We knew that we wanted to go to Thailand for an epic bike tour, and finally our travel dreams became a reality. By two wheels, we discovered a land of magical enchantment filled with surprises and mystery around every turn. We avoided the hectic bustle and crowds so often associated with Asian countries. We did all of this on a tour that expertly guided and balanced between different types of adventures, both on and off the saddle. If experiencing a country up close and personal with the wind in your hair, your heart-rate pumping, with a new adventure over the next hill sounds good to you, then check out our 10 tips to picking the perfect bike tour in Thailand.
1 – Pick the Right Tour Company
We researched many tour companies in Thailand and decided to go with Grasshopper Adventures. Grasshopper touts themselves as Asia’s Best Bike Tour which we would not argue with. Tripadvisor ratings support this claim, however, you need to read a little deeper into reviews between long tours and day trips. There are two distinctly different sets of skills required for each, and it is possible for a company to excel in one area while struggling in the other.
Grasshopper Adventures goes on to explain why they are the Asia’s best bike tour. “At Grasshopper Adventures we believe in authentic, quality experiences, delivered in a well planned, seamless manner. We enjoy luxury wherever possible, but won’t sacrifice an amazing ride just for a star rating.” Watch for these keywords showing up again in this list: authentic, well planned, seamless, luxury and amazing ride. Those words certainly described our experience to a tee. What surprised us the most was luxury. Choosing tour companies is like picking a cruise, you need to choose the right level of luxury for you.
2 – Pick the Right Route
Grasshopper says “Cycling should be enjoyed by everyone. We are not just for the lycra (spandex) – clad members of the cycling community, but for anyone who appreciates the simple pleasure of riding a bike.“ That being said, some of the tours they offered would have been somewhere between painful and impossible for us. We aren’t ironman triathletes. We are average people who enjoy extraordinary adventures.
You can (and should) research the mileage and elevation changes before you go. We were riding about 50 miles a day on the tour, which is Jenn’s max distance ridden recently. Day number four was tough for Jenn, not only due to accumulated fatigue, but it was also our hottest day. This distance was about 80% of Ed’s top distance so he felt no cumulative impact. Our experience suggest your body will only take about four days of top effort before you will start feeling it. Another quick rule of thumb is to find out what type of bikes will be used. If the group is on road bikes, there will be some racing going on.
3 – Prepare for Your Ride
Not only will you have more fun on your dream vacation if you do some training, but it’s a great excuse to work out. At a minimum, you should be up to riding the max daily distance in training, but distance is not the only factor. You should also be training for the weather. Thailand is a hot, humid tropical country. We used all of our heat training from Arizona to get ready for Thailand with proper hydration and physical toughness. Along those lines take into consideration the time of year you were visiting. It is important to make sure that the weather conditions will make for a comfortable ride. If not comfortable, at least doable. You should also prepare for elevation gain or altitude or whatever nuance the trip has in store for you. This part is entirely on you. Train young grasshopper, train.
4 – Set Up Your Personal Space
We spent a little extra time time setting up the alignment of our bikes and it made all the difference. The most common adjustments revolve around the seat height, angle and distance. However, you can adjust more than just that on a bike. Your guide should have extra headsets available to extend (or contract) the torso spacing or raise the handlebar height. Your seat saves your knees, your handlebars saves your core (or your wrists if you need to compensate for misalignment by over weighting your handlebars).
Don’t forget the specialized extras for your bike like shoes, saddles, or gloves but above all else remember your bike shorts. Pad your shorts, not your seat for optimal comfort. Besides the bike there is a wide assortment of ointments and creams for your body that you should really consider. Sunscreen is an obvious one but there are more. Chamois cream will improve your riding comfort by preventing the chafing that can lead to saddle sores. Bengay or some other muscle rub can help with sore muscles and recovery on multi-day rides. These ‘extras’ could well be worth their weight in your suitcase and possibly hard to find in country.
5 – Find a Quality Guide
We got lucky with our guide Tick and our support driver Vinny. They were simply amazing. We could almost write a blog post entirely about Tick. We met other travellers while we were in Thailand who shared similar stories about their Grasshopper guides, so perhaps it was more than just luck. You could repeat our ride from using the exact itinerary we laid out here, but it wouldn’t be the same trip without Tick.
Tick was the pointman for the seamless attribute Grasshopper Tours claims. He would wake up early in the morning to buy fresh fruits for snacks. He would make constant, minute adjustments to personalize the itinerary to for our interests and abilities. He would even order ahead all meals so that we had hot and yummy food waiting at every restaurant we visited, without spending riding time sitting at a table.
