Yet another Thailand story – but this one, on bicycles!
THAILAND is arguably the best bicycle touring country in Asia. The country’s unique culture, Buddhist heritage and incredibly friendly people make it a safe and fascinating biking destination.
The Andaman Coast cycling tour is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the region. It has many interesting elements from coconut palms, rubber plantations and mangroves to miles and miles of stunning pristine beaches and jungle clad mountains.
The best way of undertaking a cycling tour is through a reputable specialist company such as SpiceRoads who offer a range of cycle tour packages in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Because they are based in Souteast Asia, they have an intimate knowledge of the region which means cyclists experience the very real side of the country.
Getting there is straightforward with Thai Airways. There are daily flights from Dubai to Bangkok and it is just a six-hour hop.
As part of the package, SpiceRoads take care of every detail from meal breaks to accommodation, which throughout the tour is a mix of good quality three- and four-star lodges, all blending seamlessly with the local culture perfectly in tune with the surrounding environment.
Food plays an important role in the SpiceRoads tours. Cycling 100km a day means spent calories need to be replaced. Throughout the day water, fruit and snacks are available in the support vehicle and several stops roadside restaurants and shops are factored in.
Characteristic of the Thai people is the sincere and gracious hospitality experienced at every turn with kitchens along the way immediately springing into action to produce vast quantities of rice, noodles and vegetables to feed 20 people at a moment’s notice.
The daily evening meal is a banquet of traditional Thai food including rice, noodles, seafood and vegetables spring rolls, curries, grills, dumplings, hot and sour soups, stir-fries and delicious salads.
The Andaman Coast tour began in Petchburi just outside Bangkok with a leisurely cycle through rural Thailand past endless paddies and pineapple plantations.
Accommodation for the first night was at the Putahracsa Hua Hin, a low-rise, villa-style boutique property built and run by an interior designer. It is minimalist in design with wooden floors, white-washed bathrooms, balconies to every room surrounding a large central swimming pool.
Following a substantial breakfast, the group – escorted by three vehicles and two local riders all the way – headed out of Hua Hin the next day towards Prachuap Khiri Khan, passing the Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand’s first marine national park covering an area of 98.08 sqkm and straddling mountains that rise along the long Andaman Sea coast.
Our second day wrapped up at the Hadthong Hotel in the delightful town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, which translates as ‘Land of many mountains’, stemming from the range lying near Burma. The beaches here are superb.
Despite gloomy forecasts, the weather remained in our favour with storms trailing in our wake as we headed off the next morning for Ban Krut. Our overnight stay was at the Baanklangaow Beach Resort on one of the prettiest beaches in the country. The palm-fringed soft sandy beaches and gently swaying hammocks were a welcome respite after the day’s challenging ride and the tin roofed wooden bungalows nestled amidst tropical palms provided comfortable authentic Thai style accommodation.
The next day the group enjoyed a peaceful ride along side roads to Chumphon on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand and the gateway to other southern provinces. The accommodation for the night was in the environmentally friendly rooms at the Chumphon Cabana Resort & Diving Centre.
Day five saw an abrupt change of scenery as we headed across country to the west coast. Leaving behind the beaches we passed through spectacular jungle-clad mountains towards Ranong, crossing the Kra Isthmus – the narrow strip of land that connects the Malay Peninsula with the mainland of Asia. The east part of the landbridge belongs to Thailand, the west part belongs to Myanmar.
Thanks to some clever planning by the organisers we were delighted to spend the night in a spa town complete with hot springs. The four-star Royal Princess, in the commercial district of Ranong, in south-west Thailand, held a key attraction: an outdoor Jacuzzi that is replenished daily with fresh hot-spring mineral water from the source. The spring water contains certain trace minerals believed to relieve aches and pains and cure certain illnesses. Dinner that night was a special Chinese broth supposed to provide strength for the cyclists which apparently required a boiling time of six hours!
The Ranong to Kharaburi leg the following day provided some spectacular verdant views at every bend in the road with acres and acres of trees surrounding the rolling hills. The perfect end to a lovely day came in the form of the exquisitely designed Kuraburi Greenview Resort. The traditional Thai welcome was evident at the door which is a one hundred year old woodcarving of the God of Happiness. This charming new resort consists of 35 air-conditioned chalets surrounded by tropical rain forest. The rooms blend rustic materials with modern comforts and the slate tiled bathrooms have amazing waterfall cascade showers.
Continuing our cycle through the valleys we headed south next day towards Khao Lak. Our arrival there was especially poignant as Khao Lak was one of the worst hit areas of the tsunami. Today, the region has managed to rebuild its tourism product to restore it to a semblance of its former glory.
Following a lavish barbecue dinner on the beach hosted by the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Southern Region, our accommodation for the night was at the stunning Khao Lak Paradise Resort. We were honoured to be the first group to stay at this hotel since its opening after the post-tsunami renovation. Aptly named, this resort comprises just 30 palm-roofed villas nestling in a delightful natural jungle setting.
The last leg of the tour took us to the tropical island of Phuket, Thailand’s largest island crossing a bridge from mainland Thailand to the island. Our hotel accommodation for the last night was at the newly renovated Movenpick Resort and Spa Karon Beach. This is a stuning property with sprawling gardens, three pools and of course an enviable beachside location. The bungalow-style rooms are very comfortable with large, welcome beds and a large bathroom with outdoor showers.
(Thomas Tapken is general manager and regional manager, Dubai, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. He travelled with a team led by Wolfgang Hohman, general manager of Wolfi’s Bike Shop, Dubai)