Home An easy 8 day, 800 km ride from Bangkok due north to Thailand's second biggest city, ChiangMai. Safe, flat, good food and accommodation and some interesting historical sites.
Ride 6 Through
exotic Thailand: North to ChiangMai
Leg1: Malaysian border to SuratThani
Leg2: SuratThani to Bangkok
Leg3: Bangkok to ChiangMai
The Ride: An easy 8 day, 800 km ride from Bangkok due north to Thailand's second biggest city, ChiangMai. Safe, flat, good food and accommodation and some interesting historical sites.
The Road: First class, sealed and wide. The main Bangkok - ChiangMai highway is, however, very busy, and it pays to avoid it as much as possible.
There are quite a few alternative B road routes between towns, and these are the roads to take. They are sealed, excellent for riding and carry relatively little traffic. Your main concern here is the added distance and whether the smaller towns along these B roads have hotel accommodation.
Traffic: In Thailand, the traffic along the A roads is a bitch and will interrupt your thought processes. However, the B roads offer a great biking alternative. They carry relatively few vehicles and are definitely the way to go.
Hills: The trip is dead flat all the way until 150 km before ChiangMai. Around Lampang there are three notable hills that will take you about 45 minutes each to get up and over. From here on in the road undulates as it weaves through the mountains into ChiangMai.
The ride in detail: Bangkok (see Leg 2, above) is a surprisingly good experience on a bike. It's the fastest way of getting across town and the back alleyways and little shopping and residential clusters you pass through will keep you entertained. Recommended.
Riding out of Bangkok, however, is not such a positive experience. Once the traffic gets a smell of the open road it's every man for himself.
To save yourself some heart break, it may be worth catching an early train out of Bangkok's central Hualamphong Station to one of the stations beyond the city limits and begin your ride from there. The trains leave every half hour and you can take your bike without any hassles. If you just want to clear the city limits you can take a cab. Just dismantle your bike and stick it in the back seat. If the cabby wants to charge you more than a dollar or two, find another cab. This is where a 'bike bag' comes in handy.
Ayuthaya, the old Siamese royal capital (1350 - 1767), is some 90 km out of Bangkok and a good place to spend a day or two on the bike soaking up the history.
From Ayuthaya you can avoid the main highway by riding 80 km along highway 309 to Singburi (through AngThong) and from there, a further 100 km along highway 311 to NakhonSawan. Both these 'B' roads have only moderate traffic.
This far from Bangkok most people are heading for ChiangMai along the main highway, so the traffic is surprisingly thin and sometimes nonexistent along this beautifully sealed and wide 'B' road (see 'Jean-Paul' Pumpy at left).
Thailand's first capital, Sukhothai ('Rising of Happiness') was the seat of power during the 13th and 14th centuries. Considered the 'golden age'of Thai civilisation, the Sukhothai style of art and architecture is thought to be the most 'classic' of Thai styles. 'Sukhothai' style Buddha statues, for example, are the ones most commonly recognisable as 'Thai' and are generally the ones you see on the tourist brochures.
(New) Sukhothai town is quite a pleasant touristy spot with a heap of guest houses and restaurants. There's some quite nice places to stay on the outskirts of town which are easily accessable on the bike.
Sukhothai Historical Park (ruins) is an easy 12 km west of the new city and probably worth the trip. Mr Pumpy thinks ruins are sometimes (but not always) a bit boring, but the Park is very spread out and riding the bike along the tracks is allowed, so this livens the experience here somewhat.
From Sukhothai it's 100 km along highway 101 (via SiSatchanalai) to Uttaradit, where they don't see many tourists, don't seem to have many hotels or for that matter, didn't seem to have an over abundance of 'pretty ladies and widows' - see 'Pumps Up!' at left.. (Mr Pumpy spent an uncomfortable night on the floor of a dusty cafe, by himself.)
It'll pay you to get out on the road real early next morning, if not to escape the 'pretty ladies and widows', then because 100 km up the road (and 40 km before Lampang) you'll encounter three rather challenging hills. Make sure you haven't over done it in a big night in Uttaradit.
The first hill goes straight up for about 5 km, but there's a restaurant at the top, so you can dismount and drink four cokes. The Thais will be very impressed. The road sweeps down the other side of the mountain for 12 km and you'll notice the land begin to change from flat paddies to more 'hill and dale' farm lands. There's another two similar hills to go before you wheel into Lampang for a well earned rest.
Lampang has a lively night scene (read: bars and karaoke restaurants), and is a popular day trip out of ChiangMai for many Thais. It's an interesting enough town that doesn't see many farangs (foreigners).
100 km of rolling hills will get you into ChiangMai, Thailand's second biggest city (pop. 160, 000) and a tourist Mecca for both Thais and farangs alike. ChiangMai has a special character all of its own, and despite the rampant development of the last decade, is a very pleasant place to spend a few days and soak up the culture.
The city has a large Western ex-pat. population and boasts great restaurants, loads of guest houses, (legit) massage and meditation centres and on the bike, some great day trips out of the city. ChiangMai is also within easy striking distance of the Burmese border to the west and north, and the Lao border to the east.
The Bike: The roads are so good on this leg, a racer would be perfect for the job. A tourer or hybrid would be fine also.
Other Cyclists: One or two, if you're lucky.
Places to stay: Plenty of good hotels in the major centres, although some of the smaller towns don't actually have hotels. The few times I've been caught out I've managed to stay with friendly locals. Just smile a lot, look helpless and you'll be fine.
The locals and security: Stay vigilant, but really the security risk is pretty low on the scale of things. Keep the bike in site or locked and you should be fine.
Food & drink: Tasty food, snacks, drinks and bottled water are readily available all along the road. Lots of fish dishes. No need to take any supplies.
Transport: Local buses going past most of the time which you can flag down at the side of the road. The locals going past in their pick-up trucks have helped me out a few times. The Thais are friendly and courteous folk and generally willing to help out.
Bike shops: A good bike shop in Chiang Mai is on Chanmot Rd, just near the klong (canal). It's small, but sells hi-tech equipment and does serious and good repair work. (Thanks to Richard de Boer for this tip!)