Tag Archives: bicycle

Cycling the North East Malaysian Coast via Route 3- the Highway from Hell

338.2 kilometers in 5 days

1,782.2 kilometers total this trip

Day 24- June 28, 2015- Kuala Besut to Sutra Resort

61.3 kilometers

Resting at a closed restaurant that was nice enough to leave it's hammocks out.
Resting at a closed restaurant that was nice enough to leave it’s hammocks out.

We took the early boat back from the Perhentians and within an hour we were on our bikes riding south. For the first two hours the road was bordered by palm plantations spaced between dead looking, baran land. There was no breeze and it was silent, ugly, and HOT, so we took a much needed rest at a gas station to take advantage of their air conditioning and pick up some snacks. Since it was still Ramadan, and would be for the rest of the time we were cycling in Malaysia, we weren’t going to be able to find lunch at any of the yummy looking but closed cafes on the side of the road.

That restaurant that claimed to be "open". That sign soon got what was coming to it.
That restaurant that claimed to be “open”. That sign soon got what was coming to it.

After another couple hours of cycling, we did find one restaurant right on the beach that had an “open” sign hanging in front of it. False advertising. We were planning on only staying for half an hour to eat our snacks and rest, but a quick moving monsoon ended up trapping us there for three hours as it blew through, changed directions and blew back for a second go-around, then finally stopped. The storm was so strong that it not only effectively ended our chances of going another 40 kilometers in the remaining two hours of sunlight but also broke the false “open sign”.

The pool at the Sutra resort. Because the thing you need when staying on the beach is a pool....
The pool at the Sutra resort. Because the thing you need when staying on the beach is a pool….

We started to realize another difficult thing about Ramadan was going to be finding accommodation. Many towns we rolled through appeared completely closed, maybe for the entire month, which limited our hotel selection. As the sun was setting, we were becoming more desperate to find a place to sleep and ended up seeing signs for some beach side resorts. The first one was stuffy, damp, and infested with mosquitoes and equipped with no mosquito nets. The second one seemed a bit fancier, but it appeared closed since the receptionist had probably gone out to break his fast. After briefly considering squatting in the room he had carelessly left unlocked we moved on to find a legitimate room at a neighboring fancy resort. It was so far outside our price range I don’t even want to go into it. So we chose to focus on the beach side pool and the bottomless buffet. This was truly our last option, and our last resort.

Day 25- July 28, 2015- Sutra Resort to Dungun

129 kilometers

One of the many yummy looking CLOSED markets that welcomed us to Terengganu.
One of the many yummy looking CLOSED markets that welcomed us to Terengganu.

We started our day by stuffing our pockets and bike shorts with leftover bacon and jelly and butter packets from the breakfast buffet where we ate alone. All the Muslim guests had gotten up at 4:15am to eat their fill before the sun rose, so we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves.

Entering the deserted Muslim "edutainment" park in Terengganu.
Entering the deserted Muslim “edutainment” park in Terengganu.

We spent our morning riding around town looking for a place that could help us patch our tires that had punctures. Up to this point we had only had two flats which were easy to fix in Thailand. Any guy who has a tire shop was willing to fix it. But in this town, and seemingly the rest of Malaysia, the mechanics complained they didn’t have the correct patch for a bicycle tire. After a couple hours we had found a bike store and bought a really cheap (and ineffective) patch kit.

The Crystal Mosque in the "edutainment park". Also closed but still very cool from the outside.
The Crystal Mosque in the “edutainment park”. Also closed but still very cool from the outside.

By midday we had made it to Kuala Terranganu- a large town that is probably happening when it’s not Ramadan. There is a large Muslim “edutainment” park there we had read about and seen as we crossed the long bridge into the town. It features a giant crystal mosque and a park with miniature models of famous mosques from around the world. We figured that if anything were going to be open during Ramadan, this was surly it. Wrong. We got climpse of the model mosques through a locked gate and wandered around outside the crystal mosque before giving up and heading back to town which also seemed abandoned.

The story of our day getting through a Ramadan-closed Terengganu.
The story of our day getting through a Ramadan-closed Terengganu.

We were still 80 kilometers away from our destination, it was already 2:00pm, and the sun was starting to come out. But after spending a morning getting disappointed by closed mosques and restaurants we had no desire to stay in this town that Ramadan had also closed, so we put on some more sunscreen and set off down the road. Even though we made great time down the highway for the rest of the day, the lack of food, slight dehydration, and the fact that Kiri was coming down with a cold, made these 80 kilometers completely exhausting.

