Cycling Stories

Cycling in Chiang Mai

Living in Bangkok, the possibilities for travel are endless. In May of 1999 a pair of bike enthusiasts from the International School of Bangkok were interested in going on a trip that would encompass the biking, scenery and culture that Thailand has to offer. They found the website they were looking for ... www.NorthernTrails.com! The four day trip was everything they expected and more. In fact, they loved it so much, that two weeks later they returned to Chiang Mai with 5 more biking teachers for a customized trip through the mountain trails. Word spread and after the summer holidays, another trip was organized, this time with nine bikers, some on their first adventure, others on their third.

Each trip had its own flavor. There were of course similarities, but each experience was unique because of the people involved and the changing seasons of Thailand's northern province. The first trips in May happened at the tail end of the dry season (generally stretching from December to May). The conditions on those trips involve hot dry weather, sunny skies. The trails are compact, fast and bumpy. While the scenery is always spectacular, a rider can tell that it's not as green as the rainy season's vegetation.

September's trip of course, was in the middle of the rainy season (June to November). Although the ground dries quickly, the condition of the trails depends on the amount cumulative right before departure. On this particular trip, the rivers, err we mean the trails, were very muddy, wet and at times slow moving. In fact, our expert guides decided that some parts of the trail would be impassable, so we engaged plan B.

Asia Biking has set tours or will plan a trip for you depending on your group's time and fitness requirements. Although the support vehicle was never used by our group members, we were happy to know it was close behind. In the hot season, the extra water in the truck came in handy. During the rainy season, the truck not only kept our bags dry, but allowed us to be transported to more traversable routes. We especially enjoyed the services provided on the trip. The bikes were good quality and were maintained by the guides and helpers throughout the trip. We definitely needed washes in the muddy season!

The scenery ranged from rice paddies, to mango groves, single track to dirt road paths through the forests. We had mountain views and flat land with very little paved road (perhaps more on the rainy season trip). Although there are hills, they are short and the up-hills are almost immediately followed by down-hills. Those make for some fun riding!

Culturally, the trip provides an excellent opportunity to see and to experience life in small hill tribe villages. Our favorite evening was spent sleeping in the guest hut of the Palaung village. Here it is like taking a step back in time. There is no electricity and a well provides the local water. For us, they had bottled water and a "real" ice box as a refrigerator to keep our local Thai beer cool. After supper, the girls and teens in their brilliantly colored clothes and wide silver belts danced and sang traditional songs for us. To our shock and amazement they later transitioned into English songs including Beatles hits, Christmas carols and some popular folk songs. Each day when we passed through different villages we had the opportunity to walk around and see the people and how they live and work. Some of the guides were excellent interpreters who not only provided local history, but also acted as interpreters between the group and the local people.

Every trip is similar and yet unique. There is another group of people from ISB waiting for the next trip to be organized. Your biking tastes, compact trails or mud, hot and dry or wet and lush, should dictate when you decide to go. We highly recommend this experience from the professional attitude and services of the company to the scenery and culture encountered. We consider ourselves fortunate to be Thailand residents... we can keep going back. Speaking of which, when's the next long weekend ?

Text by Amanda Eagles. Amanda, Don, Moe, Bernie are all teachers at ISB Bangkok and come up to Chiang Mai to cycle with Asia Biking regularly.

More Mountain Biking Articles.