This piece could just as easily have been titled ‘Bangkok goes bonkers for bicycles’, such has been the boom in all things pertaining to cycling here in recent times. Of course, locals have always ridden bicycles in and around the capital, even though Bangkok isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of a cycle friendly city. Heavy traffic and irregular road surfaces, not to mention suffocating pollution and heat, make bicycling here an activity not for the faint hearted. And yet more and more residents and visitors are choosing to explore the city by bicycle.
Ironically, cycling as a leisure activity within Bangkok received a huge boost at the beginning of this year thanks to the infamous ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ demonstration, which left many of the city’s otherwise traffic-choked streets completely empty. All of a sudden families had the perfect opportunity to get out on their bikes and enjoy a spin around downtown together.
And bicycling is a great way to see Bangkok as you can venture off track to areas you wouldn’t otherwise discover; down alleyways, along paths and absorbing the atmosphere of the city. It’s an activity the powers that be have been quick to recognize. Services such as the Pun Pun bike sharing program, an initiative supported by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), gives locals, expats and tourist the opportunity to ride in the city center. Although the service isn’t free, the rates are very reasonable and charged to a stored-value card that you purchase when you hire the bike (this also includes a fee covering accident insurance). The scheme has 50 conveniently located bike stations in the heart of Bangkok, many close to BTS and MRT stops. The registration process is very simple with only your passport or national identification card required.
For a more low-key ride around the historic island of Rattanakosin, look to the Green Bangkok Bike Project, another BMA initiative. It provides all-day bicycle loan to tourists free of charge, as long as the bicycle is returned by closing time. Again, to register you need either a passport or national identification card. The BMA also provides insurance for riders when they sign up. The service is available at eight parking spots near main attractions on the island from 10am-6pm on weekdays and 10am-8pm on weekends.
In terms of guided bicycle tours in and around the capital, visitors are spoilt for choice. Among the best picks of a large bunch is Co Van Kessel’s tours. Ideal for beginners, Co Van Kessel offers a perfect introduction tour to Bangkok, the “Co Classical”. The 3-hour itinerary is ideal for first time cyclists who have an afternoon to kill and want to take in the downtown attractions of old Bangkok and the Chinatown district. Add another 2 hours and you can enjoy the “Co Combo” tour, which combines the Co Classical route with a long-tail boat ride to the fringes of Bangkok, where you can discover the charm of the city’s canal side communities.
Another well-established bicycle tour operator is Grasshopper Adventures. Their “Where Bangkok Began” tour offers a great chance to discover the origins of
the city. The tour has a maximum capacity of 6 riders to ensure exclusive service and a private experience. Chaperoned by a knowledgeable tour guide, you get to see how the Buddhist, Chinese, Christian and Muslim communities shape modern Bangkok. The unique mid-afternoon to evening program takes you through the backstreets of Thonburi, the former capital, to the colourful Flower Market. There is something magical about pedaling through secret small alleyways and the off-the-beaten-track nature of the tour. It also give you the opportunity to interact with real locals, something few tourists actually get to do, and part of the tour involves sitting down to a tasty locally cooked meal with a Sino-Thai family. Other tour highlights include Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha).
For adventurous cyclists with time on their hands, Spiceroads Cycle Tours offer great itineraries beyond the capital. Try the “Historic Ayuddhaya”, a 1-day tour that takes you from bustling Bangkok to tranquil Ayutthaya. Around 2 hours from Bangkok by car, Ayutthaya was Thailand’s capital before Thonburi and holds rich historical and cultural value. This family friendly, easy day tour takes you through the impressive ruins of temples and royal summer palaces. You also get a taste of local riverside living along the Chaopraya River. For a few days in the wild, try the “Kanchanaburi Explorer”. It takes you on a 3-day journey through breath-taking landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and rivers. History buffs will enjoy this tour because it also takes in the bridge over the River Kwai and stretches of the infamous Death Railway.
For those who want to have a quick breather away from downtown Bangkok but don’t have the time to trek too far out of the city, Bang Kra Jao is the perfect
solution. Located just a short hop across the Chaopraya River, this ‘green lung’ is a lush combination of coconut, banana and mango orchards, a maze of canals, and quaint villages. It is also home to rare species of birds and lizards. Spiceroads offer a half-day tour of Bang Kra Jao that really lets you breath, but if you want to take a longer break you can stop off at Bangkok Tree House, an eco-concept hotel cum lodge right in the heart of Bang Kra Jao. You could stay overnight in one of its ‘river nests’ and visit Bang Namphueng Floating Market to round off your green experience.
Of course, if you are staying in Bangkok for a while, or are resident and want to take up cycling, there’s nothing like having your own bike. It is a lifestyle choice and it speaks of personal identity. If, for example, you are a fan of vintage bicycles, you might enjoy hunting for that perfect Sherwin cruiser at Talad Rodfai Market in Srinakarin, where good condition second hand and vintage bicycles and parts can be found at reasonable prices. Or you could visit Sombat Kanamuji. Tucked away in Chula Soi 28 near the National Stadium BTS station, the old shop-house store has perhaps the largest selection of second hand vintage bicycle in the city. If you search long and hard enough you will find a gem of a bicycle at a superb price, but bear in mind that vintage and second hand bicycles may require more upkeep in the long run.
If you’re looking for a brand new bicycle then head to Pro Bike shop, which is conveniently located close to bike-friendly Lumpini Park. There you’ll find high
quality imported bicycles of all types, plus myriad bike accessories and safety devices. For young urbanites looking to add some personality to their cycling choices, Sealee Urban Bike Shop on Phetchaburi Road is a good choice. It offers customable services for bikes imported from Europe and Japan. It also sells lifestyle products related to cycling such as leather bags and apparel.
Whether it’s for better health, sightseeing, greener living or simply for a sense of belonging to a community, cycling is fun! It helps us to maintain a sense of youth, which ultimately is why we keep coming back to the bicycle. And as the city becomes more bicycle-friendly with car-free days and more open spaces, the number of people turning to pedal power will only increase.