This bright sign welcoming us to Dungun was about the most exciting thing we saw in that town the whole night.
This bright sign welcoming us to Dungun was about the most exciting thing we saw in that town the whole night.

As the sun was setting, the roads completely emptied out as everyone in the town was probably getting ready to eat. We were hungry and tired too and the thought of missing any food that night was a daunting one, so we picked up whatever was available as we rolled into the quiet, empty town of Dungun. By the time that we arrived at the hotel we had booked the night before, we found that it was temporarily closed because people were out eating – which is what we should have been doing too. For the second night in a row we were forced to stay at a hotel that was overpriced but was the only one open. We ate the cold rice and chicken we had picked up on the side of the road and collapsed on the bed. Ramadan had won that day.

Day 26- June 30, 2015- Dungun to Kerteh

43.3 kilometers

Mike eating our "Ramadan breakfast"- yogurt and cup of noodles from 7/11.
Mike eating our “Ramadan breakfast”- yogurt and cup of noodles from 7/11.

At this point we had learned a couple of lessons from Ramadan. First you need to have substantial snacks on you at all times because you should not expect breakfast or lunch anywhere. Cup of noodles and yogurt cups from 7/11 worked also. Second- you have to show up at your hotel by 6:00pm otherwise everyone working there will have left to start gathering their fast-breaking meal.
We were still exhausted this morning and Kiri’s cold had kicked into full gear with the stuffed up head ache sore throat symptoms. Still we wanted to go somewhere else that day.

A truck graveyard, where all the trucks in Malaysia  should be, in our humble opinion.
A truck graveyard, where all the trucks in Malaysia should be, in our humble opinion.

This is the point where we stopped struggling because of Ramadan and started struggling because our route was bringing us down the most miserable stretch of road that exists in north-eastern Malaysia:
We spent thirty minutes cycling past a massive power plant right next to the ocean- one of the biggest power plants in Malaysia. Before and after this power plant we were also surrounded by other industry- factories, large lorries rumbling past, etc. It was ugly, destructive, and potentially unsafe.

Getting big macs and mcflurries and proud of it!
Getting big macs and mcflurries and proud of it!

Hungry and tired we rolled up to a McDonalds around 3:30pm- way earlier than any other restauraunt would be open- and to our delighted surprise it was open! There we feasted on the best big macs and french fries we’ve ever had. They tasted exactly like they do in the U.S….suspicious…? However small, this felt like a much needed victory over Ramadan.

Day 27- July 1, 2015- Kerteh to Chukai

36 kilometers

One of the many trucks that got WAY too close during this stretch!
One of the many trucks that got WAY too close during this stretch!

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain pattering down on our patio. It rained all morning, so we decided to scrap our plan of a 100+ km ride to Kuantan and instead stayed holed up in our hotel room/apartment unit. Kiri still wasn’t feeling great, even after Mike made us some home-made noodle and egg soup in the electric kettle in our room.

The empty streets of Chukai at dusk. Everyone has abandoned their posts to find food!
The empty streets of Chukai at dusk. Everyone has abandoned their posts to find food!

The ride today was just more of the same. Same highway. Same ugly industry. We started to see a ton of mining here as well- mountaintops that had been stripped and trucks rumbling back and forth to carry those goods to port.

So you can blame the sickness for our slow moving efforts, or the lack of food, or the ugly, uninspiring scenery. Either way we were definitely taking our time through the ugliest stretch we had biked so far.

Day 28- July 2,2015- Chukai to Kuantan

68.6 kilometers

Another massive tanker whizzing past Mike.
Another massive tanker whizzing past Mike.

From the start of today we had trucks and lorrys rumbling past us as we hugged the narrow shoulder on this road. As the day went on these just got worse, we couldn’t even find a decent place to pull over to make a peanut butter and jelly.

That large ugly dusty junction.
That large ugly dusty junction.

Eventually we hit a large dusty junction where there were just trucks as far as the eye could see. This was the end of the line, we had arrived at some hellish nightmare of a junction where trucks and lorries will spend the rest of their days trucking large mounds of dirt and minerals – and we had to bike through it all. We went the direction that looked less miserable which still took us riding along a million trucks up a hill that was getting mined away.

