Bikepacking through Thailand – On our way to paradise

BreakfastWaking up in Mae Chan, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped for – stomach ache and feeling weak, well that was probably just from the tough day before in the scorching heat. I figured some breakfast and tea would do me good. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and I was confronted with severe TD afterwards. I won’t elaborate on this bit (or, should I say shit…) – but I can assure you it took several hours before we could try and get back on the road again.

After I had taken Imodium to last a couple of hours, we headed out towards the South. This ride, my heart rate averaged at 87bpm – I’ve never seen it being this low while cycling. Arriving in Chiang Rai, we wanted to check out some temples and have the ultimate local specialty, Khao Soi Gai, at the restaurant Phor Jai – as recommended by Bangkok Airways’ magazine. I didn’t feel too great so we skipped the temples for after lunch. Khao Soi Gai is a local dish, essentially a coconut-curry chicken soup with cut rice noodles. It was really great, though my stomach wasn’t quite ready for this so Sandra got to enjoy 1,5 portions. I wish I could go back there and get it again and finish it myself.

After lunch, it was clear. We were only about 30K into our 90K ride and this wasn’t going to be any fun at all for me. Again, we had to cheat, taking a taxi. We tried to negotiate a good price. The guy wanted to take us but then found out our bikes should also come – that made it 400 baht more. Figuring we were lucky enough to have found a taxi that could fit us and the bikes within a couple of minutes we decided to take it. Arriving at the resort, it seemed we were the only ones staying here. The room was nice – for me that day, nice meant it had a good toilet – and there was a huge swimming pool. During dinner, we sat in a semi-open room with place for about 100 persons – and we were the only ones having dinner. It was as if we had entered into Jurassic Park, beautifully in the jungle but no other people around.

The enormous pool at our private Jurassic Park resort
Departing the next morning, I was luckily feeling quite OK after breakfast – at least good enough to ride 110K

As we experienced in the preceding days, the elevation profile of Strava Routes wasn’t too reliable and there were a lot of 12%+ surprises on the smaller roads. So we decided change our route a bit and stay on the larger roads to avoid these steep gradients. The majority of the route was awesome, going through the jungle and coming across several temples and hot springs. And the best thing – I could even get some power on the pedals again! The ride went quite smooth and after two Coca Cola stops we arrived at our destination of the day, the Mai Siam resort. We were welcomed with a fresh juice at this great place to spend the rest day!

That evening we had a fantastic dinner (sorry, I didn’t take any pics!) and went to bed early to get on the scooter the next day and discover the paradise we arrived at.


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!

Bikepacking through Thailand – preparations and the first day

Last September we went on quite a big adventure – flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and cycling a loop of over 600KM, from resort to resort, through the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen.

2016-09-19-11-01-03This will be the first post in the bikepacking series of 6 posts, starting off with the preparations and the first day.

Last September we went on quite a big adventure – flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and cycling a loop of over 600KM, from resort to resort, through the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen.

It all started quite small, with the idea to just do a quick trip to Thailand and relax. Up to the point that we figured out that the one thing we are bad at, is sitting down for longer than a couple of hours. So the plan was to see something of Northern Thailand and dive on one of the Islands (more about that in another post!).

A couple of friends did some bikepacking through Europe before and that sounded like the perfect way to see a lot, avoid touristic hubs, while still traveling quite some distance – we ordered the necessary bikepacking bags (Apidura saddle packs– highly recommended!) and started to look for road bike rental options, weather, resorts, etcetera.

Then came the route. We knew Spiceroads did some organised tours and we could see some parts of the route but wanted to create our own adventure. Using Strava heatmaps and segments, Google Maps and Streetview we managed to get quite a decent route – I thought at least. Well, I had to think again when we went looking for places to stay… The route forced us to a 300+KM ride between locations, no way this was an option. So, back to the drawing board, now simultaneously looking up hotels/resorts with ±100KM between them and drawing the route while still checking the road on Streetview, ensuring it’s at least rideable by road bike. After a long evening with two bottles of wine,  it resulted in a quite ambitious 855KM route with a lot of altimeters.

We had 9 cycling days, so just under 100KM a day and a rest day in the middle- shouldn’t be a problem, right?

The route from Chiang Mai, clockwise to the North and in the last days taking on Doi Inthanon – Thailand’s highest mountain

So I came backBeers-in-Bangkok from a business trip in China and
Sandra already arrived in Bangkok in the morning, providing a warm welcome at the resort with a Chang beer after the flight and long taxi drive. We relaxed a bit and walked around the area of the hotel. We probably were quite lucky being outside of the real touristic season and having relatively few tourists in the area! Our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was scheduled for departure at 08:05 the next morning, so we went to bed quite early after having a delicious Pad Thai, another beer and repacking of our bags in a way that we could get on the bike as quickly as possible!

The trip was really smooth, getting us at Spiceroads in Chiang Mai around 11:00. We prepared the bikes, all our gear that we had to take, changed our outfits and left almost everything locked up at the office there. Certainly for Sandra, picking only one set of clothing (for 10 days!), was quite a challenge 🙂

Ready to go! (don’t worry, there was a second bike!)
On the road

We were on the road around noon, set to ride about 80KM that day to arrive well before sunset at our first resort. The climate was something we really had to get used to – fortunately, the first day was a flat ride like we Dutch know very well 😉 After leaving Chiang Mai behind us, we were instantly surrounded by beautiful scenery and even some jungle. Moreover, when arriving at the resort we were overwhelmed by the beauty. I even got so overwhelmed that while riding from the reception to our cottage I had to brake for a small bump in the road… the bike being top-heavy with the bag, the road slippery green and, as I experienced, quite hard to fall on. Luckily it were just some scratches and bruises but this was not going to be the last fall this trip.