Category Archives: Cycling in Thailand

Cycling Along Saen Saeb Canal in Bangkok

One of the canals that I haven’t explored much yet is Khlong Saen Saeb. This canal dates back to 1840 and connects the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok to the Bang Pakong River in Chaochoengsao. Unfortunately you cannot take a boat ride along the entire length any more due to various water gates. You cannot even go out into the Chao Phraya river. In Bangkok, there is a boat service that goes from Pratunam (which means watergate) and Phan Fah Bridge all the way east to Wat Sri Bunruang on Ramkhamhaeng Road. If you don’t mind the smell, then this is a quick way to visit some of Bangkok’s main attractions. It is a kind of hidden artery of Bangkok as not all tourists know about it. To ride the entire length only costs about 20 Baht.

They have been talking for years about extending the boat service further out of Bangkok from Wat Sri Bunruang (see map) all the way to Minburi. In fact, it was in the newspaper earlier this year that the boat service would open from August 2012. So, at the weekend, I decided to go and take a look for myself. What I found was perhaps a dozen new piers along the canal. All of them finished, though some looked like that they needed a new coat of paint. Between Wat Sri Bunruang and the Outer Ring Road bridge, they had also finished a concrete walkway on both sides of the canal. The budget for this was hundreds of millions of Baht. To me it looked like it had been finished for along time. Some stretches were overgrown and badly neglected.

This stretch of the canal is about 4 km long. I first cycled along on the southern side and then came back on the other side. If you plan to cycle here yourself, I would suggest that you use the northern side. There are less of these bridges and your way won’t be blocked by long grass or overhanging branches. Can you see the runner on the right of these steps? This is for pushing your bike up on. However, it is too steep and too close to the side to be much use.  A local that I spoke to said that they like this new walkway as they can come out here in the evening to exercise and enjoy the cool air. However, she said that the steps were too steep for the elderly and so they couldn’t walk too far. At one bridge, I came across some locals who were using a slab of concrete to make a gentle slope up and over. Obviously they were doing this for their motorbikes.

The second section of the canal, from the Outer Ring Road bridge to Minburi already has piers but they haven’t started on the concrete walkways. These are the old ones which are dangerous in some places and non-existent in others. I asked a number of different local people along the canal when they thought that the boat service would start. They all gave me different answers from a few months to next year. But all of them made it clear that they do no want the boats to start running until the BMA have finished the concrete walkways on both sides. They also said it needs to have lighting all the way. The budget for this is estimated to be about 500 million Baht. If they do it, then it would be great for both commuters and cyclists. However, they also need to allocate a budget for maintenance. Sadly this has been neglected.

Click here for my map of the route that I took. I will be continuing to explore the canal in coming weeks. This picture is at Wat Sri Bunruang and this boat is about to depart for Pratunam in Bangkok. I will start my next journey by bicycle from this point. I want to see how easily I can get into Bangkok from here.

Cycle Ride in Bangkok with Follow Me Bike Tours

If you are looking for some different to do in Bangkok then you should look no further than cycle tours. To many people, it probably still seems strange to suggest to go on a bike tour in Bangkok. Apart from the heat and pollution you also have bad traffic congestion. On the surface it doesn’t sound like fun, but in truth, bicycle tourism in Thailand is a fast growing market with new bike tour companies being set up all the time. Just take a look at the Top 10 of popular tours in Bangkok on the TripAdvisor website. Five of the most popular tours in Bangkok are bicycle tour companies.

One of the latest bike companies based in Bangkok is Follow Me Bike Tours which is already doing very well on the TripAdvisor Top 10. Although I have my own bike now, it is sometimes a good idea to go with a knowledgeable local Thai guide. On trips like this one, you always discover something new about your home city. When cycling or driving, we tend to stick to the same routes. Tour guides, on the other hand, will push the boundaries to show the real sights, smells and sounds of the city that would be difficult to find by ourselves. This is exactly what happened when I joined Follow Me at the weekend for their “Siam Boran” bicycle tour of the historical sights of Bangkok.

The Follow Me Clubhouse can be found down a small soi off Sathon Road.  It is about a 10-15 minute walk from BTS Chong Nonsi Station (see map). At the moment they are offering two bicycle tours. Each of them last about four hours and cover about 20 kilometers. The second one, called “Siam Sawan”, goes to Phra Pradaeng, which, with its jungles and parkland, is often called the “Lungs of Bangkok”. I have explored that area quite a bit already,  so I was keen to try a new route. Tours leave twice a day at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. I know that some people have done one tour in the morning and liked it so much that they joined the other tour in the afternoon.

The Siam Boran tour took us on both sides of the river and included two cross-river ferries.The advantage of bicycling is that we were able to go down narrow lanes and dedicated cycle paths. In fact, we were hardly on the main roads at all. We spent most of our time up close and personal in various local communities. We saw more events and every day activities on this tour than the average tourist will see on their entire trip. In Chinatown we saw dancing dragons. We passed a Christian cathedral where people were just leaving after a service. In a Muslim community we came across a bird singing contest in an open field. And in one of the backroads we passed a house where nine monks were performing a ceremony for the opening of a new shop.

