Pratchuap Kiri Khan to Ao Nang Beach: A Bike Touring Route
Pratchuap Kiri Khan is a delightful seaside town. Then make your way further south, cutting from east to west to avoid the slightly unstable part of Southern Thailand. Beautiful beaches and a few off-the-beaten path locales await.
Duration: 7 days
Terrain: Almost all flat. The few hills never last long.
Accomodation: Many beachside bungalows.
Highlights: Very little traffic and beautiful scenery along the coast.
Lowlights: Sometimes overpriced accommodation. Developed Ao Nang.
Tips: Bring your swimsuit and hang out with the Thais on the east coast, who rarely have a falang join them for a dip in these parts.
Section 1 – Getting out of Bangkok
Some people cycle out of Bangkok and all – as far as we know – have survived. Traffic in this city is courteous but your enemies will be smog and busy roads. Sometimes you may find yourself faced with an expressway and a narrow shoulder. We prefer the train.
Make your way to Hualamphong Station. Check travel times beforehand – you can do this online – and be aware that any express train WILL NOT have a cargo car for your bicycles. All others will have a wagon to carry bikes and there are a few to choose from. Arrive at least 60-90 minutes early to allow time to buy your ticket, pay for the bike at a separate kiosk (near platform 12) and load your bike onto the cargo wagon. Don’t expect any help but you might be pleasantly surprised. The same goes on the other end, when you’ll have to unload your bike quickly and possibly by yourself. Practice your dashing skills as the cargo wagon is at the opposite end from the second-class carriages.
A 2nd class ticket to Pratchuap Kiri Khan is 325 Baht plus 90 Baht for each bicycle. There are plenty of food vendors walking the aisles of the train so you don’t need to buy stocks ahead of time. When you arrive in Pratchuap Kiri Khan, go straight ahead on the road that leads directly towards the sea from the station. A few meters ahead, just before the first intersection, is the Yuttichai Hotel, run by a friendly family (rooms from 160 Baht). On the adjacent corner is a night market, great for cheap eats.
Section 2 – Pratchuap Kiri Khan to Bang Saphan (100km)
Start by going down to the seaside and turn right to head south along the water. After a short distance, you’ll be forced to veer right with the road and then left through a military base. You’ll be waved through the gates, over an airport landing strip and out the other side. The road rejoins the seaside, where you’ll find a beach and a camping area.
About 8km into the day, the road splits. Go directly to Route 4 or bear left, following the road through the small town of Khlong Wang, where there are a few more beachside hotels. Next there’s the King Mongkut Memorial Park of Science and Technology with a few funky sculptures. This buys you a few more kilometers on quiet roads but now you do have to follow the road around park and towards Route 4.
Route 4 is busy but has a good shoulder and you might even have a tailwind to speed you through the next 40km and past Thailand’s narrowest point. The rumbling trucks are annoying but on the upside there are plenty of restaurants to keep your energy up.
When your bike computer nears 58km, watch on the left for Route 1029 and signs to the Bayview Beach Resort. Take this quiet road, past coconut palm groves, all the way to the sea. From this point, just keep towards the seaside as much as possible and if you get lost, ask directions to Ban Krut, where swanky resort hotels greet you with gleaming pools and groomed beaches. There’s not much hope of budget accommodation here. Expect to pay about 2,000 Baht for a seaview bungalow. The only cheaper option that we found was 800 Baht for a 2-person bungalow at the YHA.
Road signs are rare out here but the rule of the day is keep to the sea. It’s a very quiet drive and once out of Ban Krut you’ll have the beach to yourself. As you approach Bang Saphan, you’ll go through a village with seafood drying on outdoor tables. If you follow traffic, then left at an intersection towards Bang Saphan. Very near the town, a T-junction directs you either to the beach or Bang Saphan. If you take the beach option, you can easily get a comfortable spot for the night, just inches from the beach for 300 Baht. We stayed at Haadsomboon House.
Section 3 – Bang Saphan to Bo Mao Bay (80km)
From the beach, head slightly north into Bang Saphan and take the road that goes left, opposite the market. On this corner, there’s a great little restaurant where you can pick up a breakfast of rice soup, ice coffee and freshly fried donuts. The market is also good for picking up a packed lunch but there’s no need. Plenty of food stalls line the route ahead. Once you make your left turn, you should be on Route 3374.
