Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mae Hong Son Circuit

I love January in Northern Thailand.  The weather is just about perfect, and feels a bit like Southern California - dry, cool in the shade and warm in the sun.  The holiday crowds have mostly gone, and there is a nice, laid-back atmosphere. 



My wife Laura, and I set off to ride our road bikes on the Mae Hong Son Circuit, which starts out of Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, and loops to the north.  It can be done clockwise or anticlockwise, but if you are going by bicycle, I would suggest doing it anticlockwise.  That saves the option of going over Doi Inthanon, Thailand's biggest peak, for last.

Getting a flight into Chiang Mai is easy, but getting the bike boxes to the hotel may be a bit of a challenge if you are new to Thailand.  The easiest way is to arrange transport with your hotel and let them know you have bike boxes.  We just flagged down a 'Song Thiew' at the airport.  Technically, they are not supposed to pick up passengers, but security guards can be understanding when they see you've got oversized bags that won't fit in the standard transport options from the airport.
Baan Rai Laana Resort, Mae Taeng, at the end of Day1. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

We like to stay in 'Old Chiang Mai', within the moat of the old city.  There are numerous hotels there.  We like using the 'Old Canal Road' as an option to stay off the highway getting out and coming back into Chiang Mai.  We try to stay off the main roads, using backroads as much as possible.  I planned the route on 'RidewithGPS' and transfered the route onto my iPhone, using Gaia GPS to navigate enroute.
Breakfast in Pai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

Our anticlockwise route took us from Chiang Mai to Mae Taeng, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, and Mae Sariang.  From Mae Sariang, we wanted to proceed to Mae Chaem, and over Doi Inthanon to get back to Chiang Mai, but we took an easier option to ride via Hot back to Chiang Mai.  You can find the planning for this trip on RidewithGPS.
Morning mist over Chong Kham Lake, Mae Hong Son. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

It's good to do a little research before the ride so you can plan out where to take your rest days and what you might like to do.  I like Pai and Mae Sariang as good places to break the journey.

We used regular road bikes with Revelate Designs bags.  I find this setup ideal for light and fast tours.  Now that Laura and I no longer have plans to do long distance touring, we have sold our Surly LHTs and panniers setup.  The only change we would advise is to use a cassette with larger cogs.  We used a compact crankset (50-34) with an 11-28 cassette and had to push up a few steep bits.  The next time we take our road bikes out on tour, we'll fit them out with 11-32 cassettes.

You'll be stopping in places where they don't see many foreign tourists, so its good to learn a few words and numbers in Thai:
Hello - Sawadee Krup (Ka, feminine)
Room - Hong
Water - Nam
Toilet - Hong Nam
Not spicy - My Pet
Ice Coffee - Cafe Yen
One - Neng
Two - Song
Three - Sam
The Old City Gates of Chiang Mai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

The Mae Hong Son Circuit is a good one for more experienced and fit riders.  We suffered our fair share of mechanicals, food poisoning, lack of fitness. We'll probably go back and do it again;)  Distances are about 100km with about 2000m of climbing each day.  The roads get busy near Chiang Mai and Pai, and there isn't much of a shoulder to ride on.   For an easier road tour ride in Thailand, check out my blog post on riding bike touring Phuket.



4 comments:

Duncan Chui said...

kenneth
I rode a scooter around Mae Hong Son and I loved it. Are you Taiwanese? I just happened to stumble on to your website and it's .TW Just wondering... I was trying to find your email address but it's not on your blog.

Kenneth Koh said...

Hi Duncan, I'm from Singapore who went to school and spent some time in the USA. Thanks for checking out my blog :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kenneth,

I love your blog. I wonder if you could share how you pack and ship your bike overseas? All your adventures overseas have inspired me to give it a go!


J

Kenneth Koh said...

I just grab an empty cardboard bike box from a bike shop. They usually let me leave it at the hotel where I spend the first night, if I'm coming back, so I usually book a room there on my last night as well. A cardboard box is great protection, lightweight, and can be folded flat and rebuilt with duct tape if required. The only negative is that it's not waterproof, so be careful transporting it in the rain.