Roi Yot Bay, we found ornate comb shells that my six-year-old self would spend an entire vacation searching the beaches for in America, and here the Thai fisherman discarded them in disgust because they tangle their nets.
Cycling Thailand Day 1 – 20 Miles Riding – Khao Tao Temple to Sam Roi Yot Beach continued
More than anything else, there were miles and miles of empty coastline. It seems like every coastline with a road soon gets built up with hotels and tourists in America. In Thailand, half our biking was alongside the ocean on an empty road. Mile after mile, we peddled along with nothing but the hum of our tires on the road and the splash of surf on the sand.
We kept close to the coast for the final half of the day, sometimes riding on deserted boardwalks or along quiet seaside streets. We pulled in for our evening stop at the Anchana Resort and Spa on Sam Roi Yot Beach. The property was lovely, but we had a little surprise when they led us to two separate rooms. We misunderstood what private accommodations meant when we booked. We assumed that private rooms meant that they were not group accommodations or dormitory-style housing. Grasshopper Tours is a luxury, five-star boutique tour operation, so dormitory housing was never on the table. In true five-star style, they combined our two “private” rooms into the nicest rooms available in the hotel for the remainder of our trip, but that night one of our “private rooms” sat empty so Jenn and I could sleep together.
We wanted to check out Anchana’s spa services so we walked up to the shop. For 30 Baht (10 USD) we could get an hour of Thai Massage. How could we say no to that? Soon, we were on the mat getting stretched and restored by some highly skilled ladies. Any adventure that ends in a spa day is good in my book, but we were a little late to dinner. Tick knew a place he wanted to take us, so we loaded up the van and headed off to eat.
Most people’s introduction to Thailand comes from Thai food. Biking offers a full immersion into parts of Thailand that most tourists never go with a guide to tune the experience to your liking. The day’s ride stoked your appetite, so we were ready for dinner. Tick was a professional Thai chef and knew the best restaurants and dishes of the region. He learned our preferences and tuned each meal to our specific tastes a little better after each time. Our first dinner of the trip was at a local restaurant tucked away a couple of miles off the beach that we would have never known even existed. What an amazing start to our culinary odyssey of Thailand!
Cycling Thailand Day 2 – 50 Mile Riding – Sam Roi Yot Beach – Khlong Wan
Day two cycling Thailand would be the true test of our mettle. Jenn has quite a few fears of bike touring that she had to overcome to get this here. Now, she would be on her longest day biking ever, after having ridden the day before on a rental bike. She figured out a few tricks and tips for bike touring, but there are some pains that even the best Thai massage can’t fix for any price. I was feeling stoked from our conversation about the plans for the day that we discussed over dinner. We were going to visit one of Tick’s favorite temples, a national park, ride through an air force base and crank out seven miles on a highway in Thailand. Riding on the highway was one more thing on Jenn’s fear list.
A twenty-mile day, followed by Thai massage and scrumptious dinner was the perfect opening day for a bike tour. We woke up feeling refreshed and ready to ride. After a short jaunt down the beach road, we turned inland. Signs everywhere advertised tours of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and Phraya Nakhon Cave. The park supports a few herds of wild elephants, but we didn’t see any as we were biking by. Before long, we reached Wat Hup Ta Khrot and pulled in.
Tick was so excited to show us this complex because it contains Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples, and Thai Spirituality all at the same location. It was one-stop shopping for all Thai religions. We walked by god after god, idol after idol, sitting together in peace and harmony. This display of acceptance and cooperation was a microcosm of spirit and understanding of Thailand. The experience moved me to write another piece, You Just Choose, that was published on Gary Arndt’s site.
We continued to bike inland for another hour until it was time for morning tea and another fabulous stop – of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Boat tours depart from the park along the Khao Daeng River but what we really loved were the small temples set against the dramatic kiss-off-cliffs of Khao Daeng. There are two similar but very different words in Thai – Khao and Koh. Khao is a mountain or hill while Koh is an island. For example Khao Sok is a national park in the mountains, and Koh Tao is an island in the Gulf of Thailand. While passing through the park, we came across a troupe crab-eating macaws. Tick warned us that they were “bad monkeys”, so we kept our distance.
