Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Phuket Bike Touring

Setting off a lantern on New Year's Eve at Nai Yang Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

Phuket, jewel of Thailand, turns out to be a great launching point for a cycle tour.  While the south of Phuket is awash with tourist traps and tourists, the north is relatively uncrowded.  We started our tour from Nai Yang Beach, which is just a few kilometers south of the airport.  We would suggest you arrange a hotel pick-up and drop-off if you are traveling with your bikes.  Arriving at night on New Year's Eve, we had to make some private arrangement to get ourselves and bikes over to my cousin's house, where we stayed.

The first day from Nai Yang to Khao Lak is about 95km, flat with some rolling terrain at the end.  It's about half on backroads and half on highway.  The backroads are narrow, but traffic is very light.  The traffic on the highway is moderate, but traveling very fast.  However,  there is a 2 meter wide shoulder on highways for cyclists and motorcycles which we stayed comfortably on.

We spent the first night at the Nang Thong Bay Resort.  Highly recommended.  Get a garden view bungalow.  Ours was set just one back from the beach.  If you can afford it, the beach front ones guarantee you an unobstructed view of the sea.  Just a short walk up from the resort into town is a small temple, and next to it is a little massage place that is also highly recommended.  We had dinner at the highly rated Sala Thai Restaurant.  The food was good, but we waited over an hour for food.  Seems normal.  I say either go early, be prepared to wait, or go elsewhere.

Sunset at Nang Thong Beach, Khao Lak.  What a view!  My wife took this shot with her iPhone 5 from just a few meters outside from our Garden Bungalow.

When in Thailand outside the tourist areas, you've got learn to speak a few words of Thai.  Here are some useful phrases:

My Pet - Not too spicy
My One - Not too sweet
Hong Nam - Toilet
Check Bin - Check Please!

Leaving Khao Lak, we proceeded North up the highway for a short bit, then a right turn took us along uncrowded backroads.  Total distance is just 75km, but with a hill at the end.  I used RideWithGPS (click the link to retrieve the GPX files) to plan the ride and upload the course onto my Garmin Edge 800.  The Garmin was new, and I'd never used an uploaded course before, so I had brought my iPad and iPhone as backup GPSs.  That was way too heavy.  See below for lessons learned.

The jungles of Khao Sok was a big change from the beaches of Khao Lak.  I can't really recommend the place we stayed at, but found the tree houses of Our Jungle House enchanting and worth recommending.  They are a bit out of the way, and they don't have hot water or air-conditioning at the the tree houses.  If you can live with those limitations, that would be the place I'd recommend.  We ate at a few restaurants, and found the highly rated Thai Herb Restaurant good but with small portions and not good value.  The restaurant at Our Jungle House turned out to be better value with big portions and good food.

Our Jungle House accommodation at Khao Sok.  Enchanting, but no hot water or air-conditioning.

We had planned a 'rest day' in Khao Sok and decided to spend it biking in the park.  Big mistake.  Turned out to be a pretty strenuous hike-a-bike (see video), and not much to see.  If I were to to it again, I'd arrange with a hotel in Khao Sok to store my bike on arrival, then take me out to Cheow Larn lake and spend the first night in a raft house on the lake.  I'd spend my rest day doing the lake tour, and then arrive back in Khao Sok the next day and spend it at one of the tree house resorts.

The 116km from Khao Sok to Phangna turns out to be a really scenic road ride.  We started the first 7km on dirt, which you can avoid if you don't have a mountain bike.  Phangna is not a tourist town.  We stayed at a small inn, and then biked the last 70km back to Phuket the next day.  If you had car support, you could chuck your bike into the car and skip the last day's ride back into Phuket.

All in all, a pretty short and easy bike tour with a good variety of scenery and riding.  If I had to recommend a novice bike tour in South East Asia, this would be it.


Phuket Bike Tour from Adventure Nomad on Vimeo.

Lessons Learned:
One of the useful things about taking a short easy tour is that mistakes made are only painful for a short time.  My next tour is longer (Laos in February), I'll only be using my iPhone for navigation, with back up power via an external battery.  That will save me quite a bit of weight.  I won't be bringing my Olympus OMD EM5 either.  It turns out to be too heavy, and I hardly used it as I shoot more video with the Gopro while on the bike.  I'll be bringing my new Panasonic LX7 instead.  It turns out I can save a little more weight by only using one jersey and wash it while I shower, as it will dry the next day.  On thing we did right was using Revelate Designs bags.  They turned out to be spot on for any kind of minimal weight and gear tour. 

7 comments:

mynameiskoko said...

Great writeup!

Just wondering what tires you guys used?

Ken said...

Good question. We used Maxxis Ikon 2.2 on the front (at 30psi) and Maxxis Crossmark 2.1 on the rear (at 35psi) of our 26" Giant Anthems.

Ken said...

Oh, sorry. They were that pressure before we left Singapore, but we had to let out some air for the flight over, then pump it up with our minipump in Phuket. We don't know what the pressure was. Basically, we just pumped 'em up hard for the road.

mynameiskoko said...

Thanks for the info on the tires, might be useful for our next tour.

I'd think your Garmin would be more efficient than your iPhone when it comes to battery consumption, however not being an iPhone user its just a guess on my side.

Ever thought of using a solar panel such as the one below instead of an external battery?
http://www.goalzero.com.my/solarpower/

It occurred to me during our tour last month a solar panel might be very useful. I used a Garmin Oregon for the trip, but with alkaline AA batteries which I can buy from the shops. Having a solar panel would allow me to use rechargeable instead, but at an added weight.

Should be pretty useful for places without reliable places to charge your devices like in 3rd world countries - for instance Laos.

Ken said...

You are absolutely right about the iphone battery life. We carry a large capacity external battery (don't ask me what brand it is) to charge up the iphone, ipad, Garmins and Gopro. I'm thinking of getting a bike stem mount for my iphone and connecting the battery from my Revelate Gas Tank.

I find that the external battery keeps me going for trips up to about a week, and longer if I can recharge the battery every week or so. I have Brunton Solar Panels which I used on Everest, but I find the solar panels not worth the weight and time to recharge unless I'm completely off the grid for more than 2 weeks.

To be honest, this trip was so short that we didn't really fuss about the tires. Those are the tires we already have on the bike, and they are sort of general purpose, fast rollers :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken! Would it be possible to share with us how to contact you? Thanks!

- Chin

Ken said...

Hi Chin,

I removed my contact from the blog because I was getting a lot of emailed questions that I felt would also benefit the rest of my readers.

If you have a question, I would prefer if you could post it in a comment.

If it is something personal, email would be best. adventurenomad(at)gmail(dot)com