Thailand is the only country we’ll visit this year where I’ve been to before. Initially I wasn’t too keen on revisiting (why go somewhere twice if there are so many other places to discover?), but Dave hasn’t been in Thailand yet, and it just happens to be in the middle of the region we wanted to go. So we cycled a part of Thailand. And it has given me a good understanding of how different travel by bicycle is compared to the more common way of traveling around.
Highlights of a country
When planning a holiday within 1 country, you typically choose a few major destinations (the highlights) and try to connect them as quickly as possible. With a bus, a boat or a domestic flight.
When cycling around, you see where you’ll start (or enter a country) and where you’ll finish (exit the country). You try to find a fluid line between the places of your interest, but you quickly understand that they’re not necessarily close to each other. And a detour of 500km is taking you at least 1 week extra, so you’ll have to make choices and you’re very likely to miss out on some of the country’s highlights. (Unless you have an enormous amount of time of course, like the people from bicyclethailand.com who cycled 9000km in Thailand alone!)
Our ‘limited’ tour of 3 weeks in the south of Thailand. No time to go to Bangkok, River Kwai, the golden triangle in the North, … – more details here
After 3 weeks in Thailand, we can confirm that the prettiest parts we’ve seen were developped for tourism. So travelling around the normal way does show you the best/most impressive locations.
Khao Sok National Park, also a tourist destination and absolutely worth it!
But then, on a bicycle, you get to see more shades of a country. You have time to stop in the middle of the small village, go to the local restaurant and you’ll eat truly local. You potentially see weddings being prepared and experience a local dinner party. You’ll see people doing their laundry and hear kids playing during their lunch break at school. You’ll wander around vast areas of agriculture and learn how people make a living. You’ll see the big fancy houses and you’ll see the simple wooden ones. You’ll experience the heartiness of the locals. You’ll end up celebrating local religious festivities. And you will not have to share these moments with tons of other tourists.
This lady passed us on her motorcycle, went to buy cold drinks, and gave it to us on the side of the road. She didn’t speak a word of English. Haven’t seen this happening yet in touristic areas 😉
We find the contrast between touristic areas and non touristic areas huge! You can taste it in your coffee (instant coffee vs trendy coffee bars), you feel it in all your conversations (outside tourist areas it’s hard to find a Thai who does speak some English, not even in a hotel. Thank you Google Translate for your offline Thai!) and you see it in the people you encounter (for days in a row we only saw friendly Thai smiles).
After a while we could recognise a hotel by the number 24 on the signage – meaning there is a reception that is open 24h/day
You easily recognise a tourist area when hotel signs start to be written in English again and you see other western people (who don’t cheer to you like the rural Thai do 😉
We like the variation
When cycling through a country, you get the best of both. Some days we want to enjoy the perks of a touristic area. But then after a few days we get fed up with the commerciality it comes with, and we’re happy to leave again. But then after a few days in rural areas, being lost in translation, we’re looking forward to a good coffee and an understandeable menu again.
But we also have to admit: 3 weeks in Thailand learned us that cycle touring can be a little boring too. Landscapes don’t change every hour, not even every day. You can be surprised by small unexpected discoveries, but they don’t happen all the time.
One day, the only exciting thing we saw was a siamese banana 🤪
The nice thing however is, that you can daydream (if the road conditions are good enough – in Thailand they were perfect). You can use the time to overthink certain topics, let ideas grow, reflect over the past, and make plans for the future. So to conclude: travelling by bicycle is really ideal for a midlifetrip 😉