Most people think of Thailand as a party destination to go to with “the lads”, packed with cheap nights out, but my trip was a bit different. I’m a lone female traveller who doesn’t understand clubs and booze, but I do love cycling, and Thailand has some great mountains with well-maintained roads. And thus, I went on a cycling holiday to Thailand.
Across the world
Truth be told, this trip wasn’t my idea. There’s an annual cycling festival held in Chiang Mai that I’d wanted to go to the previous two years but couldn’t due to uni – but this year was my year! My exams finished in May, so in mid-July I was to head off to Chiang Mai with my bike. A taxi to the airport would have been £40+, but fortunately there’s a courier service, Airportr (#notspons), from central London to various Heathrow terminals for only £30. So I packed my bike up into a cardboard bike box, and it was picked up and taken swiftly to Heathrow Terminal 2.
Meanwhile, I picked up some Thai baht (local currency), prepared my room to be sublet, and then made my way down to the airport by tube. I have to admit that leaving for a month-long trip to the other side of the world gave me last minute nerves so my flatmate basically had to push me out the door. When I finally made it to Heathrow, I collected my bike and proceeded to check in – other than having to fit the bike box in the lift and through the maze of crowd control stanchions, it all went smoothly. I was very pleased that my chosen airline, Eva Airways, treated my bike very well. Oh, and a minor detail – I walked past Andy Murray at the airport, who was arriving home from the French Open (just casual things).
First day adventures
My journey from Bangkok airport to my accommodation was much more challenging. Since my flight was delayed, I was afraid to miss the train to Chiang Mai, so in a mad-panic I booked an Airbnb in the centre of Bangkok. Also, when I picked up my bike at the airport, I had it put together for me in a bike shop, which, on reflection, was a bad idea. By the time I got it back, it was late, and I had a lot of luggage with me, so I couldn’t cycle to my accommodation; instead, I took a taxi but had to remove the front wheel for the bike to fit. Then unfortunately, after a draining journey, I didn’t manage to get a well-deserved sleep – in the extreme heat and humidity, the AC only worked with the lights on, and my jet lag also didn’t help in the process. But that’s what travelling is all about – stepping out of your comfort zone to gain invaluable experiences.
Chasing cool air
The next day I booked an overnight train to Chiang Mai, but I still had some time in Bangkok before it departed. I ended up visiting a cute little local vegan restaurant (shout out to happycow.net for the recommendation; again, #notspons), where I met a lovely Thai-born Chinese lady, who, at 50 years old, was just starting to learn Mandarin to reconnect with her family back in China. I spent the rest of my time at the train station because it was the only place nearby with air-conditioning (it’s REALLY hot, okay?), which also offered various shops and free WiFi for international tourists (#priorities).
“Here’s a tip for you: if you’re going on holiday, book your hostels in advance, at least for a couple of nights. Please. Just trust me on this”
Finally, I boarded my train to Chiang Mai with my bike – the process was simple but required extra payment. I took the sleeper train instead of flying or taking a taxi because it’s an iconic part of a trip to Thailand and I also aimed to arrive in Chiang Mai early to have enough time to find accommodation there. Here’s a tip for you: if you’re going on holiday, book your accommodation in advance, at least for a couple of nights. Please. Just trust me on this. My experience wasn’t awful by any means, but it would have been much better if I’d done the bookings in advance.
A month of cycling
Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, I caught a songthaew (a type of passenger vehicle) to the area I wanted to stay in. Fortunately, this time my bike fitted in the car, but since songthaews don’t have backs, I held onto my bike to stop it from falling off. There was another passenger, a Swiss girl, and it turned out she was there because of the same festival, though not as a participant. When I mentioned that I had not booked a place to stay yet, she kindly invited me to stay at hers, while I figured it out. We dumped our stuff at hers and spent most of the day walking around the city, eating exotic fruit, and then going on a tuk tuk tour (another Thai vehicle). In the end, we decided it was a scam and refused to pay full price for it. So be vigilant!
“Cycling is a great way to get around Chiang Mai, since cars and motorcycles are respectful. Also, bike theft is minimal”
We eventually arrived in the neighbourhood I was hoping to stay in, and after wandering down a dead-end, we met a friendly Thai lady who gave us a ride on her motorcycle to the right place. Finally, after hours of searching, I ended up at some student accommodation, where I managed to rent a room for the rest of my trip. As I was moving my stuff from my Airbnb to the new place, my songthaew driver wasn’t impressed with me taking the bike on-board, charging me more for it. But since it was late at night and we were in the middle of nowhere, I had to accept the sudden price hike.
And at this point, my cycling holiday actually started! I spent a few days cycling and walking around with the Swiss girl (who rented a bike, as there are many bike rental shops in Chiang Mai). Then, I cycled up Doi Suthep, a mountain right outside of Chiang Mai. It took me two attempts, thanks to my dodgy knee, which was injured as I was hit by a cab while cycling in London. Nevertheless, even if tiring, cycling up the mountain was an incredible experience. The road goes up to a classic Thai Buddhist temple with breath-taking views of the city, well worth the challenging ride.
“Breath-taking views of the city were well worth the challenging ride”
However, the ride down was absolutely terrifying – going that fast on a bike did not feel safe, but drivers in Chiang Mai are very good around bicycles, so I knew that controlling my speed was the only thing I needed to worry about. In my opinion, cycling is a great way to get around Chiang Mai, since cars and motorcycles are respectful. Also, bike theft is minimal – I did take a D lock for peace of mind, but a chain lock would have been more than enough. Many times I left my bike parked unlocked, or just locked to itself, and it was still there when I got back. And finally, my favourite restaurant Imm Aim had a bike rack outside which held up to 8 bikes, so it’s indeed a bike friendly city.
Time to come back
The journey back to London was a bit different. I decided to fly to Bangkok instead of taking the train, so I had to buy a bike box in Chiang Mai. These get sold for recycling, meaning that bike shops might not have any, so if this is something you need, it would be best to seek one out a few days in advance. I was staying overnight in Bangkok so I stored my packed bike at the airport’s left luggage service, which cost 100 baht for 24 hours. It’s common knowledge that when taking a bike on a plane, the tyres should be flat. However, the airlines normally don’t check this, and the inner tubes don’t tend to explode under the aircraft conditions. But since my bike box had small holes for holding it, the lady who was checking me in noticed that I hadn’t put down my tyres. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to climb upon the baggage scales and put down both of my tyres through this small hole. In the future, I won’t try to be cheeky and will put down my tyres beforehand, especially if they’re visible through the box.
The rest of the trip was easy. Shout out to my mum for picking me up at Heathrow, saving me from paying for the bike shipping. That being said, AirPortr was a great service and I’d definitely use them again. I’d also recommend utilizing the left luggage service at airports, e.g. to store your bike or any other large luggage pieces, if this can help you with your journey. It felt scary giving my bike to people I didn’t know in a foreign country but it meant that I didn’t have to lug a large box around Bangkok again, which is less than fun.