Many ‘travellers’ might disagree, but we wholeheartedly believe that a good guide increases the authenticity of a trip. He shared details about his time as a buddhist monk and the courtship between himself and his wife that gave special insight to the cultures and people of Thailand. In addition to his personal story, he was a great resource for all things Thai. He shared the history of each of the Thai King’s reign. He knew the detailed economics for the each of the businesses we passed by, from harvesting coconuts, to fishing villages, to salt processing, to rubber plantations, and even the gathering of bird nests to make soup or sweet semi-alcoholic drinks. He introduced eastern religions and Thai culture in a, well, authentic and local way. We unabashedly recommend finding local guides for a true, seamless and authentic experience.
If it wasn’t for Tick we wouldn’t have heard about Toon Bodyslam’s 400 km run for charity. Toon is a Thai rockstar and endurance runner. The four day run raised about 2 million USD for the Bang Saphan Hospital. In true Thai style, the singer also encouraged people to exercise so that they will not be a burden to their hospitals. As it turns out, the course he was running was nearly identical in time and location to ours. Everyday, we would hear how we was staying at the hotel next door or paying off ‘challenges’ because he reached a donation goal. Finally, on the last day, we waited for him to pass. The crowds filled with fans and bubbled with anticipation until it exploded with joy at his passing. We passed by the entourage on our bike and waved to the fans lining the road for the next. They just smiled and waved back, happy to be part of the day.
6 – Enjoy The Sites Along The Way
One of the most beautiful things about a bike is that there are no walls separating you from the world around you. You can see the country roll by to the edges of your view. You can hear the sounds of the cows mooing in the fields, dogs barking (as Tick ran cover for us), monks chanting in their temples or the crowds cheering for Toon Bodyslam. You can even taste the air around you. There was the foul odor of rubber plantations, the salty ocean air, and the mouthwatering aroma of roadside food stands. I can imagine how much we could experience from our saddle if we had pounded out a hundred miles a day.
Another beauty of bikes is that you can get off them so easily. We were definitely on a ride a little, play a little pace. We started our ride in a local temple that didn’t even show up on Google Maps yet had guided Buddhas everywhere. It seemed like no sooner than we pulled away from there, we were stopping at a roadside fruit stand. We stopped at temples, rested in national parks, fed monkeys, ate from roadside stands, shopped at the morning markets and toured aquariums. These were the planned stops. We also took some unplanned stops. One time, we saw a 6 week old puppy who had lost its way. We gave it to our support driver Vinny who found its brother waiting nervously in a nearby farm house. Another time we stopped to watch a family open coconuts. Tick explained in detail how the fruit was sent to one company for processing for food, the husks to another for fiber and even the rotten coconuts for charcoal. We visited with them for quite a while. They offered us fresh coconut to eat and drink and we gave the little kids snacks from our packs.Thai kids are so cute. Even the littlest one was helping with the family harvest and she immediately packed her sugary treat away for later.
7 – Savor The Food
First off, Thai food in Thailand is amazing and that is not counting for the fresh tropical fruits or mango sticky rice from roadside vendors but…… We weren’t just having any old Thai food. Tick has done this tour many times and we always got the best dishes from the best, local restaurants. Near Prachuap Khiri Khan, we pulled into a beachfront eatery with no english name that looked like nothing more than a shack. Inside, we were eating 2 tables over from the famous Thai comedian Nod Udom, who was in town to support his friend Toon Bodyslams charity run. It was no wonder he was here because the crab curry was to die for. In Chumphon, we ate at Prikhorn, which is Lonely Planet’s number 1 restaurant for the province. Every place was curated for a culinary adventure. We were certain they were trying to fatten us up.
A bike tour is no place for a diet. Besides missing out, you need the energy to perform and recover. We estimate that we spent about 1500 calories a day riding, so we earned our treats. Tick made his job easy by putting food in our belly and water in our hands. Even on our rest stops he made sure there were cookies, fruit and tea in front of us. We never went without
8 – Utilize The SAG Wagon
Where would we have been without Vinny driving the support van? Besides the obvious, carting our own bags and leaving a lost puppy abandoned on the side of the road. The bikes were in fine shape but having available amenities made everything so much better. On Jenn’s grueling day four, Vinny was there with cold towels and surplus water. We had so much water available we could spray her down every ten minutes as we rode from our water bottles to keep her cool. We could switch out which camera gear we wanted for whatever reason or grab a fresh bottle of sunscreen. I could only imagine how useful SAG could be if it rained.
