Bangkok-born and raised to ride, LaLaBelle is a self-proclaimed happiness maker. Once you chat to her, you realise she's got the goods to deliver on that promise. It's easy to stray into cliches when you immediately think of a city famed as one of the world's most notorious tourist hotspots. Yet, with LaLaBelle as our local guide by bike, it's clear there's an uncovered side to the Southeast Asian city of angels.

From the bustle of urban sprawl to rides further afield and the mid-week indoor training sesh, LaLa always dials up the temperature from somewhat balmy to sizzling hot. Actress, synth musician and lead singer, she simply refuses to be boxed in, and we love the beat of that tune. So, for our latest edition of Training Grounds, MAAP caught up with the Thai trailblazer in her beloved hometown, where she loves nothing more than to rip in on her trusty Standert. Catch her if you can.

"The traffic dynamics here will get you high on adrenaline. It can be exhilarating. It becomes a unique challenge, a game to me. It's fun!!"

Full disclosure: Bangkok's one intense ride. Like some twisted extreme sports mega-metropolis, it takes a person with serious pluck to ride on roads where the city traffic buzzes past at breakneck speed. Think 1,000+cc superbikes revving through the tailbacks and pushing you out in a direct collision course with the multitude of Tuk Tuks chugging your way. Moving targets are aplenty, primed for the out-of-towner to come a cropper and have to speed dial their travel insurance broker. For the uninitiated, it's undoubtedly a daunting prospect. For locals like LaLaBelle, it's just the juice that gets her going.

"The traffic dynamics here will get you high on adrenaline. It can be exhilarating. It becomes a unique challenge, a game to me. It's fun!! To zigzag through at leaps and bounds requires sharp focus and quick decision-making, whether to advance or hold back, which path to choose, all in the blink of an eye. The surge of adrenaline keeps you on your toes for sure. Pre-ride, I kiss my doggos, saying I'll be careful to come back home and give them another kiss for good measure, then let's roll!!"

That sure is tempo training of a different nature. But it's not all (literal) survival of the fittest. For longer training rides, LaLaBelle prefers a change of pace by forgoing the CBD gridlock and stretching out her legs and lungs.

"When my schedule isn't packed, I try to fit in five rides a week. On weekdays, I do mostly indoor training or neighbourhood rides. There's a 2.5-kilometre loop right next door to me, so you just ride it like a crit—looping—for an hour to an hour and a half. Indoor training is also part of the schedule, as rides typically must be done on Zwift because Bangkok city traffic isn't ideal for higher-intensity training. I quite enjoy Zwift. I know some people say it's boring for them; there's no scenery and no wind to assist. But I like to see little accomplishments being checked off on workout rides and when routes are completed. It's a good feeling!"

Like many of us, LaLaBelle loves changing from solo sessions to group rides when Saturday and Sunday roll around and the commuter traffic relents for a beat. "Weekends are reserved for social time with friends either it's short or long, normally ranging from 50-150 km. Here, we start at 5:30 or 6:00 am and try to finish early so you don't get baked in the sun. Regardless of your destination, there's a spot ready to serve you whether you bonk, overheat or need a caffeine boost."

"We're all about the ice cream! Natthaphon in Phra Nakhon is the spot. Riding in a sizzling city like Bangkok, nothing beats a cold scoop."

As LaLaBelle testifies, in co-step with the Bangkok cycling scene that's bubbling up, coffee culture is absorbing the city like few others, so there are plenty of caffeine stops on routes in and out of town. "It's not uncommon to discover new cafes popping up across the city almost weekly. Our favourites are Onibus, La Cabra, and Bicycle Boy Shop. Each one has its own special vibe and serves up some seriously nice coffee. Bicycle Boy Shop is especially great because it's perfect for coffee lovers and cyclists, offering the best of both worlds. There's never a shortage of great options to explore."

So the coffee's a perk, and beyond that, LaLaBelle and her crew love nothing more than to snack on the tried and tested local delights: "We're all about the ice cream! Natthaphon in Phra Nakhon is the spot. Riding in a sizzling city like Bangkok, nothing beats a cold scoop. Although their homemade ice cream served with sticky rice is a real treat, it's not always available when we pedal by early in the morning. So, we've improvised! We grab some Thai grilled sticky rice with banana filling from the shop next door and pair it up instead. It's the combo!"

