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10 Tips of Riding a Bicycle In the Land Of Smiles

If you are thinking of bringing a bike or renting a bicycle in Thailand, the roads here are not lined with gold, more like potholes. Here are a few tips that come from my years of cruising on the sun baked roads and trails of Thailand.

1) Like in nature there is no such thing as a vacuum for long on the streets of Chiang Mai, if there is an empty spot it will be filled with a moving or stopped car or motorcycle.

2) Moving slowly for the first week, gets you into the easy attitude of the Thai people, and lets you see how the traffic responds to you. Most of the locals have parents that still ride bikes daily, if only to the markets. There is a lot of respect for you (or fear of the farang) while on a bike; the traffic moving in organized chaos, it will easily flow over all sides of you. You will find that there are many other riders older and slower than you at all times of the day.

3) When you move in to a higher speed you are competing with the motorcycles and become an unpredictable traffic hazard, they do not plan on you moving fast. Most of the traffic here flows like a river moving around slower objects absorbing them then moving on.

4) Start your riding off the rush hour grid and in the many paved lanes that are like spider webs circling the Thai wats and old city centers. If you are jet lagged, go for a ride. Thailand is very good at protecting its tourist industry and I have found that riding at night is a nice way to get around in the coolness of the evening, and never threatening.

5)  Thai Intersections are a amazing world, anything goes. Treat every traffic light, stop sign, and corner with much caution. There are seldom any speeding violations given out, and I have never heard of a ticket for running a light. People run all red lights and stop signs. If they see someone blocking them they will stop. Do not be the first out on a green light, there is always someone running the opposite red light. When coming to a yellow do not slam on the brakes, or take a quick look behind you if you do, again you can count on someone running the yellow and they expect you to run it too. They will run right over you. Many times I am forced to run a light because there is a car coming full tilt on my butt trying to make the light. Watch out, it is a very common occurrence.

6) Thailand doesn’t have an alcohol problem, they have lots to drink.  I have never even heard that Thailand has a Breathalyzers. So that encourages drivers not to worry about a few extra shots or beers. If you are riding at night (or anytime) , keep an eye out for the drunk driver, there are lots of them out there.

7) They have great bike lanes here; the only problem is they are used as parking lanes for cars. If you are in a bike lane out on the highways keep an eye out for passing cars coming into your lane from the opposite direction. I have seen cars passing two cars abreast, which means they need your space to pass in. Remember, there is no such thing as a vacuum on Thai streets.

8) Be ready at all times for the persons coming at you from the opposite direction in your lane. This is a common experience to have all types of motorcycles using the bike lane or any empty space as an easy return route. (Especially on one way roads) Just slow down, most of the people doing it know they are doing something dumb and move farther over

9) The biggest and stupidest wins in Thailand. If the vehicle is bigger than you, then you are expected to go into the dirt if he wants your space. Lines mean nothing, be prepared to move over if you see two busses passing one another. This is mostly the norm;

10) Finally I come to the highway blues. Around mid day on a hot afternoon while doing a daily ride along one of the local highways I was passed by tour bus, speeding along at 100kms an hour.  I awaited the blast of warm air, but was surprised to feel a cool mist as he passed me. I suddenly sadly realized waste management was high on the list for this Thai bus company and I was covered in a fine blue water, very refreshing. A long shower as soon as I got home, made me good as new.

If you’re lucky enough to be riding in Chiang Mai or most parts of the land of smiles prepare for some out of the ordinary riding. Take your time, give in to all of the stuff that is thrown at you and watch out for the potholes, they come in all sizes and shapes and are not always on the road.

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