Just another truck this time rolling past Kiri.
Just another truck this time rolling past Kiri.

The thing about the trucks is they’re huge, especially next to our bicycles. When they fly by us the after-breeze shakes the bikes and they dump a mound of dust all over you. They’re loud- you can hear them coming from a mile away but they still feel the need to honk really loud as they can as they blow past you. They’re ugly- they carry rocks or trees or minerals and are a hideous reminder of the man-made destruction that comes along with industry and development.

Just trucks as far as the eye can see!
Just trucks as far as the eye can see!

The one part about cycling this stretch that made us feel better was pretty simple. Just before we hit the highway from hell truck junction we saw a family of four biking the opposite direction. Although they gave us no warning signs or indication of what we were heading towards, their stern faces and dusty bikes should have given it away – we just thought that Ramadan had gotten the best of them. To us, this is all that it took. It was enough to let us know that we wern’t the only ones who thought that cycling this stretch of Malaysia would be a good idea.

The stripped mountain tops right outside of that junction.
The stripped mountain tops right outside of that junction.

This day was the climax of all the pretty miserable days of cycling down this highway, it was literally the highway from hell. We had spent three days biking through a countryside that had been manipulated, overused, abused, and destroyed. We were cycling through an area that used to be lush jungles and gorgeous coastline but the massive industry that had found it’s way into Malaysia in the last ten to twenty years had destroyed it. While this industry has certainly been a contributing factor to the rapidly growing economy in Malaysia, we did not expect that we would be biking right through it all. None of the blogs or stories that we read before this stretch made it sound as miserable as it truly was, so the unexpectedness of what we were to bike though made it even more unpleasant. Still, as we rolled into Kuantan we were genuinely questioning if we wanted to continue cycling through this devastating landscape in Malaysia or if we wanted to throw our bikes on a bus and get to Singapore as quickly as possible.

Sorry just one more truck picture!
Sorry just one more truck picture!
The massive nightly Ramadan bazaar right below this majestic mosque in Kuantan.
The massive nightly Ramadan bazaar right below this majestic mosque in Kuantan.

Still even up to this point we had not had a single day where there wasn’t at least on redeeming or enjoyable event from that day. Whether that was getting to nap at an abandoned seaside restaurant or eating a real meal at McDonalds or a great view from a national park we had stupidly walked into, there hadn’t been one day that was irredeemable. And today was no exception. Kuantan has a massive night bazaar at the base of a beautiful mosque that comes to life in the evening during Ramadan. Inside are people selling wonderful homemade Malaysian delicacies like grilled lamb and chicken and rice and thin pancakes stuffed with chicken and vegetables. All of this comes with some of the most amazing sauces you’ve ever had – curry, peanut, spicy, you name it. As we were very hungry from the long day of cycling, we bought enough food to feed a family and found a spot on the adjoining lawn next to the lit-up mosque where we sat with the rest of the families at this massive fast-breaking picnic and watched our food until the clock struck 7:30pm.

The fast-breaking picnic in Kuantan. This was easily the highlight of the day!
The fast-breaking picnic in Kuantan. This was easily the highlight of the day!
Advertisements

Bangkok to Bali Week 1: Hua Hin to Surat Thani, Thailand

Week 1- Hua Hin to Surat Thani

Biking along the Thai coast!
Biking along the Thai coast!

TOTAL KILOMETERAGE– 667.4 kilometers (414.7 miles)
Average distance per day– 95.3 km (our shortest day was 50.1 km, the longest day was 128.2km)
TOTAL hours cycling– 30 hours 30 minutes
Average speed– 15 kph (9.3mph)
# of days on the bikes– 7
# of flat tires– 1 (and it was a very slow leak)

Day 1- June 5, 2015- Hua Hin to Dolphin Bay

Breakfast on the beach at Dolphin Bay
Breakfast on the beach at Dolphin Bay

Distance- 50.1 km
2:30pm-6:30pm (3.5 hours of actual riding time)
Average speed- 14.3 km/h

After spending our morning getting our bikes checked out and looking over our routes one more time we still wanted to get started- this meant we rolled out of Hua Hin around 2:30pm. In general, it isn’t a great idea to be riding in the heat of the day in a place where it is around 100 degrees and humid every day. We had been advised to take a nice long break from 11:00am to about 2:30pm every day to avoid the worst parts of the day. As you’ll see, we still haven’t necessarily learned that lesson quite yet.