For rides later in the day, the focus shifts to savoury treats. "Kuay Tiew Roo, translated as "alley noodles," is a go-to with recipes handed down through the ages. Here, you'll find a delicious full bowl of Thai-Chinese egg noodles and homemade fish balls. However, the real showstopper is the roast pork mixed with honey. A perfect refuel bowl! The city is a haven for authentic flavours - Southern Thai curry and rice - I often pick up a variety of dishes and bag them home. Here it's a good price, great food, happy tummy!"

Curry, coffee, and ice cream recommendations: That's three happiness-making boxes checked in quick succession. LaLaBelle was in full flow, so as the convo kept rolling and our time with her was coming to a close, we switched gears into a speed round of questions…

Weekly training rides, what's in your pockets?

"Easy. Herbal inhaler, one sniff and it blows your mind. It's a refreshment perfect for a forever hot city like Bangkok. Plus, I'm really digging some Haribo and those quirky gummy bears. A bag of gummy bears in the pocket, I feel safe."

Top 3 best Bangkok routes we’ve got to try?

"It's where you can get the taste of concrete jungle that verges into the tranquillity of vast rice fields and suburban landscapes, with decent miles in the bag."

"A 23 km airport loop exclusively for cyclists. It's a no-brainer: just get out and go place! When I first began cycling, Sky Lane was my go-to spot for training and building confidence on my bike, especially when riding in groups. I jokingly tell my out-of-town friends that they should come to Sky Lane if they want to see a bike showroom. With new bikes and fresh kits, there's always something new here."

"What I love most about this route is the journey itself, surrounded by the scenic views and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere along the way. And it ends with a prize, a vintage coffee spot serving up a Thai-style breakfast hidden in the old market."

What segments are always in your sights?

“One of the most popular laps among local cyclists. If you come to Bangkok for a spin in the airport loop, you might as well try to snatch this segment here!”

“In Bangkok, where it's flatter than a pancake, our version of climbing is tackling flyovers. It might not be your typical mountain climb, but hey, it's what we've got!”

“Riding side by side with cars under the highway, it’s all about focus and speed speed speed.”

Spinning any tunes on the playlist?

"Music does add an extra layer of enjoyment to the ride, keeping the momentum going, head banging, and getting the spirits high. Indie-rock or upbeat tracks with interesting sound design are ideal tunes that match the city's lively, vibrant atmosphere and are definitely up my alley. During indoor sessions, I love to immerse myself in a whole concert show playlist. It's not just about the music but also about the sing-alongs that help distract from the tougher moments of training. Sometimes, a little groaning or yelling might sneak in, especially when the going gets tough!

As for outdoor rides, lately, I've been jamming out to artists like Girl In Red, Phoenix, Bombay Bicycle Club, NF, Monsune, alt-J, BETWEEN FRIENDS, Flor, Ginger Root, Foals, BØRNS, Peach Pit, and Last Dinosaurs. Their music sets the perfect tone."

Give it to us straight up. We're sold, but for those on the fence, why is Bangkok such a great place to ride bikes?

"The streets are full of life; it's a one-of-a-kind multi-sensory experience that immerses you in the vibrant culture and bustling energy. The traffic will get you on high alert. Street food will keep you energised, while the locals always keep you entertained. Plus, there are cafes for caffeine stops practically on every corner. Considering that, no two rides will ever feel the same."

That's it. Pause for breath. We thank LaLaBelle for the epic chat and look forward to seeing her again for a bunch sprint soon enough, preferably in Bangkok. In retrospect, if she ever wants to add to her impressive repertoire, then she'd clearly ace it as a travel agent. After hearing what the city has to offer by bike, we're booking our plane tickets A.S.A.P…and maybe going in on some top-tier travel insurance while we're at it.

@LaLaBelle shot on location by Jeff Siri for MAAP Training Spring/Summer 2024.

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