Those that have been following my updates on Facebook would know that I have become somewhat of a keen cyclist on my latest trip to Thailand. Not because I cycle at home – I don’t even own a bike – but because I like being active on my travels and think that exploring on two wheels is one of the best ways to get a feel for a place.
So despite cycling over 100 km in the previous few days, I was soon booking yet another bike trip. We were due to head to Koh Chang the following day and I felt like I needed to do something with our unexpected day off in Bangkok. Our hostel was very helpful and made a few suggestions, including a half day afternoon tour with Amazing Bangkok Cyclist (ABC). I only had just over an hour until the tour started, so I quickly paid and headed to the Skytrain station where I caught the train to Phra Kanong and walked a few minutes to ABC’s offices.
We were met by the owner, Michiel Hoes, and our guide for the afternoon, Marcel. They were very friendly and were genuinely interested in everyone’s backgrounds. After a cold drink and a briefing, we headed downstairs to pick our bikes. I went for the mountain bike as I’ve used these on previous trips, while the others went for city bikes.
After testing the bikes on the quiet street outside the office, we were ready to head out. Marcel navigated the web of streets and alleyways of Khlong Toey like an expert as we passed huge flower pots outside shop fronts, pedalled past racks of fish drying in the afternoon sun and waved at shoemakers working on sidewalks outside their homes.
This was real Bangkok, away from the tourist crowds, everyday life unfolding right in front of our eyes. We tried to take it all in – the sights, sounds and smells enveloping us from all sides. Dogs barked as we passed by, fresh meat cooked over a grill on roadside food carts and elderly women flashed their toothless smiles at us.
We rode over canals, past clothes lines hanging outside ramshackle wooden homes and through Khlong Toey market, where locals were busy selling fresh meat and vegetables to shoppers.
The scenery changed quickly as we cycled underneath an elevated highway, the rumble of traffic above us. We were entering the Khlong Toey slum, the largest in Bangkok. We rode along abandoned cars and piles of trash and metal before crossing a set of railway tracks.
Marcel took us through a series of narrow alleyways, barely wide enough for our bikes to fit through. Music could be heard coming from living rooms, their windows looking straight out onto the path. Residents prepared food that they sold from stalls outside their homes and clothes dried on walls and ledges.
This is one of the poorest areas of the city, yet locals were still friendly and smiled and greeted us. The contrast between the area and the glittering mega malls only a few kilometres away on Sukhumvit Road was staggering. I’ve seen a few things written online about this area and the hard work that goes on to support the communities in the slums by dedicated volunteers. They include Father Joe Maier, an American priest who has been helping people in the area through his Mercy Center for many years. If you are interested in finding out more about the area and maybe helping out, visit Mercy Center’s website.
Bang Kra Jao
We emerged out of the slum and made our way to the banks of the Chao Phraya where a longboat was waiting to take us across the water to Bang Kra Jao, an oasis in the city not renowned for its greenery.
We cycled along farmland and plantations before turning off the main road and navigating a series of elevated concrete paths, turning at right angles and making our way through the heart of the area. Trees hung over us and we sometimes had to duck to avoid branches hitting us in the face. I slowed down to avoid a pretty big drop into the canals that often appeared on either side of the path, carrying water to the farms.
It was hard to believe that we were still in Bangkok. The difference between this idyllic, green piece of land and the skyscrapers and chaos of the city only across the river was incredible. We spotted wild birds, lizards and tropical vegetation as we zigzagged through what feels like an island, but is actually a peninsula round which Chao Phraya bends.
There are people living in the area who commute to Bangkok – I don’t blame them for choosing this beautiful place as their home base. It really couldn’t be further removed from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok!
We soon stopped for a drinks break at a local café – the heat was making it difficult to ride and we were already covered in sweat. Cooling down with a bottle of ice cold water was exactly what we needed!
Marcel managed to drag us back on the bikes and we rode a while longer, navigating a few more paths. My balance clearly needs work as only a last-second save from a Portuguese guy on the trip saved me and the bike from a dip in the canal.
After a few more turns, we emerged back by the river and waited as the longboat pulled up to take us back to the other side. We loaded our bikes and made the short crossing, a cool breeze carrying the smells of the city towards us. We cycled back along busy roads, weaving in and out of rush hour traffic and already longing for another cool drink. Our wishes were soon fulfilled as we pulled up back at ABC’s offices, tired but still buzzing from our look into Bangkok’s hidden treasures.
What: I joined the ABC Afternoon Tour which runs daily from 1-5pm. ABC Biking offer a number of cycling tours for all ages and abilities. Visit http://www.realasia.net/. Prices from ฿1300
Where: 10/5-7, SUKHUMVIT ROAD SOI 26. Nearest BTS station: Phrom Phong. Click here for directions