Words: Jill Varley
It’s challenging enough to keep your equilibrium in check in a taxi or motorised Tuk-Tuk through the streets of Bangkok, let alone get behind the wheel of a car. So navigating this metropolis on a bike is not for the fainthearted. Especially when you consider that this is a city where two million vehicles cram onto the roads and the daytime population rises to more than nine million.
The trick to cycling here I was told is to do it on the back roads and at the right time of day. Not knowing what constitutes the right time of day and indeed which roads to take I sought the advice of the concierge at the Shangri-la Hotel where I was staying. He recommended Dutchman Co Van Kessel’s company Bangkok Bicycle Tours “they know the city like the back of their hand,” he assured.
When Co started his business he had a hunch the city wasn’t all about gridlocked traffic, concrete towers, and choking pollution so he made it his goal to re-discover Bangkok. What he found lurking between the main urban thoroughfares was a vast network of local streets, alleyways, footpaths and canals – hidden worlds of peace and tranquillity, largely unknown to outsiders.
The beauty of cycling in Bangkok, confronting traffic notwithstanding, is the city is as flat a pancake and so it makes any real effort a breeze.
We started from the Grand China Princess Hotel in Samphantawong escorted by experienced and knowledgeable guides who wear distinctive yellow baseball caps. Their bright colour makes them easy to identify and are waved in an assertive manner to stop traffic so the group can scurry single file across a busy road. I start the adventure a mite wobbly as we headed into the narrow laneways of Chinatown, my right foot ready as a foot brake to stop me falling into the steaming woks of breakfasting locals.
After the colour, movement and the potential pitfalls of Chinatown we cycled to the Chao Phraya River and board a waiting ferry which took us to the other side of the river. Back on our trusty ‘steeds’, we rode along narrow elevated boards, criss-cross canal villages, drove through the courtyard of a temple and watched as a Buddhist monk in saffron robes brought food to a gathering of stray dogs and cats. Two hours later we were back where we started with all body parts intact and feeling particularly lightheaded at having survived the experience.
To book a Bangkok Cycling Tour, talk to your travel agent or call 1300 640 373.