A guided, fully supported cycling tour has been on my “to do” list for more than a decade. Over that time I have looked at various companies offering tours to Europe but always decided against an organized tour due to cost. Paying $600 per day for a guided tour offended my sense of what is reasonable. I did take several self-guided cycling trips to Europe and fell in love with the Riccione Bike Hotels which cater to independent cyclists. While enjoyable, it was not the same as a fully supported tour so I continued to browse cycling magazines and the Internet looking for the right tour. That is how I stumbled upon SpiceRoads Cycle Tours.
They looked interesting but I was a little suspicious. First, who bicycles in Thailand? I quickly learned that Thailand is becoming a bicycling mecca. While Europe is buried in winter snow, Chiang Mai offers long climbs and warm weather. Second, how could SpiceRoads offer so much at such a low price? I searched through every resource I could find looking for negatives but all the reviews were positive. With some encouragement from my wife, I signed up for a tour. I have just completed a 10 day/9 night trip and I can tell you that SpiceRoads is better than advertised.
I selected the Bangkok to Phuket ride which actually starts outside Bangkok and ends outside Phuket proper. The quality was evident on day one with the support team picking me up at the hotel on time which given Bangkok traffic is no small accomplishment. We joined other riders, guides and support team members in Petchaburi. In quick order, our bikes were prepared, adjustments made, instructions given, and we started what would be some 500 miles of riding.
The “we” included 15 riders from 7 different countries. It also included our guides Aum and Bottle, Thai natives who knew the roads and how to keep us organized as a group. Rin and Suwat, our drivers, who always made sure we had fresh fruit, sticky rice, cold water, sports drink, and more for our breaks and never lost us. I did miss a turn one day and road an extra 3-4 miles but Suwat found me and had me back on track before I even realized I was lost.
The hotels were excellent. Some such as the Putahrachsa and the Apsaras can easily be described as luxury hotels. The Kuraburi Greenview Resort was a stunningly beautiful example of what can be accomplished with eco-tourism. One or two hotels could be fairly described as a little dated but the splendid views and excellent service more than made up for any minor shortcomings in the accommodations.
The food was fabulous. You can see my last blog post for a summary of the food. I especially appreciated that we often stopped in local restaurants and small cafes that were not the norm for Western tourists. We were supporting local businesses while dining like royalty. I would take the tour again just to eat the great local food.
The biggest surprise for me was the quality of the roads and the politeness of the drivers. The highways all have very wide shoulders and were far superior to what I am accustomed to in the US. The secondary roads were in good condition with few cars. We did past through some road construction but it was not extreme. Not a single driver gave me a one-finger salute, cursed at me, or screamed at me to get off the road. One dog did bark at me.
The overall experience was probably as close as I will ever come to knowing what it is like to ride for a professional team. Hotels, meals, support, and energy breaks were all taken care of by SpiceRoads so that all I had to do was ride my bike and enjoy the vacation. I don’t think I had to fill my water bottle even once during the trip.
I will post more about the trip tomorrow. For now, I am already thinking about taking a second trip with SpiceRoads in December 2016 to either Northern Thailand or to Vietnam to cycle the Ho Chi Minh Highway. You should join me.