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taipei, taiwan

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the 411 on bicycle touring in thailand

     I remember when I first came up with the idea of buying a bicycle and touring Thailand on it, a lot of people kept discouraging me, telling me it would be extremely difficult, that I'd have to install special handlebars, that I'd need proper bike gear.. In the end, I threw their comments aside and just rode.
     My first day cycling out of Bangkok... - I'd neglected everyone's advice to take a train out of the city and, as a result, spent 3 days biking on a dusty highway, my little backpack strapped to my bike with bungee cords, bags of carrots and other groceries dangling haphazardly from it, barefoot, sweaty, but 100% ecstatic anyway.
     In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have been so stubborn as to ignore every single piece of advice - sometimes even going as far as countering it - but I'm glad that I didn't let myself get scared out of the adventure. You don't need a bike computer. You don't need to plan out every route. You don't need special cyclist clothes, or special shoes. And you definitely don't need to change your handlebars. As long as you're not a professional cyclist looking to conquer to world or whatnot, you'll be fine without these things. Whatever you're told you might "need" is load of bull. All you really need is an open heart, a positive attitude, and a whole lot of spirit.
My girl Whiskey, decked out - first time bicycle touring
     When I first came up with the idea of buying a bicycle in Bangkok and travelling on it, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was in Myanmar, completely in love with the country and dreading the flight into Bangkok for my first visit in Thailand. I'd heard some pretty unappetizing things about the tourist scene in Thailand and, especially after magical Burma, I wasn't ready to face the typical South East Asia backpacker party culture again. Having had crossed paths with the same cyclists 3 times in a month (two of which were a couple that had been bicycle touring for over 7 years!), by the last time I decided that it must be some sort of sign, and told myself that I'd buy a bicycle the minute I got into Bangkok. My friend Minsung, one of the bikers I met in Myanmar, gave me some heads up on how much a bicycle should cost me, the bare bones of how I should prep it for a long trip, as well as listing for me the 5 places I can sleep at should I not find a guesthouse while touring in Thailand.
     Thailand is probably one of the easiest countries to start a bicycle trip in. The people are super friendly and super enthusiastic about bikes, and there are 7/11s everywhere (not to mention the fact that they sell electrolyte beverages, too), so you don't have to worry about starving.
1 baht water dispensers
     A great country for a first-time bicycle trip, and Bangkok is chockfull of places to buy a decent bicycle (see my post here on buying a bicycle in Bangkok) and anything you might need for your trip. It makes a great starting base. On the road, it's easy to find parts around the country as many locals are experts at bicycle repair (even if sometimes they don't know how to ride one themselves!) and there is always a little bike shop or two in every town. When it comes to water, I personally would buy a large bottle every few days and fill it up for just 1 baht at local waterbottle-filling machines (that's less than one Canadian cent! ~ 0.03$) or under any tap. Locals may say the water is unsafe to drink, but I believe it is only the case when it is consumed for extended periods of time, so I drank it anyway. With regards to the scorching heat? Yes, it's hot. Plan to do most of your cycling before 11am and after 3pm, as the hours between the two are the hottest of the day. Hide out under a tree and read a book, or make friendship bracelets for children. Some cyclists I met in Myanmar gave me some tips on where to sleep when you're touring Thailand by bicycle, and I spent many nights squatting in 24h gas stations (after asking permission, of course) if the nearest accommodation was too far/too expensive.