Terry friend, Caroline Mangione, escaped the frozen north for an exotic cycling adventure, riding and island-hopping up the entire Thai peninsula. She discovered many delights and charms away from the usual tourist hot spots, and found some surprisingly steep hills along the way. She also took some Terry cycling gear with her and put it to the test. Let’s enjoy a vicarious bike vacation as Caroline shares her adventures cycling in Thailand…
Contributed by Caroline Mangione
Thailand: Beaches, Bikes, and Sunshine. The perfect mid-winter cycling destination!
Approaching the end of my undergraduate college career and the start of a PhD program in chemistry, time to ride and expendable money are two things I don’t have an excess of. Brainstorming some ideas for a bike trip with my riding partner Ben, Thailand came into the picture. Beaches, warm weather, and inexpensive cost of living made it an extremely attractive destination. Soon enough, we booked our plane tickets, and serious planning could begin.
I became familiar with Terry when I started at my first bike shop job in 2014. The Butterfly saddle was the go-to option whenever a female rider came in with complaints associated with their uncomfortable, stock, unisex saddle. Spoiler alert: it happened often, and I was one of those females.
Before long, I purchased one for myself. I still refer to it as my first “big girl” saddle, as it allowed me to turn painful 20 mile rides into century rides with no issue. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I could connect with Terry and be outfitted with some clothing for my trip.
With an above-average snowfall in Utah, training took the form of skiing, as road riding was nearly impossible. I eyed my warm weather riding clothes in the corner of my room for weeks: a Soleil Hoodie, the Bella, Bella Prima, Peloton, and the Holster Hi-Rise short. In addition to these, the oldest jersey I’ve kept is a nameless Terry short sleeve from at least 10 years ago, there was no way that wasn’t coming with.
Our plan was to fly into Phuket, a resort island off the southern coast of Thailand, flying out of Bangkok, in the north, 17 days later, with a combination of ferry rides, islands, and about 500 miles of road to cover in between. A “credit card tour” is what we had in mind: only packing clothes and toiletries, eating and sleeping wherever struck our fancy that day. The map shows a rough map of our route, courtesy of Google.
Island hopping meant lots of ferry rides:
Khao Phanom was next. Roadside fruit was a huge theme of the trip, as many homes had a fruit stand right out front. Coconuts, watermelon, mango, jackfruit, durian, bananas, etc., all for about 40 baht ($1.27 USD).
Nearly everyone rides on mopeds in Thailand, and the roads felt much safer because of them. Slower speeds on average, and the few cars on the road were much more aware of slower vehicles on the shoulder. Road quality was great the whole way: smooth sailing for our heavy, loaded bikes.
Another ferry ride brought us to Kho Phangan: one of the most scenic places I’ve visited to date. Between the lush green jungle and clear blue waters, every direction I looked was postcard worthy. The island had about 50 miles of paved roads in total, but not without plenty of elevation gain. Islands in the Gulf of Thailand seem to shoot up from nowhere, and Kho Phangan was no different.
Our last ferry ride landed us in Chumpon; a coastal city and the start of the bulk of our mileage. This sign right as we exited town was a great send off: “HAVE A GOOD TRIP” in English underneath the same message in Thai. I was initially nervous about traveling somewhere with such a different language, but most signs were like this one: written in Thai with an English translation underneath.
The next day was planned to be a bigger one, 96 miles from just outside Chumpon to Prachap Khiri Khan, with a mid-day stop at Baan Krud beach.
55 miles in and 40 to go, a nap in the shade was necessary. Temperatures reached over 90°F most days, and the sun was inescapable. Sunscreen on my legs and a baggy sun-proof hooded shirt is my go-to outfit on long days like this one (enter the Soleil Hoody and Peloton short, amazingly breathable and so lightweight).
The next day involved riding through Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park. The coastal landmark is home to large cave systems within the giant mountains that shoot up into the sky. Although time didn’t allow us to fully explore the trails, riding through the park was a treat. (Note: we did not find the monkey.)
Hua Hin was our destination that night. This is where I experienced a true night market for the first time. For reference, this was on a Monday night; these nightly markets allow locals to buy fresh produce and meals from neighbors, in addition to souvenirs and keepsakes for tourists. The woman with the vegetable-covered bicycle was my favorite.
Another market was on our must-visit list: the Mae Khlong Train market. This market still serves the local population as a standard market, but its unique location makes it a tourist attraction as well. This market has long been a central location to trade seafood. Not long after the market was established, train tracks were placed right through it, in 1904, for the transportation of goods. In resilient fashion, the market stayed put. The tracks now provide a walking path for customers in between passes of the train, which happens eight times a day. Canopies are retracted and tables of goods on roller tracks are pulled back to allow for the train to pass. Business resumes just as quickly as it was paused.
The final day of riding was from the railway market to Bangkok. 55 miles, two flat tires, and some tired legs later, we made it to our hostel where we would spend the next five nights of our trip. The off-bicycle time was split between bunches of new restaurants, street food vendors, markets, temple visits, postcard writing, a cooking class, and souvenir shopping.
As exciting as Bangkok was, I am equally in awe of the less traveled areas of Thailand. Experiencing both urban and rural Thailand in the same trip was extremely special, and doing so by bicycle made it that much better. Many of the coastal tourist attractions are accessed by bus, meaning the average tourist doesn’t stop in between these hot spots. Between these spots were where most memories were made: roadside fruit stands, friendly street cats, waving hi to groups of children playing soccer by the road, riding through the coastal salt flats and being greeted by smiling faces of the workers, and being fed out of the living rooms of the locals, made for some unforgettable memories.
Thanks again to the team at Terry for the excellent riding gear that made this trip that much sweeter!