Chiang Mai must be South East Asia’s cycling capital. It convinced me to get a road bike, and motivated me to get fit. It provided us with many beautiful roads and managed to let us meet inspiring cyclists, giving us a good example. Cycling here gave us the opportunity to experience this city in a different way and explore places that are not listed in most guide books. A truly amazing way to travel, and to discover Chiang Mai. Here’s a list of my favourites cycling trips including the Strava routes on the map!
The Chiang Mai classic. An 11km climb, just outside of the city center. Smooth roads through the jungle with glimpses of Chiang Mai through the trees, and every couple of kilometres a beautiful lookout over the city. The higher up you get, the sweatier it will become, even though the temperature drops a couple of degrees. It feels like meditating, emptying your head but then, at the same time filling it with thoughts. ‘Am I going to make it?’ or ‘will I beat my time?’ followed by ‘this is fun, I should do this every day’ and ‘why am I doing this, I hate this!’. All the way till that last bit, the steepest part that will take all focus and strength to make sure you make it. That’s when your head finally gets empty. The moment you arrive, on top of the mountain. Spoiling yourself with a fresh smoothie or a coconut, talking to fellow cyclists and for dessert rolling back down as quick as you can. That’s the best way to start the day.
Waking up to a bright blue sky asks to take the bike out for a spin. Load up with energy (my fave: oats topped with bananas and mango) and let your legs peddle you to the Chiang Mai mountains. Only a dozen of kilometres in and you’ll be surrounded by strawberry fields, green jungles and blue hill tops. A couple of dogs and even an elephant come will come to say hello and before you know it, you’ll finish the first steep climb. On your way back down, you’ll find the most beautiful coffee bar of Chiang Mai and surroundings. A grass terrace, with hand made timber furniture overlooking the mountains. The perfect spot for rehydration as you fill up your water bottles and take a minute to enjoy the view. The rest of the loop goes quickly as you go up and down hill, but in the end mostly roll down after that last climb. Once you’re out of the mountains, you’ll be back on busy roads, leading you home to were your shower is waiting for you.
MAE NGAT SOMBOON LAKE
A long flat road, through Chiang Mai’s country side will bring you to some hills. A very hot and dry area where plants and trees look like their best days are over. A couple of small climbs further you’ll find yourself back on the flat, riding along a straight road without an ending. Although, that’s just what it looks like. The end is nearer than you’ll expect as you’ll soon arrive at a dam. Climbed up the dam to find the most beautiful surprise you can hope for: a massive lake, surrounded by mountains. Next to the lake, a little restaurant, with by far the most spectacular view in the area. Serving you delicious stir fried veggies with rice and water, lots of water. Refuelled with energy start cycling your way back into town. Back through the fields, with the sun in your face, your day will be made.
Even though the first part of this ride might not look that appealing, it is worth it. This loop will take you from a ‘boring’ straight main road, with a massive bicycle path (time to get up your speed!) to a curvy green quite road next to the river. Cycling through no mans land, tiny towns and banana plantations. You’ll see locals work out in their outside gyms, grandpa’s cycling to the local market in the early morning and little children playing in the street, shouting Sawadekaa and waving to you as if you’re the first human they have ever seen. You’ll experience that other side of Thailand, where the local hair dresser has put a picture of Brad Pitt (from 1995) as his logo, the local restaurant only serves one dish and the gas station can be found in someones front porch. A Thailand that you won’t see in the fancy travel magazines but which is an experience you will remember forever.