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Wednesday
Oct172012

Biking in Bangkok

When people think of Bangkok, it’s a good bet that the first thing that goes through their mind is not riding a bicycle. Already legendary for its traffic jams and maze of concrete highways, the massive city of 8-12 million (depending on who you ask) is built for the car. Indeed, it only got its first above-ground electric train system in 1999, and its first subway a few years after that. Suffice it to say, wide, leafy sidewalks with plenty of room for walking and biking do not exist here.

However, despite its spaghetti-tangle of roads, alleys and pathways – or maybe because of them – Bangkok is an excellent city to explore on a bicycle, assuming you’re able to handle it with a medium amount of confidence and skill. There are temples, restaurants, shops – even entire communities – that are nearly inaccessible by car, and that lie well off the tourist trails.

Over the past few years there have been several attempts at creating an Amsterdam-style public biking community with stations located at popular areas where you can borrow a bike to get around on – each has met with varying degrees of success but none have taken off. Part of it is due to Thailand’s climate, which makes it unlikely that you’ll finish your bike ride in a cool, comfortable condition, and part of it is, as mentioned, Bangkok is built for cars – it’s not uncommon to see a designated bike path being used as a type of “parking lane” for vehicles large and small.

However, there are plenty of companies in Bangkok that will take care of all the logistics for you. A quick internet search will turn up dozens of tour companies that will take you on a back-roads tour of some of Bangkok’s hidden neighborhoods and little-known areas, from engine workshops to vegetable markets to mangrove swamps.

If you’d rather take the initiative on your own, there are also plenty of places that will rent you a bike, a lock and a helmet (always wear a helmet!) for you to explore at your own pace. If you’re going to be here for a while, you might think about buying your own bike – there are plenty of great bicycle shops in Bangkok that offer everything from basic cruisers for lazy park rides to carbon fiber racing bikes that cost as much as a condo down payment.

If you do take off on your own, here are some of the areas you can explore:

- Rattanakosin: Although there aren’t a lot of bike paths here, it’s still a great place to see on a bike. This is the heart of ‘old Bangkok’ where you can see the Grand Palace, Wat Po, and plenty of colonial-era architecture.

- Lumpini Park & Benjakitti Park: Two of Bangkok’s green spots perfect for jogging, walking, picnicking and bike riding (Lumpini only from 10am-3pm). They are actually joined by a wide elevated walkway that you can ride along.

- Suan Rot Fai (Chatuchak Park): This lush and expansive park is a very popular place for Thais to come on the weekend. You can rent bicycles for 40 baht and pedal around to your heart's content. Lots of trees for shade and food & drink stalls too if you get hungry.

- Prapradaeng aka Bangkachao: Bangkok’s ‘Green Lung’ is a giant expanse of mangrove swamp and jungle with very little development that is veined with raised cement pathways perfect for riding. It’s on the other side of the river – catch a ferry at Khlong Toey pier just off Rama IV Road.

With that in mind, always remember to be patient and give the right of way to basically everyone. Bangkok’s drivers are very fluid and aware of their surroundings, but accidents do happen. Ride safe and slow, and you should have a great time.

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Reader Comments (2)

I saw a hotel listed 2 miles from the airport where one can watch fishermen returning with their catch in the morning and now I cannot find it. What hotel is it?
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaddie McCarty
Biking seems like an effective way of getting around Bangkok. Thanks for the tips.
December 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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