Thailand is a beautiful country with incredible people. I was fortunate enough to live there for nearly two years! During my time in Thailand I did thousands of kilometers of cycling. In fact, I could count on one hand the amount of times I used a taxi service to get around town. I even cycled to the airport! Some people are shocked when I tell them this and they ask, “How safe is cycling in Thailand?” I think there are a few misconceptions about cycling safety in Thailand that I need to clear up. There are also some valid concerns, which I will talk about as well.
The best way to explain what the traffic is like in Thailand, is controlled chaos. It is manic! I have only ever experienced something similar in other parts of Asia, but never anywhere else in the world. There are so many cars, motorbikes and other bicycles on the road! By other bicycles I mean local Thai people commuting to and from work, not other road cyclist who are out training. Here is a photo I found online which is pretty much what the street looks like in a busy city in Thailand, during just about any time of the day:
It is hard to believe that this scene could be safe for cyclist, but it is. I do not know what it is like cycling in your home town, but I can tell you that if the road looked like this where I live, then cycling would be a game of Russian Roulette. The difference in Thailand? People know how to drive. I find the Thai drivers and motorbike users to be incredibly skilled and also extremely patient. Cyclist are seen as respected road users, just like anyone else on the road, which is not the case everywhere in the world. In Thailand there is no road rage, at least not from what I have seen. I am sure you could find a few isolated incidents, but from my personal experience cycling and living in one of the busiest city’s in Thailand, I find the Thai drivers to be some of the best in the world.
I remember cycling back from a restaurant one day and I suddenly heard this loud honk behind me. It was a type of “Get the F%&@ off the road!” honk I have become accustomed to in South Africa. In Thailand this is not common, so I was quite shocked when it happened. When the guy who honked drove past me, I saw it was a foreigner on a motorbike. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Outside of the bigger cities, you will find an abundance of traffic free country roads. If you live in the North of Thailand, which is what I recommend for cyclist, you will spend the majority of your time training on beautifully smooth and quiet roads in the mountains. It may take 10-20 minutes of cycling in the traffic to get there, but it will be worth it.
Since motorbikes technically fall under “traffic” listed above, there is not much more I will say here. I will note that you need to look out for motorbikes who pull out onto the road unannounced. This happens all the time in Thailand. Generally speaking, all that happens is you slam the breaks and no harm means no foul. What you want to avoid is looking down at the ground and not seeing when a motorbike pulls out onto the road. Always look up and pay attention while cycling in Thailand. This actually goes for anywhere in the world. Also, do not test the speed limit of your bicycle when you are going downhill. If a motorbike pulls out onto the road, and you are going so fast that you do not have enough time to stop or to swerve out of the way, it is going to be a CRASH, boom, bam! I will talk more about this in a second.
Forget about the traffic in Thailand, a far bigger safety concern for cyclist are the wild dogs! There are so many of them. You will not encounter as many wild dogs if you cycle in the big city, but once you head out into the country side you will definitely see some. I have never had a wild dog attack me in Thailand. I have heard of it happening to friends of mine, but that is about it. What will often happen is that the dogs will bark at you and run after you (or your bike) while you are cycling. This can be a serious problem if you are busy descending and a dog decides to run out onto the road. This has happened to me before!
I think we have all seen the horrifying images of dogs running in front of a charging peloton at the Tour de France. It never ends well. The only suggestion I can give here, is that you take it easy while riding downhill in Thailand. There is only so much you can do if you are going fast downhill and a dog runs out onto the road. After a few gnarly incidents with dogs on the road in Thailand, I decided to cap my downhill speed at 50km/h. I can not tell you what to do, but I will say that going fast downhill in Thailand is an accident waiting to happen.
Is it safe to go cycling in Thailand?
Like I said, the drivers are respectful in Thailand. It is very rare for a driver to pass you too close. For example, you will not have a driver squeeze pass you, because he or she is too impatient to wait a few seconds until it is safe to do so. I really love this about the Thai drivers. It would be great if it was possible to bottle up the patience and mild mannered temperament of the Thai drivers and force feed it to road users elsewhere in the world.
So yes, cycling in Thailand is safe. You need to pay attention, because there are a lot of cars and motorbikes on the road. Also, the wild dogs in the country side are a concern to cyclist. If you keep your head up and you do not take unnecessary risks by going fast downhill, you are going to be more than fine while cycling in Thailand… in fact, you are going to love it!