Serial cyclist and blogger Jack Thompson, of Jackcyclesfar gave up the 9 to 5 life in 2015, deciding instead to pursue his passion for ultra-distance cycling and adventuring around the globe on two wheels.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand invited Jack to join the Great Mekong Bike Ride to provide valuable feedback on this endurance cycling challenge and he ended up spending 12 days cycling in both the north and south. Here are a few highlights from his comprehensive blog post chronicling his journey through Thailand.
Having spent an incredible 12 days cycling around northern Thailand earlier this year, when the opportunity presented itself to return to this cycling mecca, I couldn’t help but say ‘yes.’
My most recent travels saw me spend another 12 days in Thailand. The first five days were spent in the North East racing in the official “Great Mekong Bike Ride” which attracts more than 700 riders from around the world. The remaining 7 days were spent touring ancient wonders, historical sites and culturally rich landscapes in the area just north of Bangkok, with good friend and fellow travel guide Sea Keong Loh from Venture Wander Travel.
The Great Mekong Bike Ride
Broken into three stages, the Great Mekong Bike Ride commences in Nakhon Phanom and showcases the very best of the region. Cities such as Sakon Nakhon are lit up with excitement as the race passes through. I guided 15 Australians to the race and we agreed, as a group, that it was the best organised event we have ever participated in.
Some of my favourite things about racing and cycling adventure travel in general, is the cultural immersion that comes from travelling by bike. The people you meet along the way, the fragrant aromas of the local cuisine and the rich market life.
Big grins greeted us at the start and finish of the race and as each racer finished, they were presented with food vouchers, so that they could choose treats from the many food trucks that were there serving us their local cuisine, fresh fruit smoothies and deserts. The camaraderie between the local and international riders was unreal.
After a quick flight back to Bangkok, the second part of my trip began and what a week I was in for!
Ancient Wonders of Bangkok and Ayutthaya
I was collected by my guides Tintin and Patipath, (aircraft mechanics in the Thai Army). We made our way back to the army base in Bangkok and settled in for the night. The following morning, Tintin whipped up a couple of Thai style omelettes and before long we had hit the road for our first day of riding.
Our destination for the day was Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient Capital City. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya is home to many ancient ruins and as we arrived into town, we were greeted by spectacular, colourful stone temples.
The ride itself was 80km in length. Departing Bangkok, although busy, felt incredibly safe. The drivers in Thailand are courteous, unlike that of the western world. There is a sense of urgency, but very little risk is taken. After 20 – 30 km we were out of the mayhem and riding the banks of a small river system en route to our finishing point in Ayutthaya.
There, we visited the floating markets, sampled the famous delicacies and continued to our hostel accommodation, ‘Busaba Ayutthaya Hostel’. Think 5-star New York Hamptons: white wood, lots of greenery and views of the river. If you find yourself in Bangkok and looking for something to do, I would highly recommend Ayutthaya. The city is rich in history and the temples and monuments are brilliantly preserved.
Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai
We commenced our second day of riding on a local velodrome before heading south west towards our destination for the day, Kanchanaburi. Famous amongst backpackers for the huge number of attractions in the surrounding areas, Kanchanaburi is probably most famous for the bridge over the River Kwai – the start of the infamous World War 2 Death Railway to Burma.
Our ride was 100km along predominantly flat roads. It was great chatting with my guide, Patipath as we rolled along the rice fields. That afternoon we explored the war cemetery, the first portion of the Death Railway over The River Kwai and the War Museum. There was so much information to take in, that I would love to visit Kanchanaburi again and spend more time really getting to understand how the tragic events of WW2 unfolded there.
We spent the next day exploring Kanchanaburi by bike and completed 110km through the luscious green landscape. The highlight of the day was visiting the Death Railway. Perched high along the banks of the Mae Klong River, the railway was an impressive feat of engineering constructed long, long ago. The second portion of the day, and our finishing point was the Erawan waterfalls. A spectacular landmark made up of seven, different levelled waterfalls.
Mae Klong Railway Market
For those who haven’t heard of this landmark, it is essentially a street market built on top of railway tracks. What makes it unique is that the railway tracks are still in operation, and every time a train approaches, the stall holders quickly pack up their stalls, allowing the train to sneak through and as soon as the train passes, the markets set up back on the tracks. After a walk along the markets we made our way south to Hua Hin, our destination for the final two nights of the trip.
Hua Hin is a seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand and located 200km south of Bangkok. It is one of the most popular Thai holiday destinations for those living in the country’s capital and home to the best ‘Mango Sticky Rice’ in the country. Hua Hin is like Phuket but nowhere near as busy. There is an array of offerings for tourists such as local craft markets, traditional Thai massage, shopping centres and fitness studios.
The scenery in this part of Thailand is breathtaking. It is completely different to Thailand’s mountainous north. The south is flatter, and the seaside vibes reminded me of being back home on the beach.
In my opinion, a mix of Chiang Rai and Hua Hin is ideal. Mountains for climbing and a somewhat sleepy seaside town for relaxing. Comparing my time in Chiang Rai to my time in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, I can honestly say that both are as brilliant as each other.
Later this year, Jack will be running a series of guided adventures to northern Thailand and in 2019 he will also run a trip from central Bangkok. Contact Jack for more information, and read his full blog post here.