Chiang Mai day trips... scoots vs. Mtn bikes

Jan 12, 2003
Chiang Mai day trips... scoots vs. Mtn bikes
« on: May 29th, 2002, 6:01am » Quote Modify Remove

I arrived in Chiang Mai from Calgary, Canada a few weeks ago with my mountain bike in tow, a 35 pound Kona "Stinky Primo" downhill rig.... my lead sled. While not the best axe for road riding around Chiang Mai I must say it provides an interesting diversion from m/c touring around here, an activity that doesn't really need a diversion, but what the hell.

The first requisite ride had to be Doi Suthep. Nothing could be more "inviting". Unfortunately I got to bed around 3:00 a.m. the night before after pouring Chang down my gullet all night. I didn't bother eating or drinking the next morning before I started the grind either so needless to say I felt like I was towing a cement mixer up there. I'm embarrased to say that after only 1000 vertical feet, about half the way to the Wat, I bailed. After drying out, rehydrating, and refuelling, I gave it a shot the next day. It was a snap. I got to the Wat at 2000 vertical feet in about an hour fifteen. The cloud ceiling was just above the Wat, so the scene while grinding up to Phu Ping Palace and Doi Pui was like something out of 'Lord of the Rings'. Cool dense fog drifting through the trees made for a most surreal setting. People driving up to the Wat are incredibly encouraging, shouting support and flashing a thumbs-up when they blast by... but on the way up to Doi Pui, another 2000 vertical above the Wat they mostly look at you like you're a wingnut. I don't know why, it's long but not that bad. Psychologically it's straightforward since the uphill is unrelenting but not too steep; you never lose elevation you need to gain back later like on some rides here So anyway, I got to the summit after something like 3 hours of riding and 4000' of climbing and was rewarded with a half hour sled ride back down screaming past cars, scoots, and songthaews at over 70 clicks on the big stinky.

Like David suggests, one of the best loops around is the Samoeng loop. My first experience with it was on the Stinky. For no particular reason I did it counter clockwise, to Mae Rim, then Samoeng, Hang Dong, then finally Chiang Mai again. Davids map is excellent; there is however one element missing that would be nice for cyclists, even though its presence would undoubtedly dampen the 'spirit of adventure' and maybe even discourage people from trying it. In a word: elevation.

To The Mae Sa elephant camp it's very pleasant riding, gentle sweepers up a mellow incline that gradually climbs a shallow valley east of the main ridge that separates Samoeng from its easterly neighbours. The real climbing that starts a few clicks west of Pong Yang is fairly brutal. Switchbacks out of a box canyon deposit you onto another long uphill grind that doesn't end until passing over the crest of the ridge near the hill tribe village of Doi Sang. The sun can be relentless and it was this day. The views here and feeling of accomplishment are astounding. As 1096 curves south to traverse the ridge, it descends in wide fast sweepers that are as fun on a mtn bike as they are on a scoot. My elation was tempered though... I was losing ALOT of elevation. After climbing 2500 feet I was losing it, fast!

I was so drained by sizzling away on the breezeless climb and starting to bonk from lack of blood sugar I was basically commited to Samoeng now and the growlies that would be there. But as I descended the steep drop into town I lost almost ALL of the elevation I spent the last 4 hours gaining. My heart sank as quick as the big Stinky. But guzzling 3 orange sodas and scarfing down a plateload of food does wonders for ones well being and within a half hour I was grinding my way back up to the checkpoint at the intersection with 1096/1269. I wasn't surprised that the road kept climbing up 1269 to Hang Dong. I was pretty whacked already and since I was only at the halfway point I was starting to have doubts about getting back before dark. Then it started to rain.....

At least the rain here is warm. A side benefit is it kept me cool as once more I gave up another 1000 feet or so only to have to climb all the way back up the brutal switchbacks about halfway along 1269. I was tired enough at this point that had there been another set I would not have made it back before dark.

Unknown to me, this last set was basically "it". Everything was literally all downhill from here. I was definitely having too much fun carving through the corners, dropping my knee like I try to on my CBR900RR back home...

One corner in particular, I saw 3 locals standing at the apex of a beautiful descending right hand sweeper. Feeling pretty confident I set up for the corner, hung off my left leg slightly and dropped my right knee while diving into the corner. The knobbys on the tires made a brief "brrrup" sound and I was down........... lowsided going maybe 50 km/hr. The sound of my bike and body sliding across the pavement was exquisite. And so was the pain I had enough time to drag my arm on the ground to spin myself around so that at least I was sliding feet first thus protecting my un-helmeted melon. I stopped short of the guard rail after sliding maybe 60 feet. Fortunately I missed the locals, my 105 kg frame would have mowed them down like bowling pins.

No damage to Stinky other than the rear derailler needing a bit of field-tweaking. And I got away with a pineapple sized piece of road rash on my right hip. From the time I stopped sliding to the time I took off again, the locals never stopped laughing. I thought one of them was going to bust a blood vessel.

So in the end, about 9 hours of riding, maybe 5500 vertical feet of elevation gain/loss, and 107 km. An incredible ride.....

Clockwise would be a bit easier I think. Since then I've bombed around it twice on a Baja 250, once in each direction. More "fun" definitely, but not quite as much "adventure".

Well, if you've made it this far, thanks for your attention. A buddy and I will be touring around the Mae Hong Son loop for the next couple weeks so if anyone has any good "beta", I'd love to hear it. Chok dii, keep your feet on the pegs, and keep up the great work David.

« Last Edit: May 29th, 2002, 6:13am by leebaer »