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Mountain biking

Phuket is blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and many holidaymakers come here specifically to while away the hours, on them. However there’s far more to Phuket than just its beaches, and far more to Thailand’s Andaman coast than just Phuket and the more active amongst you will be eager to discover it.

  Phuket City

May 2009
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James Hembrow of Amazing Bike Tours thinks he might just have the answer. His company organises cycling trips to some of the most remote and idyllic destinations in the Phuket region. He believes it gives people an opportunity to get off the beaten track and discover the 'real' Thailand.

"Our customers are people who don't want to spend all day sitting on the beach, and all night sitting around in bars. It's an opportunity for them to see the villages and get to meet local people, and get a real taste of Thai culture," he says.

James was in Thailand for six years before starting Amazing Bike Tours last year. "At the time I was working for a dive company but I was behind a desk all day, and I wasn't making the most of being in Thailand. I used to cycle all the time when I was a kid in Somerset, in the UK. One day, in the low season, I decided to cycle to Krabi to go rock climbing. That's what gave me the idea to set up this company."

While a basic level of fitness may be necessary to participate in one of these tours, you don't need to be Lance Armstrong and, according to James, "Most of our customers are probably in their 40's, although we've had groups in their 50's or 60's." The minimum age to participate in a mixed group is 12, although there's no minimum age if you're booking a private tour."

All the instructors speak English and are first-aid trained by James himself, who is EFR (Emergency First Response) qualified as a diving instructor. There's a mixture of on and off road cycling but all the locations used are comparatively remote and cars should be few and far between.

The shortest trip on offer is the Koh Yao Noi day trip. Koh Yao Noi is a sleepy island with a slow pace of life in Phang Nga Bay - an hour's boat ride from Phuket. Cyclists will get to witness rice paddies, mosques and spectacular views of both the sea and the jungle. Guests will be collected from their hotels at 8am and will return at around 6pm having covered about 30 kilometres.

There's also the option to take an extended Koh Yao expedition of three days and two nights. This involves a day's cycling in Koh Yao Noi, a day's cycling in Koh Yao Yai, and a final day spent enjoying a boat trip in Phang Nga Bay, sightseeing, swimming and snorkeling.

The Koh Sok and Cheow Lan Lake Adventure follows a similar three-day format with even more spectacular scenery. The first day, guests will find themselves cycling through rubber tree plantations, and past rivers and waterfalls in the Khao Sok area. On the second day, they'll pass temples and rainforest on the way to the magnificent Cheow Lan Lake where they'll have the opportunity to go swimming and kayaking or just relax and admire the spectacular vista.

After 80 kilometres of cycling, the third day is set aside for rest and recuperation. There's a wildlife watching boat expedition where cyclists should keep their eyes peeled for monkeys, hornbills and hawks before trekking to an impressive cave

The Krabi Explorer is another three-day adventure in one of Thailand's most dramatic provinces, where towering limestone karsts rise dramatically from the land and sea. As well as cycling some 105 kilometres, there's a trek to the legendary Emerald Lake, a visit to a hot stream, nature's natural Jacuzzi, and a hike to a Buddhist monument, on the itinerary.

Included in all these costs is accommodation, bikes and helmets, meals, snacks and water, national park entrance fees and insurance. Cyclists should bring suitable clothing, suntan cream and swimwear.

Mona Fristedt, from Sweden, went on The Koh Sok and Cheow Lan Lake Adventure. "It was a fantastic experience! As a complete beginner on a mountain bike, I was quite nervous about this trip, but I really enjoyed it. The first night, which we spent at a luxury hotel and the second night at the floating bungalows in Cheow Lan Lake, were both brilliant. I'll definitely be doing it again," she said.

Whether you want to sample the sights and sounds of rural Thailand, get a glimpse of what Phuket might have been like before the developers moved in, or simply make up for too much time spent in many of the island's excellent restaurants, a bike tour could be just the thing.

For more information visit: www.amazingbiketoursthailand.asia

  Photo gallery : Mountain biking

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