Outside our bungalow in Dolphin Bay
Outside our bungalow in Dolphin Bay

Despite the heat, we made it it Dolphin Bay relatively quickly. This is more of a touristy area which in this part of the world doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s geared towards western tourists. Many Thai’s travel locally, as well as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and other Southeast Asian tourists. March through November is considered  “low” season, as the weather ranges from hot and humid to monsoon-like rains. For us this means either discounted prices on hotel rooms or less options for places to stay and eat because so many places are closed. So far that hasn’t really been a struggle. After checking at a few places we ended up at Moddang Resort (all their signs are in Thai but their logo is what really caught our eye- the jolly ant schlepinng the rolly suitcase around). We were the only guests at the resort, but the staff were friendly enough and the air conditioned room is exactly what we needed for a good nights sleep.

Day 2- June 6, 2015- Dolphin Bay to Prachuap Kiri Khan

Same same but different!
Same same but different!

Distance- 68.6 km
9:00am-2:30pm (4 hours 15 minutes of riding time)
Average speed– 16.2 kph

Today we fell back to our trip-leading roots and decided to implement the role of BOD (“biker of the day”). The BOD’s duties include setting the morning alarm, dragging the other person out of bed, remembering to take our malaria medicine, oh and paying for everything that day! Other duties as required. Since there are two of us, we just switch off every day. This should be a great way to balance out the expenses and to make the other person bring you snacks, water, and to find a place to sleep after a long day of biking. We are also going to try and learn a little bit of Thai, so the BOD’s responsibility is to find a word of the day.

Today as we stopped for snacks at noon we realized we were only 20 kilometers away from our destination. While the sun blazed down on us and heat waves radiated off the paved road we made the decision to just keep biking through the hottest part of the day. This led to many many sunburns.

Night Market in Kiri Khan
Night Market in Kiri Khan

We stayed at Maggie’s Homestay- Maggie wasn’t there but an older man whose done a lot of bike touring was. He gave us some tips for things to see around town including a Saturday night market where we filled up on chicken and noodles and fried fish cakes and ice cream! Night markets are everywhere in Thailand and feature some of the greatest street food we have ever had!

Coincidentally we stumbled into town on the same day as a jet skiing tournament. Unfortunately we were too busy napping to watch any of it.

Day 3- June 7, 2015- Prachuap Kiri Khan to Baan Krood

Dusky Langur SELFIE
Dusky Langur SELFIE

Distance– 73.3 km

10:00am-5:30pm (4 hours of actual riding time)

Average speed- 15.2 km/h

In case you haven’t noticed, our daily start time keeps getting later. You might be thinking that by now we would have learned that later starts mean hotter days. Today, however, we had an essential stop to make- we had to visit the dusky langurs at the airforce base outside of Prachuap Kiri Khan. These wide-eyed fuzzy playful hungry monkeys are what you would call “aggressively friendly” especially if you have anything that they think would taste good. One also played with Kiri’s iPhone for longer than expected, resulting in a curious monkey-selfie. Definitely worth the later start time on the road.

The bike shop that fixed Kiri's problem that wasn't even a problem
The bike shop that fixed Kiri’s problem that wasn’t even a problem

Today we learned an important lesson (which we’re sure we will be re-learning over the course of the trip)- any mechanical problems you are having are probably way simpler than you think they are. When Kiri’s rear shifter would no longer shift up she assumed a cable was clogged, or loose, or something was disconnected. After not being able to fix it on her own she just biked for the rest of the afternoon with it stuck in one gear. She was maybe a little cranky about this.

Before we stopped for the night we pulled off at a bike store where the owner (who spoke zero English but definitely knew what he was doing) took apart the changing mechanism on the front of my bike. After puzzling over it for a few minutes he started laughing. It turns out the bike bell I had recently fastened to my handlebar had been getting in the way of the gear shifter. All he had to do was turn the bell a tiny bit, the service was free of charge. The two of us now know a bit more about bike mechanics.