The guide on our tour was a yong Thai man called Tobb. He was very knowledgeable and often stopped to talk about various old buildings that we were cycling past. From my point of view, the Unseen Bangkok is of more interest than say The Temple of Dawn that we also visited. But, we had a good mixture that had something for everyone. I particularly liked the old Customs House, that despite its derelict state, was being used as living quarters by the local fire department. We also visited a temple that had the largest bell in Thailand and the largest sitting Buddha in Bangkok. Tobb also stopped several times to buy us refreshments. He also made it clear that it was no problem to stop and take pictures at any time or stay at a  place longer than what was originally planned.

By the time we got back to the Follow Me Clubhouse, I was probably more hungry that tired. One of the great things about Bangkok is that it is mainly flat and the cycling wasn’t strenuous at all. Although we are in the middle of the rainy season at the moment, and we did have some rain during our tour, it wasn’t enough to spoil our fun. In fact, it was almost perfect weather for cycling as there was a nice cool wind. Each of the tours finish with a free fish spa where you can put your tired feet in water and let the fish give you a massage! There is also a complimentary BBQ. The price of the tour was 1,000 Baht and with all of these extras I think it was really good value. I would definitely go with them again. They have a new trip planned which combines a food tour in the morning and a bicycle tour in the afternoon. Sounds perfect as they are two of my favourite things.

For more information about Follow Me and to book tours please visit their website www.followmebiketour.com. I have also posted some of my iPhone pictures on my Facebook Page.

Bicycling in Thailand

For a few years now I have been thinking about buying a bicycle. I used to ride them a lot when I was a kid but I have hardly done any riding since I have been in Thailand. In many ways, the area where I live in Samut Prakan is ideal for cycling as it is flat, much like the rest of Central Thailand. However, I guess what was putting me off the most was the danger involved in cycling. Most fatal road accidents involve motorcycles and as bicycles are lower down on the pecking order then it makes sense that bicycles are even more dangerous. Couple this with the heat and pollution, then that is enough to put anyone off from buying a bicycle here in Thailand.

My secondary problem was where to buy a bicycle that had a large frame that was strong enough for a big foreigner to sit on. Hypermarkets like Big C and Tesco Lotus certainly have a variety of bikes at good prices, however, with those you get what you pay for. They won’t last very long. When I first started thinking about it, there were only a few bicycle shops around that specialised in imported bicycles. However, they were all very expensive. I have never had any ambitions on being a serious cyclist so I didn’t really want to spend that much. It wasn’t until a friend bought a mountain bike for himself that I started to think again about buying a bicycle. By this time prices had gone down a lot.

In the past, if you could find a bicycle shop, then the chances are that they would only be selling cheap frames. But, times have changed as new shops are springing up everywhere with good quality bicycles. I eventually bought my bicycle at a shop neat BTS Udom Suk. There are about 3 or so in a row there so it was easy to compare models. This was back in May and since then a bicycle shop has opened here in Paknam around the corner from my house. A bicycle at say Big C would be about 3-5,000 Baht. A good mountain bike starts at from 10,000 Baht and can go up quite high. As I wasn’t sure at the time how much I would use it, I went for one that had a list price of 12,000 Baht and was reduced to 10,000 Baht. I haven’t regretted that decision.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how much I would be using my bicycle. I had a vague idea that I might sometimes ride it into town if I needed to buy something (it is normally a 15 minute walk). I was also thinking that I might take it in my car when I went off on a day trip. Realistically I thought I might use it maybe once a week. But, during the first two months I went for a ride every day after work. Having a bicycle opened up a whole new world for me. I live at the top of a lane that connects to Sukhumwit Road. There was never any reason for me to venture down this lane. But, with my bicycle I have discovered so much more. I have since explored other areas of my town that I have never been to in the 17 years that I have lived here. I’m still going out exploring now, but not every night as it has been raining a lot recently.

I love mapping, so I use an iPhone app called RunKeeper. This plots my random routes on a map so that when I get back I can take a look at satellite images to see if there are any alternatives routes I could explore or anything nearby that looks worth checking out. At the IT Mall at Fortune Tower I bought a holder for my iPhone that fixes onto the handlebars. I can tilt it up so that I can also take pictures like you can see on this blog. Other accessories that I have bought include a helmet (which actually came free with the bike), a pump, front and rear lights, a bicycle rack, and my latest purchase, a bag to fit on the rack. I bought it online here. This has been useful for taking my camera or when I go shopping. Now that I have my bike, I have been using my car less for local trips and have been saving money at the same time.

I haven’t done any big trips yet. Like I said, I am not a serious cyclist and I won’t be buying the skin tight clothes. I am sure everyone will be glad to hear that. But, I am a keen cyclist who goes out for pleasure and to explore. I have joined both of the recent Bangkok Car Free Day events. Cycling in Bangkok was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. You can even take your bicycle on the sky train for free. We are in the middle of the rainy season at the moment, but I think come November I will consider doing a longer trip somewhere. Maybe even an overnighter. But, I am not exactly the fittest of people so I probably shouldn’t over do it! Anyway, over the coming months, I will post some of my experiences of cycling in Thailand here at thai-blogs.com.

