Cycling in Chiang Mai , The Buddhist Highway Code.

In Thailand some people like to go diving, zip wiring, sky diving , bungee jumping , bamboo white water rafting and more; but actually just cycling round the city of Chiang Mai and environs was quite an adventure. Plus it’s free, in fact more than free as it got me round without the use of Grab taxis (like Uber), red cars (public bus of sorts) or any other paid transport. ‘Wild Cycling’, if you like, with generally benevolent and courteous other road users, but a few predators to be understood and avoided, sharpened my senses as much as any expensive extreme sport. The roads may seem chaotic, even dangerous at times, but there is a learnable code in place (with random exceptions to watch out for).

Observing traffic from the pavement, cycling here could look scary and unwise to some, and it possibly would be if you are not confident and experienced. Personally I found it no more so than cycling in the UK , if anything somewhat better with less aggression towards cyclists. Whilst formal traffic signalling is there, but patchy at times and not always adhered to , I found there was a kind of Buddhist highway code at work, with flow as its defining principle.

Ride/drive mindfully (of the flow) the Emerald Buddha is watching.

Flow is perhaps what distinguishes traffic here from most western countries which tends to be more stop start and regimented. It generally involves making your movement intentions known, then gently but very definitely entering the flow of traffic in any appropriate sized gap you can find. Like everywhere you do have to make sure you are seen, and make eye contact with other road users to be sure about it. In Thailand in particular (and I suspect throughout S.E. Asia) watch for motorbikes coming from here there and everywhere; tourists on motorbikes are sometimes the worst being often both inexperienced riders and oblivious of the ‘flow rules’. In general if you are a confident, aware and assertive enough cyclist then it is as safe as anywhere. I couldn’t help wondering if the ‘flow’ principle kept drivers and riders etc in better temper than constant stop start as I didn’t see any road rage incidents in my whole time there.

Problems do exist for sure, there is plenty of bad driving and drink/drug driving. Statistics for road accidents in Thailand are bad (though the majority are motorbikes, no helmet , flip flops, multiple people on board etc).

You’ve got to wonder about tuk tuk drivers advertising now legal weed, does it add to the flow?
The ubiquitous red car (taxi), generally safe and slow moving.

Nothing too much to worry about with some vehicles:

Can’t remember when I last saw one of these, probably not allowed on the road in the UK.
So long as the owner isn’t a badass.

Chiang Mai city area is mostly flat and I’m surprised more don’t cycle. Perhaps as sometimes elsewhere it’s viewed as a pauper’s transport , or unsafe or too hot . There could be a massive potential for encouraging safe cycling here with the huge network of quieter sois (lanes) and roads that mostly link up pretty well.

Urban cycling bliss can be found on back roads and sois (lanes) .

That said , a class of determined cyclists is emerging (or re-emerging, people must have cycled here historically). My 70 year old landlady, Noi, cycled everywhere . She’s a retired anatomy and physiology lecturer from the medical school at Chiang Mai University; intelligent people ride bikes, it’s a known fact. She also very kindly took me and a friend out for the day in Doi Suthep National Park. She always wears a camera when out cycling as an interesting form of protection. She said if she is seen as a tourist, drivers will be more careful, the implication being not so much if you are Thai. Another Thai friend later said (sort of jokingly), ‘if you are going to have an accident better it’s with a Thai than a foreigner….’ So I suspect that for whatever reason (perhaps the police, legal and financial implications ) Noi is correct and has a logical clever safety strategy. As a cyclist every form of self defence is allowable and good.

Noi, with camera.
Below Doi Suthep in the National Park area.

The husband of the Thai traditional medicine doctor at the school where I studied massage, Christopher, was also a cyclist and took a couple of us out in the countryside near the school which was a dream for cycling. A retired English professor – more clever people on bikes.

Christopher .
A 40 minute bike ride from central Chiang Mai and you meet fairly timeless rural Thailand of watery landscapes and paddy fields.

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