The True Colours of BangkokCycling down a suburban back street of Bangkok with four other bike enthusiasts on a humid morning without any other tourists in sight is something I never thought I’d be doing, but there I was wondering how I’d survive the day’s crazy little adventure.
If you look up the top attractions or things to do in Bangkok, back street bike riding tours are definitely not on top of the list.
I’d always wanted to do a Bangkok pushbike tour, but I never envisaged I’d complete it in one piece. Given it’s one of the most populated and busiest cities in the world, I couldn’t imagine where a pushbike tour could possibly take us without seriously jeopardising our safety.
While researching tours and itineraries, my ears pricked up at one particular tour’s bold headline. ‘The Colours of Bangkok’ tour promised we’d see parts of Bangkok that tourists typically wouldn’t visit, that we’d ride through narrow laned neighbourhoods, stop off at a kindergarten that relies on donations from the tour company to keep its doors open, and take in river crossings and a green part of Bangkok that I had no idea existed.
A few minutes into the five- hour tour, our guide, four other riders and I were stuck in morning peak hour traffic on a busy Bangkok main road and I was thinking that ‘The Colours of Bangkok’ bike tour was actually quite crap. It certainly wasn’t living up to its bold marketing. It was more like the ‘Unimpressive Colours of a Million Cars and the Taste of Exhaust Emissions’ tour!
I was cursing to myself as we hugged the gutters and was grate- ful that it was peak hour and the cars had slowed down to a standstill. After 10 minutes of moving at snail’s pace we made a left hand turn detour and instantly found ourselves in the backstreet bowels of Bangkok. Things were finally
We were soon riding down an empty narrow street that looked like an abandoned housing estate that had never been completed. The only sign of life was one little disheveled food stall and its elderly owner waiting for her first customer of the day.
The road quickly turned into a dirt track, which we pedalled along until we entered what appeared to be an abandoned underground train walkway. We cycled onwards and five minutes later emerged back out into the sunlight before riding on through one of Bangkok’s poorer neighbourhoods.
It was interesting to witness the living conditions, and this Westerner certainly felt a long way from Sydney. The path we were riding on was barely wide enough for our bikes to navigate – the homes were so close together you’d be able to hear your neighbour’s moths fluttering around a lightbulb. Inside, tiny little dilapidated rooms are home to multigenerational families who all cram in together.
Outdoor kitchens with meat sitting uncovered in the Thai heat and humidity made me shudder a little as my stomach did backflips thinking of the origins of the street food I’d no doubt indulge in later in the night.
What was extremely noticeable in these parts of town is that while the people are very poor here, they’re still incredibly friendly – everybody we passed welcomed us with smiles and a friendly Thai greeting of sawadee khrup (hello).
Along one of the tiny laneways we stopped to visit a local kindergarten, where dozens of little kids greeted us with happy faces and waves as the teachers got them singing and exercising. Seeing so many gorgeous children smiling as one gave me hope that this was the beginning of a bright future for them.
After getting off our bikes to walk for a while in order to squeeze through the exceptionally narrow lanes, we were soon back in the saddle riding towards what the brochures described as the ‘green lungs of the city’.
To get to this hidden oasis, we first had to negotiate the magnificent Chao Phraya River. Our transport across – which I’d describe as a rickety, long, narrow, unstable wooden canoe (known as a long-tail boat) – looked like a death trap, but once we were on board with our bikes it was a relatively safe and comfortable journey.
For the next couple of hours our bike ride saw us head to wider tree-lined streets with minimal traffic and narrow raised pathways shaded by coconut palms and banana trees. The ride was exciting, and although I was carrying excess weight due to my gluttonous love for Thai food (especially sticky rice with mango) and hampered by a crook knee, I was still able to keep up comfortably with every- one thanks to the flat terrain and comfortable pace.
We rode past a giant golden Buddha and numerous Buddhist temples before continuing on to a wonderfully serene park and lake where we fed some of the largest carp I have ever seen and snacked on arguably the best Pad Thai I have ever eaten.
As we slowly made our way back via the river to where we started our journey, I had time to reflect on the most unexpected and surprisingly adventurous pushbike tour of one of Asia’s craziest cities. I doubt there’s a better way to experience Bangkok’s true colours.
Bangkok Biking/ Colours of Bangkok
+66 (0) 2 107 2500
How to get there
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel
(02) 9371 8166