Two of the easiest countries for cycle touring would have to be Malaysia and Thailand. The people are incredibly friendly, the terrain along the coastlines is mostly flat with excellent roads, and the variety food options make it easy to take a break from cycling – especially when meals occupy a large portion of your thoughts. Accommodation is very affordable, making these two countries some of the cheapest to cycle through.
With inexpensive accommodation, and the weather so hot, your bikes can be really lightweight by leaving all the camping, cooking and winter gear at home (see our pack list here). We left all of our camping gear in Singapore with family, so every night we had to end in a town, with accommodation. After sweating it out every day, we looked forward to that shower, air-conditioning and being able to rinse out that cycling gear.
We spent three months, cycling and holidaying, starting from the Singapore/Johor border and ending in Bangkok – with a budget of $50 AUS a day for the two of us. Even with paid accommodation every night, and zero camp cooking on our part it was quite easy to stay on budget. Our accommodation ranged from $30 to $13 AUS, averaging out to $20 AUS a day.
Usually we would look at bookings.com for hotels/guesthouses within our price range and star these on Google Maps. We wouldn’t actually go ahead and book them though, rather we used them as location markers for hotel areas (if there’s one, there is usually a bunch of them around the same spot). When our day ended we would go hotel by hotel and check them out. The cheapest would not have English signs (nor be advertised on English websites either). We would be looking for a sign that had a number 24 on it, a WiFi signal or the word ‘Hotel’. Before we would decide, we would ask to see the room, and where we could store our bikes securely.
Our maximum, $30 AUS, would get us fancy digs at a proper inner city hotel; complete with elevators, air-conditioning, hot water and a full bathroom.
On the bottom end of our scale, $13 AUS, we would get a very basic hotel, with a fan and a squat toilet. The shower would be a cold water tap and a bucket.
Stopping in accommodation every night, with usually a wifi connection, meant planning our route was easy. Wifi connection in Thailand was so fast. In Malaysia however it was a lucky dip, and would usually drop out. We would Google walking directions to the next town. Walking directions usually took smaller local streets (There wasn’t biking options). The next morning we would leave Google Maps open on our phone, off-line, and check as we cycled. We plotted our route along the west coast of Malaysia (to avoid the monsoon weather) and along the east coast of Thailand (to avoid to touristy areas).
Feeding two hungry cyclists took just as much of the budget as the accommodation, with us spending on average $20 AUS a day. With so much delicious street stalls, night markets, restaurants and convenience stores we were spoilt for choice. In Malaysia we would usually start the day with two roti’s (egg or plain) with sambal and curry, and a few rounds of kopi, teh tarik or iced Milo. The grand total would be RM 10/$3.40 AUS. In Thailand breakfast would be rice porridge or a bowl of noodles with coffee or soya milk, costing around the same.
Lunch would usually be on the road stopping a few times at the mammoth petrol stations (Thailand) that not only had a 7/11, but restaurants, Amazon coffee cafes and food stalls.
Malaysia it would be at a restaurant, Indian or Malay. Most of these would have a buffet where you could get a plate of rice and choose from a number of dishes such as curries, fried fish, sautéed vegetables. Then you would take your plate to the counter and the cashier would tally it up.
Dinner again was usually out in a night market or whichever place looked the most crowded.
With accommodation and food totalling up to $40 AUS we still had a chunk of change left. This left a bit of fat for ferries, trains, bike maintenance. We hired a scooter for a few days on LangKawi to check out more beaches, and took a few tuk tuks around Bangkok. Also note that in Thailand most of the ATMs charge a 200 baht/$7.50 AUS withdrawal fee for a foreign card. Ouch.
Most of the drivers are extremely courteous and friendly, honking to let you know they’re coming past, giving the thumbs up or a wave out the window. However the traffic can get really busy, in Thailand you’ll see quite a few scooters riding towards you on the wrong side of the road. And watch out for all the roaring over-loaded trucks belching nasty black exhaust in your face – a face mask is a necessity!