Day 4- June 8,2015- Ban Krood to somewhere outside of Chumpon town

Buddha watching over the bikers
Buddha watching over the bikers

Distance- 128.2 km

6:30am-6:00pm (8 hours of actual riding time)

Average speed- 16.2 km/h

For most of this week we have been following the routes that Chris, the owner of Tour de Thailand, gave to us. These are the routes he uses when he takes clients on trips. The GPS track that he gave us is lined with the resorts they sleep at (far outside our budget), places to stop and eat along the way, and over 100 kilometers of riding per day. His tours can do this because their clients aren’t carrying panniers and they are being supported by a van that can pick them up and drop them off wherever they please. Today we decided to attempt their suggested distance of 128 kilometers. Because we had no support vehicle and were on our fourth day of riding this wasn’t really that easy. That being said it was a beautiful day.The nice part about the routes he gave us was they got us off the highways here and took us through beautiful backroads that are much more beautiful and pleasant than the semi -filled highway. Every day so far we had spent rolling past empty beaches and palm tree forests and massive granite cliffs. And because we were cruising down quiet side roads we were able to ride side by side and make jokes about how our bike shorts make it feel like we’re wearing full diapers- as most mature adults do with their significant other.

DSC04885DSC04872DSC04871One interesting thing about the bigger roads here is that many of them have really good bike lanes and the drivers actually respect these lanes. The infrastructure for cyclists here is pretty impressive. You can count on a tire repair store (which is usually just a shack marked with a big painted tire in front of it) and a coffee or food stand (or a woman selling a bowl of her home made noodle soup) at least every 20 kilometers. The lesson we’ve learned so far is that whenever you really need it a bottle of water, cup of coffee, bowl of noodles, or bed to sleep in will appear for you in Thailand. This has so far made our first long-distance cycling adventure easier and smoother than expected, as we dont need to plan too far in advance.

Day 5- June 9, 2015- outside of Chumpon town to Kai Karnchang

Our private dock for the night
Our private dock for the night

Distance- 77 km

8:00am-3:30pm (5 hours of actual riding time)

Average speed- 15.3 km/h

Today we started out thinking we’d just take it easy. Then we started riding, and our legs and butts weren’t hurting as much as we thought they would so we just kept going. We didn’t know how far we were trying to go or where we would end up looking for a place to sleep. At this point we hadn’t had internet for four days, and were relying on the maps on Mike’s GPS- which shows roads but doesn’t really indicate towns. You kind of just have to guess if a place is a cluster of roads it probably has a guest house/hostel. Today we made an uninformed decision to follow one of these roads as far as it could go to a small fishing port marked on the map that looked like it was in the middle of nowhere. As we rode further and further into this town the road got skinnier and skinnier- the perfect biking width.

The "beautiful place"  in the Gulf of Thailand
The “beautiful place” in the Gulf of Thailand

We stopped at a few places that looked kind of like hotels- they also could have just been really lovely wooden seaport houses. After a few failures (which could have been translation failures- Mike was either asking for “water” or “hotel”) we got to the absolute end of the road. And there we found a woman who had a beautiful room balanced on stilts above the shore with a dock looking out over the sunset. So we went for a short walk around the edge of the port to a place she recommended- the “beautiful place” and watched the sun start to set on some beautiful islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It was an unexpectedly beautiful place we just happened to be lucky enough to stumble upon. Once again, our lack of planning was paying off.

Day 6- June 10, 2015- Kai Karnchang to somewhere north of Tha Chana

Biking into a storm that we never actually hit
Biking into a storm that we never actually hit

Distance- 78.2 km

7:00am- 4:15pm (5 hours 45 minutes of actual riding time)

Average speed- 13.6 km/h

Today was a slow day for many reasons- Kiri was not feeling like moving anywhere fast today. We probably haven’t done an adequate job of emphasizing how bloody hot it is here right now. When you ask any guide or guide book when to visit southern Thailand (or southeast Asia in general) they all tell you NOT between May and July. But here we are, sweating from sun up to sun down, finishing the day with heat rashes and exhaustion from the heat and sun. We have been covering ourselves with sunscreen that gets sweated off immediately, wearing silk black biking sleeves (they look like they would be extremely hot when they get soaked with sweat and the wind is whipping past you they actually cool you down). We’ve also been drinking loads of water and eating tons of snacks! To put this in perspective imagine that feeling you get when you’ve spent the day at the beach- you’re covered in a layer of salt and sweaty grime that you’ve locked in from multiple applications of sunscreen- that’s how we feel pretty much at the end of every day.

