Biking is one of the the best ways to get around in small towns. You get to explore at your own pace, soak in the scenery, and burn a few calories while sightseeing. During our week-long tour with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, I was itching to have any excuse to get on a bike. I always tend to overeat when I travel and by the third day of buffet breakfasts and lunch feasts featuring amazing Thai dishes, I felt like I needed some sort of workout.
Thailand is a pretty bike-friendly destination. In fact, there are numerous bike tours and cycling holidays you can take in various parts of the country. You can easily rent bikes to explore the beautiful islands and beaches in the south, Northern Thailand’s mountainous landscapes, or visit temples while avoiding the traffic around Bangkok. There are even multi-day tours where you can enjoy coastal roads, mountain scenery or cycle through backroads and elephant tracks to explore jungle trails.
I got the chance to bike around on my own when we stayed a night in Amphawa, a riverside village about 63 km west of Bangkok, close to Samut Songkhram. Most visitors come here on a day trip to visit the Amphawa Floating Market where vendors sell their wares on boats in the river during the weekends.
During market days (Friday-Sunday), the whole area becomes a beehive of activity, with tourists flocking to food stalls that have sprouted up along the riverbanks and jostling to get photos of the market from the pedestrian walkways above the river. The rest of the week, it’s pretty quiet. Our visit was scheduled on a weekday, so while we missed seeing the floating market, the vibe of the place was definitely more laid-back.
Our first stop in Amphawa was Wat Bang Kong, a tiny ancient temple entangled in the roots of an immense banyan tree. Similar to the temples of Angkor’s famed Ta Prohm and Beng Melea in Cambodia, this temple has that natural Tomb Raider-y feel. The temple is not just partially covered, but the structure is literally swallowed by the tree. Only the main door and six windows are free from roots. It’s a small but beautiful temple that’s definitely worth visiting.
We were booked in Thanicha Healthy Resort, a rustic homestay guesthouse with 25 rooms overlooking a cute little courtyard in the middle of the space. Though a few large hotels have cropped up along the riverbanks, the wooden guesthouses and home-stay accommodations are what defines the Amphawa experience.
I noticed several vintage bicycles parked upfront when we checked in and immediately zeroed in on that. Thanicha Resort is a good place to stay if you want to visit the floating market, since it’s less than a mile walk’s away, but still remains relatively quiet and uncrowded. Rooms here range from 1,500 Baht (small room) to 5,000 Baht (family suite) per night including complimentary breakfast.
Connected mostly by rivers and canals, Amphawa is best explored via a long-tail hatthatara boat. After checking in, we went on a sunset boat cruise while getting a Thai foot massage to really soak in the riverside life. From the boat, I noticed a lot of interesting establishments lining the waterfront walkways of Amphawa Canal, a small tributary of the Mae Khlong River. At night, we had dinner and drinks in one of the riverfront bars serving seafood. The specialty here is salty mackerel, which is abundant in the brackish waters of the river. It went great with ice-cold beer. Boat night tours are also offered to those who want to do firefly watching.
The next morning, after witnessing monks rowing by and going about their daily rituals of collecting alms from the locals, I borrowed one of the bicycles and just wandered about with no real plan.
Back in 2008, the Amphawa community was awarded the UNESCO Asia Pacific Honorable Mention Award for Culture Heritage Conservation. While some of the old wooden shopfronts look worn down, the whole community manages to maintain that nostalgic old-world charm that’s not just put on for the sake of tourists. Renting a bike is a great way to just experience the local life. There are a lot of fruit and vegetable orchards surrounding the floating market, as well as a few small temples.
At one of the back roads, I came across some mysteriously beautiful structures with intricate carvings and mosaic tiles. In Thailand, stupas or chedi are found near temples and cemeteries. They typically contain the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns and are used as a place of meditation. It was very quiet here when I passed by with no other people, and I was surprised to have the whole place to myself.
The main highway had clearly marked bike lanes, which ended right next to a Thaiteeb Bike Station and a cute cafe, which was still closed because of the early hour.
I doubled back to the narrow banks of the riverside, which are a pretty interesting bike destination in itself. Both sides of the canals are lined with attractive centuries-old teak wood houses that have been preserved and restored. Some remain residential areas, while others have been converted into homestays, vintage cafes or small shops selling artsy souvenirs, books and Thai sweets.
It was pretty quiet as I biked around, since none of the shops were open yet. Except for the occasional long-tailed boat sailing along and a monitor lizard just floating along with the water lily leaves, I felt like I had the riverside all to myself.
By this time, it was getting pretty hot and humid and I had to head back to hotel since we were checking out and heading to another destination. I actually got a bit lost on the way back when I missed a turn and kept driving on the highway. By pointing out the name of the resort printed on the rented bike to locals and asking for directions, I eventually made it just in time to pack up and meet up with the rest of the group.
From a tourist’s point of view, there wasn’t much happening. A lot of shops were still closed and the floating market wasn’t operational since it was a weekday. In hindsight, I should have probably checked a map or GPS to plot out my route. But after our action-packed first day visiting various sights in Bangkok traffic, it felt like a very different side of Thailand. It was a short and sweet ride just enjoying the slow pace of life by the riverside. At least I got the quick workout I wanted to justify extra servings of pad thai.
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- There are many tour operators who offer bike tours in Thailand, from half-day to whole day trips, adventure tours and multi-day trips. Established cycling routes include Chiang Mai to Bangkok (or vice versa), the Mae Hong Son Loop, The Golden Triangle and Bangkok to Phuket.
- Amazing bike trails can be found throughout the country. Cycling is said to be particularly good in the North of Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai.
- Some guesthouses like Thanicha Resort in Amphawa offer bicycles which guests can use FREE of charge. The bicycle comes with a bike lock and key so you can secure it while sightseeing and a basket for stashing your stuff.
- An organized bike tour is held in Amphawa. The 10-km route covers:
- Museum of Thai Desserts
- Orchid Farm
- Wat Bang Nang Li
- Wat Phummarin Kudi Thong
- House of Thai Instruments
- Wat Bang Khae Yai Nai
- Wat Bang Kung
- Amphawa Floating Market
- Other hotels or establishments rent out bikes on hourly or daily basis. Single speed city cruiser bicycles roughly cost 20-40 Baht/Hour or 30-80 Baht/Day to rent.
- Bicycle rental shops around Thailand usually have better quality bikes than what are available in hotels. Approximate rates: 120-180 Baht/Day for single speed cruiser bicycles. For good quality mountain bikes like (Trek and similar brands), the average cost is about 350 Baht/Day.
- Cycling tour companies include Crouching Tiger Cycling Tours (based in Chiang Mai), Siam Bike Tours (based in Phuket) & Spice Roads (based in Bangkok). They prefer that clients provide their own bicycles, but also offer mid to higher level quality Trek/hybrid mountain bikes and road bikes rentals, ranging from 300-800 Baht a day.