Bicycle Ride during “Bangkok Car Free Sunday 2″

On Sunday I took part in the 2nd Bangkok Car Free Sunday event. The purpose, as before, was to promote the use of the bicycle as an alternative mode of transport in Bangkok. I must say I was very nervous about cycling in Bangkok the first time. However, I am now used to it and I would recommend it to anyone. It is a great way to get around to explore the city. You don’t get stuck in traffic jams, you can go down one way streets the wrong way and, best of all, you can stop and park your bicycle almost anywhere you like. That makes it so easy to take pictures. The following are some of the more interesting places that we stopped at during the bicycle tour on Sunday morning.

This is the Maen Si Waterworks. On July 13th 1909, King Rama V ordered for the Sanitary Department to use a water system to bring water to Bangkok by taking water from Khlong Chiang Rak in Pathum Thani to Khlong Samsen. A pumping station was built and the water went through a filter process so that it became germ-free. The waterworks at Maen Si was officially opened by King Rama VI on November 14th 1914. It remained in operation for many years. In 1990, the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority moved its headquarters to Bangkhen District and Maen Si now stands derelict.

The King Prajadhipok Museum is the first museum of its kind in Thailand when it was officially opened in 1980. The original building was built in the reign of King Rama V. Mr. Frederic John Samson was the designer of what was meant to be a tailor’s shop. Later it served as offices of the Department of Public Works. The building was renovated by the King Prajadhipok Institute and turned into a museum to diplay the personal belongings of the king.

The Monk’s Bowl Community is more than 200 years old. In Thai it is known as “Ban Bat”. The origin of this community is still not certain but some say that it was the home to people who moved here after the fall of Ayutthaya. The handmade bowls of this community are correctly made according to the Buddhist disciplinary rules that the alms bowl must be made from steel. In the mid 20th Century, almost every family in this community made alms bowls. Today, only five families still carry on the trade, mainly because the bowls are now mass produced in factories.

This final picture is of a street-side tailor who is making alterations to some clothes. This kind of thing is a common sight in Bangkok where not everyone has a shop or even a shelter. Many people, like this man, just set up shop wherever there is a vacant space. I was cycling by when I spotted him. I had my camera handy and just paused briefly to take a picture before moving on. I had a great time on my bike and will certainly go again for their next bike rally. Visit Thailand Photo Maps for maps of the route we took.

Bicycle Ride During “Bangkok Car Free Sunday”

Today, the first regular “Bangkok Car Free Sunday” was organized. The idea was to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take their bike instead. For many people, that is easier said than done. Even though I took the BTS Skytrain into Bangkok today, I still had a 45 minute drive to my nearest station. Taking my bike on the BTS was quite easy and it didn’t cost any extra money. However, it is probably only practical to do this on Sunday mornings. Coming home I had to let two trains pass as they were too full.

Cyclists from all around Bangkok were invited to join a bike rally this morning starting at the King Rama VI statue in front of Lumphini Park. By 8:30 a.m. just over 400 people had registered to join the rally with their own bikes. A further 100 people signed up for the free bikes. Quite a few people were obviously serious riders as they were all dressed up in the proper gear. But, it was encouraging to see a number of families and also teenagers on their bikes.

The Bangkok Governor was at the starting point to wave us off. He actually rode on a bicycle for a bit, but that was only for the cameras and for only 30 meters. For us, we had two loops that covered about 10 kilometers. We first went along Rama IV Road, then up Wireless Road, past the US Embassy, turning left at Phloenchit and then left again at Ratchaprasong. We then rode down Ratchadamri Road, with a brief stop at AUA, before completing our first loop back at the King Rama VI statue.

Our second loop was a bit more interesting. We headed down Silom Road first where we did a brief stop at this abandoned Christian cemetery. Only this small chapel with a cross on the roof is left. Apparently they are going to develop this into a green space for local people. We then turned left into Pan road, where we passed the Hindu temple (below) and then at Sathorn Road we turned left again. We had regular breaks along the way which made it a very easy bike ride. Our last stop was Christ Church on Soi Convent. This church dates back to 1864.

At each place we visited, there was someone there who told us about the environment and also a bit of the history of the place. This was done in both Thai and English.  Apparently they are now planning on holding this event on the first Sunday of every month. I heard that the next one will be in Bang Kae. I will post on www.ThaiTravelBlogs.com as soon as this is confirmed. Bangkok apparently already has 28 separate cycle paths covering a distance of 20 kilometers. They said that they will work on more.

All of these pictures were taken on my iPhone and uploaded live onto Twitter and my moblog www.MyThaiPhotos.com live during the event. I then uploaded the rest onto my Facebook page while I was riding the Skytrain to my next destination. Incidentally, if you are taking your bike on the Skytrain, it is advisable to use the last carriage. If you want to take it on the MRT Subway, they will only let you if you have a folding bike.

Map showing the route of the 1st  Bangkok Car Free Sunday Bicycle Ride:

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