However, it doesn’t have to be this way, as I recently discovered when I decided to sample our near neighbour Singapore’s cycling opportunities. I’d gone there to catch up with some friends who’ve lived there for many years, and with a spare day in my travelling schedule, they suggested I check out the cycling track that runs along the coast for a considerable part of the island.
Singapore is, like Phuket, an island connected to the mainland by a causeway and is of similar size to Phuket, with a population of 5.7 million and therefore the third highest density of human habitation on our lovely planet, with 7,988 people packed in per square kilometre.
By comparison Phuket has an official population of 386,000 (this is certainly understated because of tourists and migrant workers) and a population density estimated at 800 people per square kilometre.
Cycling in Singapore, on paper at least, did not sound like a very attractive proposition, but the reality is that Singapore offers superb cycling on well-maintained tracks, under huge shade trees and following beautiful coastal routes boasting stunning scenery and clean sandy beaches from which to swim. Along the cycle routes are abundant cafes, restaurants, bike hire, massage and spa shops and even water parks, all contributing to the island’s tourism income and success.
My own day’s cycling commenced at East Coast Park, which my friends had recommended as my starting point. I took a taxi there and hired an excellent hybrid bike for 40 Singapore dollars (B1,000) for the day.
I first cycled east along the coastal path under the welcome shade of huge Casuarina trees with a cooling breeze wafting in off the ocean. Other cyclists shared the path with families, walkers and roller-skaters and it was noticeable how friendly and considerate everyone was of each other’s space. The path I followed then turned inland and ran alongside the runway of Changi airport where gigantic A380s were landing from all around the globe just over the wire fence. Eventually I crossed a couple of bridges over causeways that lead to an island with a wildlife sanctuary and a splendid café for lunch and a cold drink sitting outside under the trees.
In the afternoon I cycled back past East Coast Beach and headed south-west towards the heart of Singapore, where its huge architectural wonders such as Marina Bay Sands, Helix Bridge, the stunning vaulted glass domes of Gardens by the Bay, and the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay all beckoned me. I cycled right through them all into the heart this wonderfully futuristic city which has over 4,500 high-rise structures providing the most spectacular backdrop imaginable for cycling.
Singapore’s environment is impressively pristine with not so much as a cigarette butt to spoil things and the ocean, despite hundreds of huge container ships anchored only a few hundred meters offshore, is clean, safe and perfect for a cooling swim after cycling, which is exactly what I did. As I sat at an outdoor café back at East Coast Beach watching the sunset and drinking a well-earned cold one, another statistic came to mind.
Singapore boasts an average life expectancy of 84.86 years compared with Thailand’s 74.9 years. There are no official stats on life expectancy for Phuket, but we can safely assume, I think, that it is well below the Thailand average, and of course, road accidents are the number one cause of death in Phuket.
Clearly, a dedicated recreational cycling and walking track around Phuket’s perimeter would not only boost tourism, but might also save lives and promote longevity. If Singapore can provide one with its far greater pressure on urban space, why not Phuket?
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.