Both of these countries are scooter/motorcycle societies which means most roads have a wide scooter lane that keeps a good separation between you and the traffic.
In Malaysia we noticed that houses are built in a long line next to the highways, which means there’s usually a service road for local traffic to be able to turn safely into their driveways. These service roads run parallel just metres from the highway – we followed one for over 20km. These make a huge difference and makes cycling really pleasant. Instead of be right next to trucks, the most traffic you’ll get is a scooter or two.
Other Things to Note:
Cycling into Kuala Lumpur:
Leading into Kuala Lumpur there is approximately 40km of dedicated motorcycle lane, completely separate from the highways, you can read more about it here.
Cycling into Bangkok:
We took a train for the last 30kms as the expressways were just too much. You can read more about that in our previous post here.
There are heaps of stray dogs. In the towns they didn’t care, and barely lifted their head in our direction but in the rural areas they would chase the bikes. With flat terrain we could cycle pretty quickly out of their territory, and they would stand there barking injustices.
We always try to learn some key phrases: hello, thank-you, excuse me, goodbye, please, one, two, and our favourite dishes. The Malaysian language is written using a Latin alphabet, like English, so it’s easier to recognise, retain, and jot down basic words. For rural Thailand scripture is mostly used, which made menus a hopeless case for us. A easy backup plan was a screenshot of a list like this one, so we could have it on our phone and point to a dish. Also a big smile, a friendly wave, and a palms together gesture, go a long way too.
From a Female Perspective:
Both Malaysia and Thailand have a strong population of Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu religions and huge cities with a large foreign population, and so different dress codes exist side-by-side. However in the rural areas, we went though quite a few towns where the majority of women, even to the tiniest of schoolgirls, were very modestly attired with headscarves called tudungs. On rural beaches women, and men, swim fully clothed.
Due to the sun, and avoiding sunburn, I was already wearing full-length leggings, a long-sleeve shirt plus a neck scarf and gloves. Off the bike I wore a sleeved T-shirt, a long skirt and a lightweight scarf, unless I was in a more cosmopolitan city. I do believe dressing as appropriately as possible is respectful to the culture you’re visiting, and the interactions we had were genuine and comfortable for all parties. Most of the cyclists we saw were also in leggings, long-sleeve shirts and scarves too.
Local Cycling Scene:
Both countries have a huge local bike culture, you’ll see heaps of road bikes in cycling packs at night, when the temperature is cooler. We had quite a few invitations for meetups and accommodation through Instagram. We had people wave us down, explaining they were cyclists, and welcoming us to their town. Try FB groups, Instagram shout outs or even just introducing yourself.
Johor, Pontian, Batu Pahat, Muar, Malacca, Sungai Udang, Port Dickson, Banting, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Selangor, Sungai Besar, Teluk Intan, Ipoh, Taiping, Penang, Langkawi, Perlis
Hat Yai, Songkhla, Ranot, Phak Phanang, Nakhon Si Thammerat, Sichon, Khanom, Surat Thani, Tha Chana, Lang Suan, Chumpon, Bang Saphan, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Kao Sam, Hua Hin, Phetchaburi, Samut Songkhram, Samut Sakhon, Bangkok.
When: Mid November to Mid Feb, 94 days
Length: Over 2,200km
Riding days: 36 days, from 30-122km a day
Temperature: 20°C – 30°C
Climate: Blue sunny skies. Short tropical downpours.
Accommodation: $2,000 AUS
($20 AUS/RM63/ 552 baht daily average)
Food: $2,162 AUS
($22 AUS/RM68/592 baht daily average)
Other Transport: $160 AUS
(Ferry, train, tuk tuk, taxi etc)
Miscellaneous: $313 AUS
(Bike Maintenance, scooter hire, ATM fees, clothing etc)
Grand Total: $4,574 AUS
Or $1,500 AUS a month
Or $50 AUS/RM148/1,326 baht daily average