Blazing Saddles: Beat the rush, cycle by boat
PHUKET: There’s no doubt that cycling on Phuket is becoming more challenging by the day, as traffic volume, road works and ongoing urbanization of our once-unspoiled island proceeds apace.
Yet, being an island (as we very nearly are), we have on our doorstep ideal cycling getaways to nearby islands, where beautiful and quiet rides are readily available and indeed the pace of life is slower, the locals friendlier and the environment still relatively undeveloped.
There are two key ‘escape gateways’ from Phuket’s east coast out to the island bounty in Phang Nga Bay. Rassada Pier to the east of Phuket Town is tumultuous and chaotic with hordes of back-packers thronging the wharves.
Large ferries leave here on their regular routes out to Koh Lanta (three hours); Koh Phi Phi (one hour) and onward to Krabi Town.
Further north, Bang Rong Pier, the gateway to Koh Yao Yai and Noi, is a contrast of tranquility and laid-back charm. Here the boats tend to be much smaller, often wooden-built and necessitating the use of waterproofs when the monsoon rains sweep across Phang Nga Bay.
You can cycle to either of these jump-off points, braving the warren of Phuket Town’s packed sois to get to Rassada, or cycling east from the Heroine’s Monument along a much more enjoyable ride to Bang Rong Pier.
In either case the sense of relief, once you board your ferry with your trusty bike propped in a corner, is palpable.
Every time I take off on an island cycling escape like this, I can’t help but smile with relief as the boat breasts the wide open waters of Phang Nga Bay. Indeed, it seems to me that my fellow passengers are also breathing a deep sigh of relief to be leaving the madness of Phuket behind, at least for a while.
Certainly once you disembark, you are confronted by much quieter roads, more considerate fellow road users, less environmental damage and a local populace who seem to project all those traditional Thai smiles and values that Phuket’s tourism media machine so loves to trumpet.
Koh Yao Noi offers a charming loop around the island, with some off-road tracks through rubber plantations too. While this island is getting more developed, it does have a good number of resorts and restaurants for stop offs. Koh Yao Yai, by contrast, is still a backwater of quietude and wonderful vistas with very little traffic.
Koh Phi Phi itself is not at all cycle-friendly, but you can stop here for a walk around and an evening beachside meal accompanied by exciting fire-turning shows, en route to Koh Lanta.
Lanta is a large island, offering great rides along the beaches and into the central mountain massif. There’s plenty of inexpensive beach-side accommodation and a laid-back hippy vibe still pervades this throwback to a quieter time.
You can also take your bike on a long-tail from Chalong Pier out to Koh Racha Yai to ride, and then of course further south towards Malaysian waters the outlying isles of Turatao, Adang and Koh Lippe beckon… But these will have to wait for another article.
— Baz Daniel
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