Cycling Thailand Day 2 – 50 Mile Riding – Sam Roi Yot Beach – Khlong Wan Continued
Having a guide that we trusted opened parts of Thailand to us that we would have never seen. During the next segment, we stopped by a little fishing dock, and he introduced us around. They showed us their catch and let us play with the nets. We also visited with a family processing coconut. A truck would come by and drop a full load of coconuts off from them. The entire family worked to remove the outer husks by throwing them onto a metal spike and twisting the husk free. The husks were placed in one pile to process for fiber, the fruits into another, and the bad nuts into a third. Tick told us how much they were paid per coconut, and we tried our hand at removing the husks. It was incredibly hard work for such little pay.
Let me say right now that Thai kids are the cutest things ever. They had a little girl with them that was too little to break the coconuts, but she hung and all day and helped where she could. I would imagine American kids would be complaining after the first hour, even with their electronic devices in hand but not her. She just stayed out in the heat and worked with her family. She also did something incredibly thoughtful that I wouldn’t have expected from kids. We gave her a chocolate bar, and she thanked us. She took a single bite and then saved the rest for her family.
After that segment, we learned another definition of trusting our guide. We trusted that there was no other way than riding on the highway and that we would survive the experience. The wide shoulder gave us plenty of room, and the drivers in Thailand seem to expect funky vehicles bounding along from tuk-tuks to overloaded trucks that could never reach highway speeds. We made it through safely, but we appreciated that most of the trip stayed on small backroads.
There is nothing spiritual about biking on the highway, just mileage and tension. As we exited the highway, my GPS said we had ridden 35 miles, and we were starting to feel the fatigue, both mental and physical. The beauty of the countryside kept us energized and excited to see what was beyond the next bend. I call the final segment of the day bay hopping because we pulled into four separate beautiful bays on the journey.
The first bay was just a welcome return to serenity after the white knuckle highway. The second, Prachuap Bay, was enormous, with almost six miles of Bayfront biking. The beauty inspired us to compose a shot on the Pin Ausun Bridge, with the Prachuap Bay in the background. Along the way to Ao Manao Lime Bay, we crossed through the Wing 5 Airforce Base, complete with a security checkpoint where we had to show our id and register to get on base. The fourth bay was my favorite, if only because it was the terminus for day two.
We stayed at the Tri-Shawa Hotel, a beachfront hotel with Japanese décor. Our upgraded room included a balcony that overlooked the ocean with a private tub. We so wanted it to be a hot tub. We even slinked in au-natural. Sitting naked in your private tub, looking out on a crystal blue bay is stunning, and we would have stayed there for hours if it was heated. However, shivers and shrinkage prompted a quicker departure.
Tick told us some exciting news over another fabulous dinner that night. Toon Bodyslam, a famous Thai Rockstar, was making a 400 km run for charity, and he was staying just down the street from us. Tick said he could feel the energy and the excitement all around us. Little did we know at the time how lucky we were to be riding the exact same route, at the exact same time as Toon Bodyslam.
Cycling Thailand Day 3 – 38 Mile Riding – Khlong Wan to Baan Grood
For day three of biking, Tick found a clever way to reduce Jenn’s mileage but still get me out and exploring. A guide’s day starts early, way before the guests usually wake up. Tick took me with him to the market to get the day’s supplies. Whenever possible, Grasshopper Tours used locally sourced food instead of prepackaged items. We biked a mile or so into town to the morning market by the pier. Even in that early hour, people were shopping in the little stalls for fresh produce and fish.
Tick knew his favorite vendors, and they exchanged pleasantries in Thai. Our first stop was for a drink best described as “Sock Coffee”. It was robust coffee brewed in a sieve that looked like an old gym sock and sweetened with (a lot) of condensed milk. I don’t think it’s going to make it on the Starbucks menu, but it did the trick to wake me up. The lady gave Tick a free batch of sticky rice to honor their friendship. In the next stand, we had (very) soft boiled eggs. They were on the soft side of runny, but I dutifully finished what was given to me. I enjoyed our next treat more – sweet fried dough balls doublets made to represent an evil Chinese ruler who betrayed his town. I guess you eat him and his wife in effigy. We stopped for peanuts and finally for some noodles and curry that we saved for lunch. We arrived back at the hotel just as Jennifer was waking up.
Those peanuts came in handy at our first stop. We took the van back onto the air force base to visit with good monkeys. Unlike the mean crab-eating macaws, langur monkeys are remarkably gentle and friendly. This troupe, in particular, was under the care of base doctors, so they are rabies-free. A small vendor up front was selling fruit, but the langurs loved on the peanuts we brought. We attracted quite a following of feasting furry friends. Some were even bold enough to climb on our heads – too cute.
