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Embarking on an epic bike packing journey: Bangkok to Singapore

Leadership By Matt Dalby, Partner, Building Services – 06 November 2023

Close up of Matt wearing cycle helmet and sunglasses standing on dirt track with blue sky


Head and sholders shot of Matt against foliage wearing a blue shirt and blue blazer

Matt Dalby

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Prior to commencing my new chapter with Cundall, I decided to undertake a challenge that would test the limits of my cycling endurance – a solo, unsupported bike packing adventure from Bangkok to Singapore. My chosen route led me from Bangkok down the east coast of Thailand to Surat Thani, crossing inland to the southern border, and then along the west coast of Malaysia to Georgetown for a rest day. The final leg of the journey took me down the coast to Singapore over the last four days.

My goal was to cover the 2,100 Km route over 11 days of cycling, with one rest day. Despite having completed significant single-day rides exceeding 300 kilometres in recent years and engaging in bike packing adventures across Europe in my youth, this challenge promised to stretch my capabilities to the max. What I find truly captivating about an A to B Challenge is the sense of progress, the goals it sets, and the intrinsic motivation it instils, propelling me onward day after day. I firmly believe that venturing beyond my comfort zone, as I do in endeavours like this, and being open to calculated risks has significantly enriched my professional life. Over the past 12 years, living as an expatriate and working across the Middle East and Southeast Asia, I've often found myself delving into uncharted territories in my work.

Given that I was taking on this adventure solo, I knew I wouldn't have the support of fellow riders to get me through the tough times. A well-considered plan was my compass to stay motivated and see it through.

The importance of planning

The success of such an expedition hinged on meticulous planning and thoughtful consideration of every detail. a skill honed over a lifetime of adventurous pursuits and years spent managing intricate projects within the construction industry. This deliberate approach was essential for setting clear expectations, fostering comprehension along the path towards achieving my goals. Before embarking on my adventure, I spent significant time scrutinising maps and assessing various route options to divide the journey into manageable daily segments, ranging between 170 and 215 km’s. This necessitated a blend of experience and judgment regarding road types and terrains that I could realistically cover within my personal limits. While I knew these distances could be comfortably achieved in a group in about seven hours, I anticipated the need to travel slower when cycling solo. I deliberately slowed my pace to minimise daily fatigue, estimating that each day would require at least nine to ten hours of riding. Although I had a preliminary plan for nightly accommodations, I chose not to pre-book everything in case I needed to add an extra day or adjust things on the fly.. As the journey progressed and my confidence in sticking to the plan grew, I finalised all accommodation arrangements. The abundance of simple and affordable lodging options in Asia made this part of the process relatively straightforward.

The adventure begins

I opted to kick off this adventure in the heart of Bangkok, starting at Wat Pho. While it might have been easier to commence the journey outside the city, I felt it was crucial to demonstrate mental fortitude by sticking to the challenge of cycling from Bangkok to Singapore without any concessions at the outset. For me, this decision was instrumental in building mental toughness into my expedition – adhering to a plan and remaining steadfast.To help avoid the heavy city traffic, I set off early at 4 am. Despite initial apprehension about leaving the city, I swiftly adapted to the situation. About an hour into my journey, a sudden downpour ensued, and I had to navigate substantial flooding. Fortunately, the warm weather and my waterproof bags helped me handle this obstacle. The storm passed quickly, and I continued along the coast of Thailand, making my way to Hua Hin for the first night.The subsequent days on the east coast of Thailand offered some of the most memorable moments of the journey. I pedalled through seemingly endless open roads with breath-taking coastal scenery.

Logistical mastery

Recognising that speed and lightness were essential for covering daily distances, I carried just three small bags on my road bike and meticulously selected minimal kit. Managing off-bike administrative tasks efficiently was crucial to maintain momentum. This included organising tasks as soon as I dismounted – finding a recovery drink before arriving at the hotel, handwashing or laundering my cycling kit due to limited clothing, cleaning my bike daily, recharging equipment, restocking food supplies for the following day, repacking, and preparing the bike and bags for the next leg. These seemingly simple tasks, while essential, could be easily overlooked when fatigue sets in. Thus, I endeavoured to stay systematic and complete tasks as efficiently as possible, enabling me to have time to enjoy a good feed and then maximise my sleep before getting up for the next days’ ride at 5am.

Overcoming challenges

From the outset, I knew that an undertaking of this nature would come with its share of challenges. In the early part of the trip, I had to contend with being chased by wild dogs, which initially caught me off guard. As the days passed, I became more adept at handling these encounters, crossing to the other side of the road where possible and timing my sprint. As the journey progressed, I had to manage muscle pains and a bout of sickness, both on the rest day and during the subsequent days riding south in Malaysia. Day nine proved to be the most demanding, with intense heat, illness, busier-than-anticipated traffic, and uninspiring scenery. However, I persevered through these low points, reminding myself that things would improve, which they did. I managed the heat better in the last few days of the trip by starting earlier and taking more frequent breaks to cool down with ice and cold water. A key lesson from this journey is that the lows are never as low, nor the highs as high as you imagine. To succeed, you must balance your emotions, adhere to the plan, and keep moving forward. In the fast paced and fluctuation construction industry I feel it’s essential to try to apply this similar pragmatic and level-headed approach in my project work, when handling clients and in business.

The finish line and what lies ahead

Arriving in Singapore right on schedule was emotional and immensely satisfying to have achieved my goal. I embarked on this adventure inspired by a friend who had recently completed a similar epic challenge. I hope my journey can serve as an inspiration to others, encouraging them to push their boundaries and undertake challenges of their own. I am excited to be starting my new role at Cundall and look forward to the challenges that it will bring!