1. Beautiful and varied terrain – flat plains, rolling hills and some difficult hill climbs available. The Northern Thailand area is used as a winter training location by many road cyclists and it is easy to understand why. There are many road conditions and many small paved roads in the countryside that have relatively little traffic. There are also some fairly difficult hill climbs and a few that are famous enough to bring large numbers of Strava addicted bicycle riders who are constantly trying to out-do each other.
2. Lots of smiles and very friendly people. English speakers are not too difficult to find in large cities, but even without English, most people will understand that you need food and drink, so you can just point at what you want, no problem.
3. Inexpensive hotels & resorts – available even in most remote locations. The hotel shown above is in Lamphun town just south of Chiang Mai, very clean rooms with air conditioning, wifi, cable TV and refrigerator are available for around US$30 per day. There are of course much more expensive luxury resorts available too, but it is always possible to find something at a reasonable price and at the same time comfortable in this part of Thailand.
4. Inexpensive and good tasting food – easy to find in all locations. Thai food is well known as being one of the tastiest in the world. In Northern Thailand the food is not only very good but also very inexpensive. When you are bicycle touring it is important not only to hydrate regularly but also to eat plenty of food. That will not be a problem in this area, there is plenty of incredible cooked food and also a great variety of exotic fruits available (some that you have probably never seen before). 7-11 is your friend in Thailand, they are clean, have snacks (and micro-wave meals), and most importantly they have a large variety of soft drinks, fruit juices and water.
5. Coffee shops are everywhere – this is of course a separate category from food for coffee lovers – Thailand has fallen in love with Coffee Shops so you will find them everywhere, even in remote locations. In Northern Thailand they may even be roasting their own beans and own the coffee fields they come from.
6. A good bicycle infrastructure with bike shops and simple repair shops in most towns. Chiang Mai has a lot of bike shops and most international brands are represented, Chiang Rai is smaller so there are fewer bike shops but a few really excellent ones. The smaller towns of course have less but there are surprisingly well stocked bike shops on fairly remote places.
7. The weather is cooler than further south. It can be hot in the middle of the day, but that gives you a good reason to take a break, enjoy a good lunch and take in the local colour.
8. There are beautiful Buddhist temples throughout the area. Great for photography and also a good chance to relax in the shade for a while. The mountain top pagodas are the most beautiful of all and provide an opportunity to do some some uphill climbing the often very long and sometimes steep stairs.
9. The Thai Railroad is very bicycle friendly, I have never been refused a place for my bicycle, even on local trains that did not have a baggage car. There is one express train that travels from Chiang Mai to Bangkok once a day, that does not have a baggage car and will not take bicycles. All the other trains do. Cross country buses will take bicycles if there is room. Sometimes you have to negotiate with the driver directly and pay him an extra fee for your bicycle.
10. Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai Airports – flying in and out of Northern Thailand is easy, but flights to and from Europe or North America will probably require a stop in Bangkok. There are direct international flights available to countries in the Asia region from the Chiang Mai International Airport. The picture above is of the Old Airport in Chiang Rai during a festival, the old runway is now used as a recreation area for the City of Chiang Rai.
11. Thailand is surrounded by countries that are spectacular destinations for bicycle touring, but in one way or another, none of them are as easy to ride through on a bicycle as Thailand. I have spent a lot of time bicycling in Cambodia and passing through multiple border crossings. I find it very exciting and well worth doing, there are some incredible places in Cambodia. But there are still moments when I wish I was somewhere else. My advice is to travel with someone who has been there before.
Please contact George Mann if you would like to avail yourself of his photography, tour consulting or bicycle touring services – firstname.lastname@example.org