Running in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, Thailand
I visited Thailand for the first time just a couple of weeks ago in August. Myself and Pip spent two weeks travelling between Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui for our honeymoon. After some careful planning and secret-keeping – Pip didn’t know where we were going until we were at the terminal ready to check in, we were off for an adventure to a continent that neither of us had visited before.
Whenever I travel I always pack my running kit, being able to quickly throw shorts, vest/t-shirt, socks, trainers and Garmin (this is important for my Strava heatmap!) into a bag makes it so easy. The main reason for packing my kit isn’t necessarily to continue training whilst away, I find that running is a great way to explore different places and seek out parts of towns, cities and countryside that you might not otherwise have chance to explore.
My kit was safely packed into the suitcase as we headed for Bangkok. As this was our honeymoon, and one of the few times during the year that we get to travel abroadÂ together, I didn’t really plan when or where I was going to run, I just thought that I would see how things went and if I had chance to run, great, if not it didn’t really, although it does help that Pip is also a runner, she’s very understanding of feeling that urge to lace up your trainers and head out. I was around 10 weeks into my training for the Berlin Marathon and I thought that a couple of lighter weeks would probably do me some good after clocking up some of my highest ever mileage weeks.
I did manage to get in at least one run in each of the places that we visited and it quickly became apparent that Thailand perhaps isn’t really geared towards catering for runners out on the roads or pavements. I’ve visited cities, such as Valencia, which have really embraced running with dedicated paths and exercise areas, but I didn’t really find much signs of this in the places we visited.
Here’s some top tips for running in Thailand and stories of my running in each place…
My Top Tips
- Have a look for routes before you go, using a toolÂ like the Strava Route planner is great as you can search by location, distance and type of run. There’s nothing worse than not knowing where you’re going and having a run that’s stop-start with lots of u-turns at dead-ends.
- Traffic – you’ll find lots of busy roads in Thailand and not so many pavements for pedestrians. There are what we know as zebra crossings painted on the roads for pedestrians, however you won’t get right-of-way. You could end up standing next to one for hours without traffic stopping. You’ll need to have the confidence to go for it and cross the road – traffic will stop for you.
- Run in the early morningÂ unless you like running in intense heat and humidity! I was getting out at about 6:30am – 7am and it was still pretty warm, it gets even hotter as the sun rises.
- Beware of stray dogs. There seemed to be lots of dogs running around on their ownÂ andÂ I encountered a couple who excitedly decided they liked to chase after me as I ran past, a little shout at them to get back and they retreated! I decided to approach others with care as didn’t fancy being bitten.
- Carry some cash. Even if it’s a 1o Baht coin (around 20p), you can get a bottle of water for around 7 Baht. This was a life saver on Koh Samui where my run pretty much ended outside a 7 Eleven supermarket!
It became clear during our visit that Bangkok isn’t really a walking city. People tend to move around via the subway or by using tuk tuks, mopeds and taxis. The roads are busy and whilst pavements exist, they aren’t always in the best state of repair with occasional obstacles, pot-holes and also food vendors blocking the way. I’d had a quick look on Strava for routes being run by others and hadn’t found much within the area that we were staying. We only had three nights in Bangkok, so with a slight gap one afternoon I hit the hotel treadmill for a 10k, thinking that the air conditioned gym would be cooler than the thirty-odd degrees heat outside.
I’m not a treadmill runner at all, I never go to the gym and often tell my friends and colleagues that the great outdoors is my gym! It was still really hot and hard work and re-affirmed why I avoid gyms and run outside, it was so dull! Forty-odd minutes later when the distance counter hit 10km, I had never been so thankful to be ending a training run, particularly on foreign soil. It was hot, I hadn’t sweat so much in a long time and perhaps wasn’t how I envisaged running in Thailand. I found a potential outdoor route that I was looking to run on our last morning, however with an early transfer to the airport it didn’t happen. Who knows, one day I may get to explore the streets of Bangkok running on foot.
Compared to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is much more pedestrian friendly. The roads are a lot quieter, particularly in the old-town and there are more pavements available which helps when avoiding the busier roads. Chiang Mai is split into anÂ old town which is surrounded by a moat and historic city walls with the newer parts of the city sprawling out away from this area. I’d had a look to see which parts of the city were run-able and it looked like running around the walls of the old town was the best best. Outside of this area it was possible to run but because busier as the roads were used by workers and commuters.
We were staying just slightly East of the old town, close to the famous Nigh Bazaar, so one morning I laced up my trainers, waited for my Garmin to find satellites and set off for a couple of laps of the moat. I decided to head in a clockwise direction and stayed on the outside of the moat. It’s possible to run on either the inside or outside of the water, however the pavement on the inside becomes either unusable or non-existent when you reach the corners. There are a few road crossings where you need to be aware of traffic. In Thailand they have what look like British zebra crossings, where I’m used to pedestrians having theÂ right of way, however in ThailandÂ the motorists won’t stop for you and it’s up to you to time it correctly, if you start heading out they will stop and let you cross. I settled into the run and passed a couple of other runners heading in theÂ opposite directionÂ on the inside of the water. Chiang Mai was quite overcast which was good as it was slightly cooler, although still much warmer than the English temperatures that I’m used to. I did a couple of laps of the walls and got a little carried away, missing my turning back to the hotel, so it ended up being a good 9 miles in the end.
Perhaps the most runner-friendly place that we visited was the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. The island has few roads and these all tend to loop around the island from the coast-to-coast. We were staying over in theÂ east, close toÂ the village of Choeng Mon which is a quieter part of the island, compared the more touristy area of Chaweng. I headed off early in the morning to avoid as muchÂ of the heat as possible, the clear blue skies mean that the sun quickly heats up and you’re soon in 30+ degrees of heat.
From our hotel I headed anti-clockwise around the island and on the first day had stuffed a 1000 BahtÂ note into my pocket as I left. I’d decided that I neededÂ some new swimming shorts and thought I would kill two birds with one stone if I spotted some whilst out running. Just under a mile into the run I saw a shop selling beach-wear and after a quick bit of early morning bartering I was the owner of some new board shorts. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I would now need to carry these in the plastic carrier bag for the rest of my run! I followed the outer ring road past the airport and looped around back to the South coast of Chaweng before tackling a couple of hills on the way back to the hotel. Luckily our hotel was opposite a 7-Eleven supermarket and I was able to buy a bottle of water before heading back to the hotel.Â
I managed to get in another couple of runs whilst on Koh Samui, however cut these a little shorter than the first by taking a road to the East of the airport. This meant that rather than the 8.7 miles on the first day, I was doing 6 miles instead which was a bit more manageable in the heat. There was a good hill to just after the airport and I went sprinting up this ahead of a cyclist. He caught me up telling me in broken-English that he was impressed by my strength and pointing me in the direction of another steeper hill. I told him that I was done with hills as I was doubled over!