It’s worth the bike miles in the Land of Smiles.
Tuks Tuks, rooftop bars, street-side Pad Thai, backpacker mecca Khaosan Road and temples galore; these sights may embody Bangkok but to gain a different perspective, hop on a bike. The pedal power is worth the leg work as exploring Bangkok’s back alleys, local neighbourhood gems, canals and hidden jungles offers a unique insight into the city and local Thai life.
For all the times I had been to Bangkok, I thought I had seen it all. That was until I hopped on a yellow Dutch bike with ten others and saw it from an insider’s perspective. It was a great re-introduction to this sprawling metropolis, to tackle its urban maze lead by a local guide and venturing to places that are usually inaccessible to the ordinary tourist. Soon I would be exposed to the city’s elaborate labyrinth, navigating its many villages, from local riverside life to Bangkok’s ode to Shanghai.
Pedalling through Chinatown proved to be the most stimulating district, with commotion and vivid colour all around. Waves of spiced aromas arouse the senses before you even set sights on the small clouds of smoke that billow from its street food vendor woks. The smells are intense. The view of authentic Thai street eats, drool-worthy. It can sometimes feel like you have ridden to China itself with the amount of bustle and sizzle all around.
Within a few minutes on the bike, a new neighbourhood also meant a unique cultural scene. We were back pedalling amongst Bangkok’s inner-city commotion until we found respite. Taking the boat along the Chao Praya River was an excellent way to break up the tour and have a breather (and to rest the feet for a short bit). Every day, thousands of people travel along the river which ribbons through the city centre and beyond. Once off the main waterway, we were exploring the 19th Century dubbed, “Venice of the East.”
Bangkok has an extensive canal network that crisscrosses the city, weaving modernity and life of a bygone era. Although the canals are heavily polluted, they provide a great insight into local life with its wood-frame stilted houses, and unassuming buildings fringing each side. We spent over an hour on board a longboat with our bikes in tow, slowly snaking through Bangkokyaii and Chak Phra canals and seizing infectious smiles from locals. No wonder why Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles.
The craziness of Bangkok was soon left behind, and we hopped back on our bikes and ventured into Bangkok’s rural plantations. I didn’t think Bangkok and the word tranquil ever went hand in hand, but here for a brief moment, riding through a lush, verdant jungle, it did. Bangkok’s hidden green oasis is a world away from its inner-city soundtrack of sirens, horns and clamour.
Back into Bangkok, the tour ventured to another peaceful place – Wat Kanlaya, in the Thon Buri District. The temple is notably known as the home to a 16 m wide and 12 m high Buddha and the home of Thailand’s largest bell. Humorously, before we were allowed to enter the temple, the guide informed us “No sexy in the temple.” Despite Bangkok being hot and sticky more so than a place of sticky mango rice, it is imperative to respect local culture and cover up when entering places of worship.
Soon enough, we needed to refuel. Luckily the guides are onto it as an authentic feast waited in Bang Phrom district. Sitting canal side, the group tucked into local dishes including chilli chicken, sautéed vegetables, and a pork broth soup that was worth every slurp.
Heading back to where it all began was a bit of a mission, combating Bangkok’s sudden downpour. Luckily, the group was now all equipped with plastic ponchos to really stand out from the crowd and looking ever so plastic fantastic.
To say that we all were wet by the last leg of the tour was an understatement, but I took it in my stride. Despite being caught in the rain, it just added to the overall thrill of riding through Bangkok, which was one hell of a ride!
Co Van Kessel – Co combo 5-hour bicycle and boat tour.
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Julia was a guest of Co Van Kessel, and all thoughts and opinions are of her own.