One of the small towns we passed through during this first week
One of the small towns we passed through during this first week

We tried to start this day earlier, in anticipation of the long route ahead of us. Going up a bunch of hills to start the day without much energy is a good way for someone to become cranky. We found a mini-supermarket after some of the hills and got our morning energy from a bag of peanuts, stale popcorn, and a cup of noodles.

After the morning of hills the afternoon leveled out a bit, although we faced yet one more challenge. There seemed to be a storm heading directly our way, and we were still some 30 kms from our destination.

Breakfast of cup of noodles and instant coffee at a roadside shop
Breakfast of cup of noodles and instant coffee at a roadside shop

We both wanted to push on until we got there, but we ended up finding a reasonably priced bungalow on the beach and decided that we would finish the remaining 30 km in the morning. The storm never actually rolled our way, but we were both happy that we pulled off to relax for the evening. Turns out that we were the first Americans to visit this resort as well!

Day 7- June 11, 2015- outside Tha Chana to Suratthani

One of the many roadside temples
One of the many roadside temples

Distance- 94.8 km

8:00am- 6:00pm (6 hours of riding time)

Average speed- 15.3 kph

Our one goal today was to get to Surat Thani, a larger city near the coast where we could at the very least rest, do some bike maintenance (Mike’s rear tire had a slow leak), find some wifi, and take and a day off. There also is still the possibility that we can use this city as a jumping off point to get to Koh Samui- an island in the Gulf. And so the miles kept rolling along and before we knew it we were here.

After a few days off we’ll be setting off further south through Thailand. Another ten days should see us at or near the Thai-Malaysia border. But we’ll let you know what we’ve stumbled on in a week.

We're not sure what the story with these is but we have been riding past these coconut collection centers daily!
We’re not sure what the story with these is but we have been riding past these coconut collection centers daily!
Noodle soup with tiny shrimp that we got at a local mamas house
Noodle soup with tiny shrimp that we got at a local mamas house
Artsy fartsy picture at a dock after lunch
Artsy fartsy picture at a dock after lunch
Bike maintenance on our off day
Bike maintenance on our off day
Off the dock in Prachukap Kiri Khan
Off the dock in Prachukap Kiri Khan

How (NOT) to Start a Cycling Trip in Bangkok (hint: go to Hua Hin instead!)

So we’re meeting up in Bangkok- I’m coming from Cambodia, Mike’s coming from Tanzania. The plan is to embark on our first bike trip together- from Bangkok to Bali- 2 months- just us and the bikes. Half of that equation was still missing.

Starting a month before getting to Bangkok I spent HOURS online trying to figure out if this plan was really possible. Could we actually find bikes in Bangkok that would carry us for at least 2 months? And I read many blogs like this one that said “yes, of course” which reinforced my pre-perception of Bangkok being this magical place where you could find everything your heart desires!

Bangkok skyline on the loveliest of days
Bangkok skyline on the loveliest of days

Initially we were looking to buy used bikes because that was much more “in” our price range. To do this we would have to go through Craiglist or one of the many local markets. This was going to be difficult for the following reasons:

  1. I don’t speak Thai
  2. I don’t know my way around Bangkok AT ALL so couldn’t find people on Craigslist even if I tried
  3. The local markets are really hit-or miss. People report finding great deals on there, they also report finding unicycles. Cute one-speeders are the most popular city bikes in Southeast Asia which was not really what we were looking for.
  4. I didn’t have a ton of time to devote to this search

So my last option seemed to be to visit all the bike stores I had found (again, through blog posts like this one) to see if I could find us some new bikes that weren’t outrageously expensive. In three days (in between site-seeing and searching for a bagel) I managed to visit 3 locations:

  1. Probike- located near Lumphini Park- this store mostly offered Trek bikes- all were new and shiny and beautiful. The cheapest hybrid/touring bike was around  $500 but that price went up quickly as you looked at road bikes or mountain bikes. They sold Ortlieb panniers for around $200 for the pair. They also had racks, tools, apparel, etc. They were busy and no one in the store seemed terribly concerned that I was there, and I was terribly overwhelmed so I left.
  2. Just an example of one of the crazy malls in Bangkok that you might have to sift through to find what you're looking for
    Just an example of one of the crazy malls in Bangkok that you might have to sift through to find what you’re looking for

    BikeZone- located next to Amarin Plaza right off the Chitlom BTS stop- this store was actually closed when I visited but I didn’t feel any great desire to return primarily because it didn’t look like they sold bikes there. It did sell cycling accessories but from what I could tell from pressing my nose against the glass peering into the dark store- their prices were comparably high to ProBike. This visit was worth it because there is an AWESOME bagel cafe- the BKK Bagel Bakery– which I highly recommend!

