There's riding in those hills

Cyclists in Bangkok and Samut Prakan are lucky to have such nice places to enjoy their favourite sport, those famous bicycle lanes around Suvarnabhumi airport. But wouldn't it be even better if there were another purpose-built training ground that is not so flat? How about a bikes-only road on hilly terrain?

Guess what: such a thing does exist, and it's only a two-hour drive from Suvarnabhumi.

Located in Chon Buri's Sattahip district, the bicycle lane runs around Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation, another of the numerous projects initiated by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Before we get to the cycling lane, which was officially opened in October, it's important to learn a few things about this special piece of forest.

Believe it or not, just three decades ago this area now covered in lush wilderness -- a watershed forest for farmland and communities in surrounding areas -- was a denuded land. In 1990 King Bhumibol began the reforestation project not only to help local farmers who were drought-stricken but to make it a gift to Queen Sirikit for her 60th birthday in 1992.

Under the monarch's guidelines, the work was carried out by the Royal Forest Department (RFD). These days, the forest plantation is under the care of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), which was split off the RFD as a result of major reorganisation in 2002.

The recently opened cycling lane marks the boundary of the man-made forest. It also serves as a firebreak and a regular patrol route for the rangers.

Along its 18km length, the smooth bicycle lane runs up and down the hillside, with slopes of different sizes. Some ascents may look intimidating to those not so physically fit, but you can clear each of them without much struggle with good use of gear as well as inertia from the previous descent.

Thanks to the strict one-way-traffic rule, you can feel free to go downhill at your top speed with no need to worry about somebody suddenly emerging from the curve up ahead. Be very careful, though, since in certain conditions, like when the surface is wet or covered with fallen leaves, it can be dangerously slippery. That said, it should be noted that, as at Suvarnabhumi airport, every rider using this lane is required to wear a helmet.

Both road and mountain bikes are good for this cycling route. Just make sure the gears and brakes are in decent working condition. The latter is especially important, since they help you finish the loop with no bruises or broken bones.

Another crucial thing you should know about the cycling lane at Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation is that it is open daily, except on Mondays and Tuesdays. In case of heavy rain, the place might be closed, too, for safety reasons. So make sure you don't travel all the way there only to find that you've come on a wrong day.

Before riding, every cyclist must register at the visitors' centre, the big building next to the parking lot. Lockers and shower rooms are available on the second floor of the building

The bike lane is open from 6am-6pm. But registration is closed at 4.30pm. If you arrive later than that, you will not be allowed to ride. There is no fee for the registration but a donation is welcome to cover maintenance costs.

Apart from cycling, with an advance arrangement, other activities -- like tree planting, a guided walk on a nature study trail or shooting fertiliser balls with slingshots -- can also be done at the forest plantation.

Well, see you here again soon. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to pongpetm@bangkokpost.co.th or go to the Freewheel Bangkok community page on Facebook.

SIRI CHAREONWAT FOREST PLANTATION

  • GPS co-ordinates: 12 45'35.74" N 100 58'47.86" E
  • Trail condition: Paved road built especially for cycling.
  • Distance: 18km.
  • Getting there: The forest plantation is located on the south side of Road 1003, the same road as the famous Buddha of Khao Chi Chan, which sits to its west.
  • Parking: A big parking lot is available in front of the visitors' centre.
  • Food & drinks: There's no shop along the cycling route. Bring some water.
  • What your family can enjoy while waiting: They can stroll in the park and learn about the work of King Bhumibol as well as about trees and plants in the area. Between the forest plantation and Khao Chi Chan, there's a water park.
  • Accommodations: The resort city of Pattaya, just a short drive away, offers numerous choices of hotels and resorts.
  • Local contact: Call 033-046-037 or visit www.facebook.com/Lovesiricharoenwstforest.