We returned to the hotel to pick up our bikes and rode for all of 10 minutes before reaching the Waghor Aquarium. A lot of the signage was in Thai and English, so we learned about the tropical fishes we would see later scuba diving Kho Tao and island hopping in the Andaman Sea. We also saw busloads of Thai kids coming in on class field trips. Even on field trips, the kids were all smiling and well behaved, making them that much cuter. The kid’s favorite attraction was a life-size statue of the Incredible Hulk. Perhaps the transition from mild-mannered David Banner to the angry Hulk speaks to something in the Thai psyche.
On the subject of tricks for the psyche, we experience the biggest and smallest roads of the entire trip right next to each other. Immediately after leaving the aquarium, we pulled onto some one-lane roads that weaved amongst coconut plantations. To our surprise, we came across a baby little puppy way out on the backroads. We stopped and visited, but soon realized that a fresh puppy like this didn’t belong out here. Tick gave him to Vinny with the instructions to find his home. Vinny was still searching when we pulled out of the coconut groves and back onto the highway for the trip’s final highway segment.
Cycling Thailand Day 3 – 38 Mile Riding – Khlong Wan to Baan Grood Continued
This highway segment felt significantly better than what we rode day two. It was only five miles long, and we were fresh on our bikes. We also got the good news that Vinny found the puppies owners (and littermates) at a nearby farm. We were cheerful as we pulled into a rest stop at a small police station.
Thai police stations are better integrated into the community than their American counterparts. We regularly stopped at police stations for bathroom breaks throughout the ride, but this one stood out because of the friendly local constable. He took pictures of himself posing with the strange Americans biking through his little village, and we gave him an entire box of herb bars to take home to her. Strange foreigners describe the next segment of the ride very well. We ended up biking through a village of Scandinavian ex-pats. The last thing you expect to see in Thailand’s jungles is a (very) tan Norwegian.
Photos for wives didn’t end at the police station. We continued into the next beach town and pulled into the most unlikely restaurant for the best crab curry we found in Thailand. The shop hardly looked open from the road and isn’t even labeled in English on GoogleMaps. Perhaps foreigners never go there, but it must have had some acclaim in Thailand. When we entered, Tick immediately recognized a Thai celebrity – Nod Udom – eating at the restaurant with his entourage. Tick says he is like the Thai Johnny Carson and hosts a popular late-night talk show. He was in town to support his friend, Toon Bodyslam, who was making the charity run. After our incredible meal, Tick asked Nod Udom for a picture for his wife. He gracious to agree and even offered us a shot too. What else can we say but yes?
We rode on through the afternoon towards our destination of Baan Grood. We stopped by a rather steep hill, and Tick offered us some choices to visit the Wat Tang Sai temples at the top of a steep climb. We could bike on to our hotel, bike up the hill, or load the bikes in the van. After three days of riding, the choice was easy – VAN. In they went, and we cruised up the hill. I forgot to turn Strava off, so I forgot to turn Strava off, so I was the fastest rider in Thailand for a couple of months until they caught on and asked me to edit the route.
Wat Tang Sai temples turned out to be our favorite temples in all of Thailand. Its grandeur came close to what we saw biking through Bangkok at the Grand Palace, but without all the people. The views were outstanding as well, with open ocean extending out to our north, east, and south. You can see the beauty of the temples coming through all of the pictures. Even with all of this grandeur, Jenn still found time to play with kittens.
It would have been work to unload the bikes, and Jenn wasn’t looking forward to the downhill, so we left the van loaded and drove into town a couple of miles down the road. The Baan Grood Arcadia Resort was fabulous. We stayed at a poolside cabana that looked across the pool to the ocean beyond. The most beautiful part of the entire hotel might have been the spa that again offered ten-dollar massages. On day one of the ride, they were a luxury. By day three, they were a necessity. Jenn regained significant mobility after her massage. For dinner, we ate fresh fish on a table set up on the beach. All was good with the world.
Cycling Thailand Day 4 – 37 miles – Baan Grood to Bang Boet
On this, our final day of the bike tour, I was feeling superb. Jenn, not so much so. The fatigue was setting in, and the day was setting up to be a scorcher. We rode under the cloud cover of a storm system that had just passed through for most of our ride. Today was nothing but blue skies and sunshine.