  3. Grasshopper tours- located near the Democracy Monument- this stop was more out of desperation. I remembered reading somewhere that sometimes Grasshopper tours sells their used touring bikes and/or accessories so I stopped in. They weren’t selling anything at the time, and didn’t seem like they ever did. The women working their gave me the name of a local market and that was all I got out of that.

Backup about a month before I even arrived in Bangkok- I had put a message out on a Bangkok Cycling Forum looking for a class or someone to teach me basic bicycle mechanics (I figured it would be important for one of us to have some knowledge of this before we headed off on a two month trip). I had gotten John’s name- the mechanic associated with a company called Tour De Asia– a touring company/bike shop based out of Hua Hin- a beach town that’s a 2.5 hour bus ride south of Bangkok.

After setting up a two-day course with John (which was an amazing decision- it was one-on-one hands-on instruction on everything from changing a tire to identifying and mitigating issues with the front or rear derailleurs to daily preventative upkeep of a bicycle) he offered to set me up with one of his company’s lightly used touring bikes for around $500. Because that price seemed kind of high and I hadn’t even tried looking in Bangkok yet I turned that offer down.

The Hua Hin skyline- just a tiny bit calmer!
The Hua Hin skyline- just a tiny bit calmer!

Fast forward to a few days ago- I have found NOTHING in Bangkok, Mike is getting here in a week, we’re trying to start this trip in a week in a half- I was supposed to find us bikes and panniers and I had found nothing. I am supposed to be learning how to fix this imaginary bike in a few days and I had NOTHING. I asked John again if he has any leads- he connects me to Chris- the owner of Tour De Asia- who offers up some great deals from his shop- which I realize is in Hua Hin. So rather than spend the next two days frantically scouring local markets only to probably end up buying a fancy new bike and fancy new panniers- I jumped on a bus down to Hua Hin- which turned out to be an AMAZING DECISION!

I arrived and called Chris- he came by my hostel and drove me over to the Tour De Asia shop which was filled with almost new Marin bikes. He started talking about his company- they lead tours across Thailand and through other parts of Southeast Asia- they’ve got a ton of experience with cycling in this region- they’ve got routes that get you off the main highways and onto more scenic back roads. They’ve got accommodation recommendations for the whole Thai peninsula as well as the names of bike shops across Thailand. They sell used bikes, used panniers, rear racks, helmets, multitools, hand pumps, cycling jerseys, butt cream, bike locks, etc. All of these “used” items have been “used” once or twice on one of their tours, impeccably maintained by John, and are resold at a great price. He offered me the bike, panniers, rear rack for a great package deal and threw in a free water bottle- all for around $550.

The Marin bike that I ended up buying! She's a beauty!
The Marin bike that I ended up buying! She’s a beauty!

As if all that wasn’t enough- they offered to let me store my bike there while I had to go up to Bangkok to extend my visa and pick up Mike, and also offered to let us keep all of our extra baggage at their shop which is much better than our original plan to leave them at our hostel.

So our current plan is this- once Mike get’s here we will take a bus down to Hua Hin, pick out a bike for him, pick up my bike, and start off on this trip! Easy peasy!

Here are the biggest reasons why you should go to Hua Hin before starting a cycling trip in Thailand- especially one that is going south:

  1. It is NOT  BANGKOK- you don’t want to cycle in Bangkok- it’s a huge city with insane traffic that you don’t want to navigate on a bike. Hua Hin is more laid back, there’s only two huge roads going through it and those are avoidable, and once you get past those you are on to the pretty cycling of Southern Thailand (so I’ve heard).
  2. Tour De Asia is based here! I seriously cannot emphasize enough how wonderful Chris and John were- they were like our trips guardian angels. No one knows cycling around this region better! (Even if for some reason you want to check out your other options- I saw three other bike shops along the main road going through Hua Hin).

Approximately one week until take off!

(Some of those blog posts I was relying on are listed below:)