About 20km into the day you reach a crossroads, where you can turn left onto the minor Route 1015, which runs through palm tree groves. Bang Boet Beach is a nice chance to take a break and dip your feet in the sea. Many colourful fishing boats dot the harbour and there are a few hotels and bungalows but prices are high. Expect to pay 800-1000 Baht.
If you’re on a budget, it’s best to carry on down Route 1015, which soon returns you to the larger Route 3411. This wasn’t as marked on our map. We thought we could continue on Route 1015 for a few more kilometers but we’re not sure if we took a wrong turn or if the map is incorrect. There are a few hills to tackle but nothing too big and when Route 3411 takes a sharp right turn, you keep on going straight, onto Route 4015 for a short stretch, then Route 3253 and straight onto Route 4004 following the coast.
Around Bo Mao Bay, just east of the airport, there are many beachside bungalows to choose from and prices are affordable. Expect to pay about 300 Baht for a fan-cooled bungalow or 500 Baht for aircon and a seaview. There are one or two simple restaurants and 300 Baht should be enough for a generous fish dinner and beer for two, so close to the water the waves are almost lapping at your feet!
Section 4 – Bo Mao Bay to Chumphon and Paknam Lang Suan (130km)
It’s a straightforward run into Chumphon, following the road signs. Even the shortcut on Route 4022 is signed. Follow that to make your job a bit easier. There’s not much to see in Chumphon. Most people use it as a jumping-off point to get to the islands of Ko Tao, a diving mecca, and Ko Pha Ngan, home of the full moon party. You can catch up on your emails, stock up at the supermarket and grab a cheap room in a local guesthouse but otherwise there’s not much point in hanging around.
If you’re not island hopping, head out of Chumphon to the southwest. There are a few rural roads that will delay your inevitable arrival on the busy Route 41 but you’ll need a decent map to find them. Once on Route 41, there are at least three roadside hotels between Chumphon and Sawi. Only one, on the southbound side and close to Sawi, has an English sign. For the other two on the northbound side, look for the number ’24′ among the Thai script. This usually indicates a 24-hour reception and is a sure sign of a hotel. Prices range from 250 Baht for a fan room to 600 Baht for aircon in a garden setting. We stayed in Thung Hong Garden Hotel, named for the nearby Wat Thung Hong.
About 30km from Chumphon, your tussle with traffic ends as you take the exit for Sawi and descend 2km into the small town. There’s a hotel just as you exit Route 41 and a market in the town. English signs mark the way to Sai Ri Sawi Beach, about 13km from Sawi town centre. From here your day is nothign but a pleasant ride through palm tree groves and along the ocean. Once at the beach, follow the coastal road through a series of villages and sandy strips to Arunothai Beach. Occasionally the road turns inland and up a hill but the climb never lasts long. There are plenty of food sellers around so you don’t need to worry about picking up lunch early or carrying too much water.
In Arunothai, there’s a large river to cross before you can continue along the coast. The bridge is a little hard to find but just head out of the town, staying as close to the river as possible. Pass the large wat, always keeping the river on your left and after a few minutes you’ll meet Route 4012 which goes over the bridge and towards Paknam Lang Suan – the beachside version of the bigger town of the same name a bit further inland.
From here it’s a modest 15km to Paknam Lang Suan and there are a few bungalows to choose from along the way. Expect to pay 300 Baht for a simple fan room and anywhere from 500 Baht all the way up to 3,000 Baht for air conditioning, depending on how much luxury you require. The town itself is a fascinating look at an untouristy Thai resort. Go along the pier near sunset and you’ll find dozens of Thais out jogging and walking, kids jumping into the water, fishing boats going out for the night and parks full of families feasting on food being cooked up by street vendors. If you just like people watching, this could be a good low-key place to hang out for a day.
Section 5 – Paknam Lang Suan to Chaiya (85km)
Getting out of Paknam Lang Suan is a bit like leaving Arunothai – keep to the inlet as closely as possible and eventually you’ll run into Route 4019 going over the water. Follow the signs to La Mae and then on to Route 4112 and towards Tha Chana, a total distance of about 55km, muhc of it along the sea. The ride is scenic and very quiet.
