Cycling in Ban Kra Jao

Exploring the 'Bangkok jungle' on two wobbly wheels

Such inspiration is rare on Sunday mornings but my wife, sister-in-law and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn, take advantage of Bangkok's cooler weather and get out and about on two wheels. To the Ban Kra Jao district, east of Bangkok and about a thirty-minute drive from Samut Prakarn. It's an area known as 'The Bangkok Jungle' and a great favourite for cyclists, walkers and nature lovers alike.

Our starting point was Bang Nam Pheung floating market (except not very much seems to float) and one of several shops in the vicinity that rents out clapped-out bicycles for 20 baht an hour or 80 baht for the whole day (I don't suppose you can expect top of the range mountain bikes for that kind of dough) We had got the name of the shop from a Thai website and given them a call in advance. "Yes, we rent out bikes. Oh and we also open at four in the morning"

With the gift of hindsight, it wasn't necessary to traipse deep into the bowels of such a busy market to hire out three bicycles; there are other rental shops in far more accessible locations such as next to Bang Nam Pheung's main car-park.

We shouldn't have taken the map either. The shop we hired bikes from very kindly gave us a sheet of A4 paper with the nearest bike trails and areas of interest marked on it. The map proved woefully inadequate and we ditched it before we'd even reached the first T-junction.

After the three of us had wobbled down the main road - with dodgy brakes, no mirrors, no protective cycling gear and cars and lorries roaring past - we made an early pit stop at one of the numerous coffee shops. My wife, as she usually does, chose the one with the cutest 'welcome' sign. I sat down just relieved to have survived the first leg of the journey.

"Do you know what happens if someone knocks over a cyclist in these parts?" I told my two companions. "If no one's seen the accident, they just bury your body in a clearing in the forest. That's after the village headman has flogged off your vital organs for beer money. Honestly. Big Tony told me."

The coffee shop was packed with cyclists. I don't mean the part-time pretenders like us, on bikes with shopping baskets. I mean the ones who are head to foot in purple lycra and love nothing more than standing around in small groups and pointing at each other's machines. Then another cyclist parks up and the group start pointing at his machine. It's fascinating to watch.

Because the coffee shop was busy, our drinks took an age to arrive. We were in a queue of about fifty. I wanted to ask the staff how they found the weather in Brazil at this time of year but thought better of it. And what are hardcore cycling enthusiasts doing sitting around sipping lattes anyway? I thought they just took a few sips of water from a front-mounted drinks canister and then got their heads down in those funny-shaped helmets to pound out another fifty kilometres!

However, the cloud was not without a silver lining and a cycling club member (he even had gloves on) overheard the three of us admitting we were lost and clueless so he gave us his expert advice on which biking trail to follow. "Just head for the temple" he said "and you'll pick up the cycle route there"

I don't really mean to have a pop at cyclists either. Far from it. Back in the UK, in my twenties, I biked 30 kilometres to work and back every single day - come rain, come shine. My word how I miss it! 

Once we were back on track, we had a whale of a time. We rode through ramshackle villages where grubby children waved, roadside drink vendors beckoned for us to stop for light refreshment and stray dogs just stood there looking bewildered. It was an altogether wonderful slice of Thai life.

We criss-crossed canals and mangrove plantations (did you see that! That was definitely a croc) and we stopped off at a Siamese Fighting Fish Museum (only worth it for the fresh coconut juice)

Finally, we ended up at the excellent Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park. Who would believe such a peaceful and green oasis would exist in such a heavily populated part of the country? Go now before the condo developers move in. Anyway, the park had rivers, lakes and even a bird-watching tower. And it was free to get in! What a marvellous way to spend a Sunday.

We decided that four hours in the saddle was enough. Well, I suppose it was my backside that had the final say. And we wheeled our bicycles back to the shop in the middle of the Bang Nam Pheung Market, which by now (midday) was heaving with locals enjoying what remained of the Bangkok Vegetarian Food Festival. We settled for three plates of pig's leg over rice.

A cyclist needs his protein. 


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