Cycling Hidden Bangkok: Khlong Toey and Bang Kra Jao

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.

hidden Bangkok
The ABC Afternoon tour group. Source: ABC Biking

Khlong Toey

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.

Khlong Toey
Khlong Toey

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.

Khlong Toey
Khlong Toey

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.

Khlong Toey
Street food in Khlong Toey slums

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.

hidden bangkok
Cross the Chap Phraya river. Source: ABC Biking

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.

Bang Kra Jao
I think I almost fell into a canal seconds after this was taken. Source: ABC Biking

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.

Bang Kra Jao
The cycling paths on Bang Kra Jao

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.

Bang Kra Jao
Cycling in Bang Kra Jao. Source: ABC Biking

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.

Bang Kra Jao
A Bang Kra Jao selfie!

The Tour

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

24 thoughts on “Cycling Hidden Bangkok: Khlong Toey and Bang Kra Jao

  1. David says:

    Wow, that’s a very different side to Bangkok than I saw! Admittedly, I mostly stuck to the tourist parts while I had a break from travelling. While not an avid cyclist, I definitely spent more time on a bike on my SE Asia trip than I had in years. Those narrow paths remind me of the ones I rode on in Tam Coc, Vietnam.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      David, I was as surprised as you are! It was a fantastic way to get away from the city for a few hours. There is something about cycling in Asia that just appeals to me! Tam Coc looks absolutely stunning too!

  2. Garth says:

    Great post, as much as we love sightseeing I like reading about places away from the tourist sights, must have been a great experience. The lush greenery of Bang Kra Jao looks beautiful, as you say very different to the urban sights of Bangkok we’re used to, I had no idea about this place, and will look it up if we have another stopover in Bangkok. Thanks for sharing.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Garth, it was really nice to cycle through it and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Really glad I did the tour!

  3. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    I absolutely loved this post and it’s spot-on perfect for my forthcoming trip! I have been to Bangkok before as a backpacker but was always very much a tourist, that’s why this is such a good read; because when I return I can do this trip and get to know the hidden side of Bangkok … I would very much like that! I am a bit of a numpty though so I am unsure how I will fare along the canal cycle path, I best take is slow at the back juuuust in case. Thank you for sharing such a fabulous story, pinned to my Thailand board for the future! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Angie, its so beautiful that sometimes you forget to look where you’re going, which could be a big mistake here! I’m surprised I didn’t end up in that canal! Highly recommend this tour!

  4. Lisa says:

    Great way to get around and see things outside the city and with less tourist. Looks like you had a fun bunch to go with so I’m sure that made even more nice. I like that a ferry took you to the other areas to ride, added adventure. Would love to see the wild birds!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      The heat can be pretty tough but as long as you keep well hydrated and have sun protection, you’ll be fine! You will have an amazing time!

  5. ThriftyTrails says:

    I didn’t even know this part of Bangkok existed! We have yet to do a cycling tour when we travel, we tend to walk more than anything. I think that’s partly due to the fact that I haven’t been on a bike for over 20 years! Next time we’re in a bicycle friendly area I’ll look into this form of transport.

  6. Anna says:

    This looks like such a terrific way to see Bangkok. I love the part where you cycled through the farmlands. I didn’t even know such places existed within Bangkok! I didn’t love Bangkok too much because of all the noise and crowdedness of the city. Escaping into the greenery sounds like such a treat!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Anna, agreed – Bangkok is not for everyone but I was glad to see that there are other parts to it that are completely different! It was very rewarding!

  7. Elisabeth Caraballo says:

    Great post! I would love to take a cycling tour one day. Looks like fun! Getting away from the touristy areas are a nice thing to do sometimes. I do enjoy being out and about among locals and being immersed in their culture. 🙂

  8. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) says:

    How exciting to see such a vast contrast in Bangkok. Places that I never saw and would have loved to see. Great idea to take this bike tour. I would definitely take this tour on my next stop to Bangkok. I bet it was hard to take photos and ride a bike… biking by so much interesting places I would have wanted to stop every few minutes. Glad you survived and did not fall in the Canal. I’ll pin for later use. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I just kept stopping to take photos and then tried to catch up with everyone. They kept stopping to wait for me as they couldn’t see me! I couldn’t believe the contrast myself!

  9. Kreete says:

    That was such a great read once again! When travelling, I always like to see the contrast of the touristy areas and how the real people live. It’s a shame about the slums and how people have to get by, but as you said they still smile! It is very inspiring and makes me reevaluate some of the things in my own life. It’s great you try and stay active on your travels and I am glad you shared your experience with us! Definitely a diferent SEA.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thank you – and it was one of the most interesting trips I have taken in Thailand. Definitely recommend it – especially if you like being active!

  10. Jenn says:

    I love that you got to see so many different aspects of the city! We’ve done some rides on a few of our recent trips and I love the opportunity they provide with seeing a different side of things. But, I’m not too sure about the narrow alleyways or canals you took on your tour. I get wobbly on bikes in tight spaces and fall!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I definitely almost found myself in the canal a few times! I am not good in those narrow spaces either! It’s a stunning ride though!

  11. SamH Travels says:

    2 wheels is definitely a great way to get around and see things. It looks like you really made good use of your time and it’s great to see place of the tourist trail. Thank you for showing us another side to Bangkok 🙂

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