Tha Chana is a great midday stop. There’s a bustling market selling fresh fruit, drinks and snacks, plenty of restaurants doing all the regular dishes and a high speed internet cafe charging a modest 15 Baht/hour. The restaurant beside the internet cafe does a top notch shrimp pad thai. From here, it’s just under 30km to Chaiya, one of Thailand’s oldest cities. Follow the signs for the beach out of Tha Chana and after about 4km you’ll see the turn for Chaiya. Udomlap Hotel is the only accommodation option in town, with basic rooms from 150 Baht. There’s another option near the highway and a few more as you turn down Route 41 on tomorrow’s ride but that takes you away from Chaiya with its restaurants and shops.
Section 6 – Chaiya to Takhun (90km)
There’s some nice riding today along quiet roads, flanked by limestone cliffs but on both ends you have to deal with busy stretches of highway. Thankfully neither leg lasts long. Start by heading out of Chaiya towards Route 41. Take a quick break to look at the town’s famous wat and chedi. If it’s past 9am, you could also visit the museum.
Turn left onto Route 41 and go about 10km to the first stoplight, where you turn right onto Route 4262 towards Wiphawadi. There’s not much on this road but a few hills appear to get you in the mood for more climbing later on. In Wiphawadi, with nearly 40km under your belt you’ll want to stop at the small market for a snack or cold drink.
It’s about 20km straight ahead through tropical scenery to the next large cluster of restaurants, which start appearing as you near the town of Khiri Ratnikhom. Turn right at the first junction after the railway tracks and then take a left soon afterwards, onto Route 4100, which takes you 10km down the road to the busy Route 401.
You have to put up with the traffic all the way to Ta Khun, a roadside town with a large market, a decent budget hotel and little else. You could detour here to the Ratchaprapha Dam, where there are more accommodation options. The hotel on the main drag doesn’t have a sign in English but it’s next to the Susco gas station and roughly across from the police station. Rooms with air conditioning and satellite TV cost 380 Baht.
Section 7 – Takhun to Ao Nang Beach (Krabi) (125km)
Today is a mixed bag. It starts with heavy traffic but eventually moves to much quieter roads. There’s lush jungle scenery but the route ends with an overdeveloped tourist beach resort. It’s worth doing but you’ll have to cope with the cars for the first half of the day and at the end you may want to branch off to down-to-earth Krabi instead of staying in Ao Nang.
Start by leaving Takhun down Route 401 towards Phanom. Turn left after a few kilometers at Route 415. You’ll find a hotel just 100 meters after the turn if you didn’t like the option in Takhun. Route 415 heads straight for the sea and is the main path towards Krabi and Phuket. You’ve got a good shoulder here but the cars fly by and watch for aggressive dogs. There are a few drinks and food stalls along the road.
When Route 415 meets the busy Route 4, go straight through the intersection and cycle a few kilometers until you meet a T-junction. Go left onto Route 1002. From this point, you can stay off Route 4 nearly all the way to Ao Nang by following the backroads. Unfortunately, it’s hard to describe because there are few numbered roads but if you have a good map it should be reasonably easy to figure out. Route 1002 is a little busy but after Ao Luek things calm down a lot.
Just after Ao Luek you do have to use Route 4 but for little more than a kilometer. Turn right a few hundred meters after the gas station that uses a large leaf as its logo. You pass through a few small Muslim towns and bob up and down on tiny roads, where the kids are incredibly excited to see you. Between Ao Luek and Ao Nang the riding is fantastic.
The good news about Ao Nang is that its development is quite contained so you won’t notice the flashing neon until you arrive at the shoreline. The bad news is that in a matter of a couple kilometers prices go from reasonable and normal to extortionate and you’re suddenly surrounded by tailors determined to sell you a new suit. It’s impossible to walk peacefully down the street. The beach isn’t bad though and we enjoyed a swim here.
We wouldn’t recommend staying in Ao Nang most of the time, unless it’s low season and then you should be able to bag a good deal on a hotel room. Your other options are to stop just before Ao Nang or carry on a further 15km to Krabi.
We did stay in Ao Nang at the Ao Nang Grand Inn where a room with TV, fridge, aircon and free wi-fi costs 400 Baht a night in the low season. At any time of year in Ao Nang you can expect to pay anywhere from three to six times the going rate for food, although there are a few street vendors selling fried rice and pad thai for 35 Baht a plate. If you’re really hungry, Bernies on the main strip does an all-you-can-eat buffet including ice cream!