Bikepacking through Thailand – surprises along the way

So there we were in the Marisa Resort in Chiang Dao. We set the alarm quite early, wanting to beat the heat of mid-day. It was going to be quite a tough day, the route being 106KM long with a lot of altimeters to cover in the last 20KM, up the Doi Angkhang. With several kilometers with gradients of over 13%, we tried setting up a pickup for Sandra and my bags to the restort at the start of the climb and myself taking on the challenge.

Following the main road would be a little bit boring in our mind, so we planned to follow the smaller and more scenic 1346.

During the night, we already noticed quite some thunder whenever we would wake up. We figured it couldn´t be that bad, just a storm during the night. That, however, was not true. We woke up at 07:00 and we could hear the drops. It poured.

rainy-dayOptimistic as we were, we went out to go for breakfast and postponed our departure time a bit. Come on, it was the tail of the rainy season, of course there would be some rain. But leaving the chalet we quickly realized this wasn’t just some rain. It had been coming down throughout the night and was still raining and there were enormous pools on the roads in the resort. Luckily we had an umbrella in the chalet!

But it seemed there was no way it was going to get better. Looking up the weather on the internet didn’t make it any better unfortunately – it showed the storm would be worse going North. After we had breakfast, we went to the reception to inform about the weather and the forecast. They told us it wasn’t going to get better today. It was a hard call to make, but we had to take a taxi. It would be too risky with probably some flooded roads and all the muck in the streets. The taxi driver even said he couldn´t give an estimation on how long it would take with his 4×4 Toyota Hilux, it was going to be anywhere between 2 to 4 hours…

On the road in the Hilux we stopped at several amazing viewpoints – at least we could still enjoy the scenery in another way! Along the way we could accept our choice for the taxi, going through multiple half meter deep pools, a lot of rubbish washed on the road and small rivers racing across the roads.

It took us over 2 hours to drive just 80KM. Looking at the map afterwards, we drove along the 1178 and 1340 to the North through quite dense jungle – it was beautiful! Arriving at the Doi Angkhang Nature resort we found ourselves at one of the best resorts of this trip! A fantastic location, with a huge bed – you could fit a whole family in it – great food and a seemingly famous Agricultural Center at walking distance. The first thing we did after putting our stuff away, was get some proper Thai lunch! They had a lot of North Thai specialties such as spiced minced pork, grilled pork skin, locally grown fruits and veggies and much more.

Following lunch, we went for a walk (we didn’t do any sports that day, so we had to!) through the small town and up to the agricultural center. The surroundings there are so beautiful, with a great viewpoint around each corner!

At least it wasn’t raining anymore and the forecast was looking better and better for the coming days – luckily! But I do have to come back for this epic climb of the Doi Angkhang. The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful view, had an early breakfast as planned and set out to go North, through the Agricultural Center park and continue along the border, passing small villages and some steep inclines before we would descent towards the East.

As we rode through the park along our planned route and went through the villages we noticed the Burmese border on our left but well, Google Maps showed us the road would stay Thai. Well… That wasn’t the case. All of a sudden, a gatehouse appeared with closed barriers on the road – you could walk and ride underneath them, but the dogs that came running and barking towards us from the gatehouse suggested this was not really allowed. As the military gatekeeper came collecting his dogs, I cautiously asked if we could continue our path, but the answer was no. There went our plan for the day – we just rode an hour across roads with gradients sometimes exceeding 15%. There we were, getting scared away by the dogs and the unexpected border. We turned around, figured a new route that would be the quickest to pick up a decent route and that would be the descent of the Doi Angkhang from where we were planning to come up. This added about 30K to our ride – resulting that we would be climbing in the scorching heat later that day.

As we rode into Fang, we came back onto our planned route – Garmin updated the KM’s to our destination… 85! And we were already approaching the 50K mark. Then it really landed that this day wasn’t going to be easy. It might’ve been quite a good thing that we had a rest day the day before. Riding along our route, crossing several rivers and passing magnificent Buddha statues and impressive temples while the heat was continuously increasing the scenery kept our minds distracted to just keep pedaling on. The Garmin elevation chart still showed one challenge to overcome near the 100K mark – a climb of just under 10K’s showing an elevation increase that suggested 5/6% average. Nothing too difficult you would say, but after being on the road for over 6 hours under the blazing sun, we desperately needed some coolness and a Coca Cola. After this quick break, we took on the climb. By now we already had an idea that averages don’t mean anything here in Thailand and that was exactly what this climb turned out to be. With parts around 13% and 1,5KM at almost 11% it was not as easy as we hoped it would be – especially with all the stuff we had in our bags. 34×28 is normally quite OK for 12%, but by now we wished we had MTB gearing.

So after this grueling climb, we were ‘almost’ there. Only about 30K’s to go… and most of it downhill – luckily! It was quite silent in this last bit of the day – both being hammered by the long day of tough cycling. We could not wait to lie down on a bed with a cold beer in our hands, have dinner and go to bed early. What a day – but we made it!


Author: Kim ten Wolde

30/The Azores/Engineer/SCUBA diving Instructor/Traveler/Cyclist/(Underwater) Photographer/Shark lover & OneOceanGlobal Ambassador

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