Cycling Sukhothai’s Countryside
Last Sunday morning we tried out a new half day bicycle tour in Sukhothai of which we had heard some positive stories. Our guide, Khun Jib, came to the hotel exactly on time and drove us in his pickup to Ban Greay, a quaint village in Sukhothai.
After a short drive we arrived at his head office/house and were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of his bikes. As Jib explained, he imports his bikes from the US and even has ‘tag-alongs’ for the little todlers so this tour can be enjoyed by families as well. Normally the groups are small, not over 12 participants at a time. This way, Jib said, he can easily tailor the routes and keep a good eye on safety and fun.
We started cycling on a dirt road passing through beautiful rice paddies, but soon afterwards ended up in a village where we were lucky enough to encounter the local fresh market which happens only three days per week. Also of interest was the local temple’s library building, built in the middle of an empty pond, which was under renovation. On the market itself all kinds of unusual products were on sale, from fresh tobacco to odd birds to colourful herbs.
The narrow road we cycled, followed an ancient canal (built during King Ramkamhaeng era so he could transport his entourage to the main river) and wandered along the houses which are built on stilts to protect them against the yearly flooding. Very pleasant indeed.
In this area a lot of teakwood furniture is produced as well and we visited one of the workshops. Great products and workmanship, but working conditions in many ways left a lot to be desired.
Another source of income comes from cock fighting, serious amounts of money change hands by betting on the outcome of the fights. Nowadays the average cockfight lasts no longer than 20 minutes and no cocks die. Even so, it seems a pretty grim sport. Along the way we passed several households where they raise fighting cocks, all kept in large rattan style cages.
Back cycling over dirt tracks through the rice paddies, we enjoyed the scenery, incredible intense shades of green in combination with a clear blue sky, fantastic.
We witnessed various aspects of rural life in Thailand and interacted with local people where possible. Especially rewarding was the visit of a family who produce traditional rice whiskey, a process which involves much more than just distilling rice. Side products include charcoal and pig fodder! The quality of the whiskey is rough, to say the least, and despite a pretty labor intensive process the actual profit is minimal, just a few baht… Biggest winner is the government, their tax seal ‘sticker’ costs more than half of the sales price!
The last home industry we visited was the producing of smoked catfish for South Thailand. Again something you would not expect to see in upcountry Sukhothai.
Beside rice paddies we also cycled through chilly and tobacco fields of which Jib had plenty to tell. This very pleasant and informative tour ended with a local lunch and a transfer back to our hotel.
The tour – highly recommended – is designed for those interested in learning about Thai culture and traditions in the rural countryside. Keep in mind though that in April/May temperatures can go up to 40+° C.