Hate to admit it, but one time we actually put our bikes in the van and hopped in. The sun was setting and we here an hour out from our hotel. We would have made it with a little time to spare, but we saw the glowing temple on the top of the hill, and we wanted to explore it. In no time, we had our bikes loaded up and drove up the hill towards Wat Tang Sai Temple near Baan Grood. Wat Tang Sai Temple turned out to be our favorite temple in Thailand including all of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The contrast between the Golden Buddha and blue sky was sublime. The dragons snaking up the hillside was awesome and the views out to the ocean went on forever. We never would have seen this without driving, and I wouldn’t be the fastest rider in Thailand on that section if I had to peddle my bike up that hill. Strava doesn’t lie, but it does get confused sometimes when certain people leave it running.
9 – Recover At Night
The hotels we stayed at were nothing short of gorgeous. At the Trishawa Resort in Prachuap Khiri Khan, we had a private pool on our balcony that overlooked the ocean. In Baan Grood at the Arcadia Hotel, we had a poolside villa. The beds were sublime, and quality Thai massage was available at every location for $10//90 minutes. We did that more than once. A good massage more than made up for the strange lack of hot tubs in Thailand. Perhaps, they don’t see the need to heat water in a tropical country. Even the little pools you would expect to be hot were not, never did stop surprising us.
Apart from the luxuries, there was necessary recovery too. We had a stretching session every night to keep our hamstrings loose and our backs limber. We avoided heavy drinking, no matter how yummy the rum drinks sounded, and pounded the water instead. Maybe we’re showing our age, but I could imagine a night of bad choices making the next day a living hell.
10 – Approach Each Mile With An Attitude Of Gratitude
You have no reason to be riding if you’re not having fun. You can put your bike in the SAG wagon anytime you want and hop in the van. Every pedal is for you. Every breath is a chance to smell something new. Every turn gives new view. Every stop is earned (perhaps not the Wat Tang Sai Temple but…) Besides, if you weren’t riding, you couldn’t eat all that Thai food guilt free. In fact, like so many adventures, the ultimate success or failure comes down to you and your attitude.
Cycle Tour Day 1
As we passed through the gates on the unnamed temple we were finally on our way. Mile one of our epic cycling tour. This is how most of our riding was. Tick was in front, setting a leisurely pace and we followed. Vinny was out of earshot in the SAG van behind us.
Road Side Fruit Stand
Seemly right after we started we stopped for fresh fruit at a roadside stand. Fresh pineapple is simply amazing. These beauties were grown special for offerings to spirits. Thai people have an active belief in the spiritual world. This particular fruit stand had a spiritual termite nest where they left offerings for spirits of the Earth.
Usual Backroad Riding
One of great things about our tour was how many backroads we used. More often than not, we were riding on little back roads just like this. Best of all, the the drivers were always on the lookout for slow traffic on the side of the road. The excellent conditions more than made up for having to bike on the wrong side of road.
Dogs at the temples
Do you know why there are so many dogs at the temple? People abandon their animals here and figure the monks will take care of them. In many ways, monks are central to the community. Tick was a monk for a month to make his mom proud. He said it was a rough month sleeping on the floor for sure.
Boats on Pranburi River
First river of the first day and we had to stop. Tick took the time to explain how each of these works. Squid boats with strings of lights, crabbing boats to get into the shallows. So many boats. It seems like every river we passed was filled with boats for the entire trip. A major storm passed through the previous day and the fishing was washed out.
Biking to the Bays
The coast to Samui was a series of bays and little fishing villages. On this beach, we found a woman harvesting krill. You know, krill, the inch long plankton that whales eat. She had gathered up an entire bucket to dry for later. Anything for protein. All along the beach where hair comb conchs shells that I searched for my entire childhood for and only found in the gift stores. Here, the fisherman were picking them out of their nets so they wouldn’t get tangled.
Beaches and bike trails lined every bay. Here, the trail was definitely worth riding. In all places, the beach was virtually empty. I don’t know if it was the preceding storm before that kept the people away or simply our early December riding time but we had the place to ourselves.
This was the view from our first hotel. Imagine sitting here and staring off into the tropical ocean. The sound of waves crashing on the beach and balmy breeze blowing by. We learned an important lesson here. Single room option on a luxury tour means we each got a room. That was no good and boy was the staff confused when we refused. Tick made it up to us. Everyday, from then on out, we got a free upgrade and only one room.
Cycle Tour Day 2
Khao Sam Roi Yat
Kiss Off Cliffs
Crab Eating Macaque
Prachuap Khiri Khan
Thai Air Force Base
Cycle Tour Day 3
Alice in Thailand
Even More Stairs
Cycle Tour Day 4
Big Time Fishing