We ate breakfast on the patio, watching the street fill with commotion. Toon Bodyslam was coming through town this morning on the way to the finish line of his 400 km charity run, and everybody came out to cheer him on. We stayed for seconds on coffee to watch him pass before getting on bike. What happened next was one of our 17 strangest things that happened that year.
We started biking along the route just that Toon had just run through, but his fans were still lining the street. I don’t know if they thought we were part of the festivities or were just friendly, but everybody was waving to us and cheering for us. We compiled a short video of this, but it went on for miles and miles. Hopefully, Jenn saved some of this good these good vibes up for later. For now, the cool morning breeze from the ocean kept us comfortable.
We peddled oceanside for the next hour or so until we reached the town of Bo Tong Lang, which had a sizeable fishing pier. The pier buzzed with excitement as the boats were heading out now that the weather had broken. These weren’t the day craft we saw moored in the rivers, but ocean-going vessels that spend several nights at sea at a time. Facial tattoos indicated the majority of the crews were Balinese. Even in Thailand, less desirable jobs can be filled with foreign workers. A mile or so after the pier, the road turned inland to the sweltering interior.
We biked through the busy town of Bang Saphan. The ½ mile of traffic served to remind us how peaceful the roads have been. Bang Saphan and the two highway sections were the only places we couldn’t just relax and take in the scenery. Right after Bang Saphan, there were some rolling hills and dusty construction.
It was getting decidedly hot for Jenn too. I would spray her down with my water bottle, and when we were all empty, Vinny would pull the van over and fill us up with more water. He prepared a wet cloth for her neck and splashed her down with ice water too. She thought she was going to melt. Of course, heat is relative. Tick wore his arm and leg sleeves to keep warm and shivered every time Jenn got splashed.
This would have been an anticlimactic ending to the ride if it wasn’t for the beauty of Bang Boet. Looking at the map, you can almost predict the pristine beauty of Bang Boet. The highway and railway that followed the coastline down from Bangkok peeled away and headed inland. Nobody would reach this coastline unless they were going here. We pulled into the idyllically quiet town with treelined streets and a few chickens pecking away in the yards. We stopped at a small oceanfront hotel for our last meal of the ride and a welcome shower. We loaded the bikes into the van for an overnight in the big city of Chumphon.
Cycling Thailand Day 4 – 37 miles – Baan Grood to Bang Boet Continued
Returning the bustle of Chumphon reminded us of how authentic our experiences were in the countryside. We stayed at the A-Te Hotel, which had an attached spa. We went for massages there, but the experience didn’t compare to what we had before. The girls missed a lot of pressure points and chatted with each other for the entire massage. We ate dinner next door at the restaurant across the car park and met a couple of Brazilians who said this was the highest-rated restaurant in town. Like the hotel spa, the presentation was beautiful, but the food was only ok. Perhaps it would have been better if it wasn’t for Tick spoiling us along the way with his inspired choices.
In the morning, we were driving down to the dock for a ferry to Koh Tao. Tick’s act of service for us was buying first-class passage for the ferry. We felt sad leaving our new friends and missed the level of service our guides provided for the rest of our time in Thailand.
Would I recommend a Guided Bike Tour in Thailand?
As of 2020, Grasshopper Tours operates their 5 day / 4 night Cruising the Coast to Samui for about $1350 USD with approximately 130 miles of riding. Tick has moved on to Cycling Tour Bangkok, where he serves as the Tour Guide Manager. They have a similar package called the Coast Trip to Samui that’s a 6 days/5 nights and covers approximately 110 miles. With the extra time, they explore floating markets and more of the National Park and it’s about 100$ less. We loved our Grasshopper Tour, but we also love Tick and trust that he put together a quality package. We are sure that you could not go wrong with either choice. If you’re looking for an even longer guided trip, We put together a 13-day Thailand luxury itinerary that combines these rides with glamping at Elephant Hills.
Would I recommend a guided bike tour? Absolutely! The price point is higher, but so is the service. We loved having a guide introduced us to Thai culture in a way that we couldn’t have experienced by ourselves. We tasted incredible food from small, local restaurants and biked routes with minimal traffic and great conditions. We met real people and had meaningful, organic experiences. Being on bike, you can take in the countryside as you ride, and every stop brought us new surprises. Having the guide service, company knowledge, and on-hand support staff kept us taken care of every step of the way.