For a cyclist living in Far North Queensland, the Wet Season can (and often does) dampen ones riding spirit. As a means of maintaining sanity (at least that's how I justify it) I have, for the past few years, sought refuge in a week or three of trail therapy across the ditch in New Zealand. However, having heard whisperings of the growing two-wheeled scene in the sacred mountains surrounding Chiang Mai (Thailand), I decided to make the pilgrimage there to find out for myself.
After the usual Google research and a few emails to various bicycle tour providers, I decided upon Trailhead; their website was modern and easy to navigate, hire bikes looked trail-worthy (YT Jeffsy duallies & Kona Blast hardtails), range of tours on offer sounded exotic, staff were all cyclists, and their office was central ... and contained a coffee shop!
Whilst the Thailand that most are familiar with may very well be flat, the area surrounding Chiang Mai is far from. Landing in Chiang Mai I was grateful to have packed my climbing legs (even if they weren't fully charged).
With seven days on the ground I booked three tours with Trailhead, leaving a day in-between rides to explore the ancient walls, indulge in delicious Thai food, and chill-out.
1. Stairway To Heaven - commencing near the top of a nearby mountain range, this tour was full of short punchy ups and downs, culminating in a looong singletrack descent.
We rode through a few mountain villages, startled a few farmers (and their livestock - sorry), and returned to a sumptuous Thai feast.
2. Buffalo Soldier - a fast and flowy mixture of single and doubletrack passing through a local coffee plantation (where we were obliged to stop and taste the produce on offer). Also enroute were a range of fruit orchards including lychees, dragon fruit, mangoes and oranges (yes, oranges).
If you wish to lengthen this tour, you can ride from the Trailhead Office up the mighty Doi Suthep climb (24.5km / 1,295m elev.).
3. Rural Explorer - a leisurely roll through the countryside; villages, rice fields, rainforests and more. The scenic "day-off-the-bike" you have when you don't want a day off the bike.
Whilst I chose the above adventures to suit my tastes, Trailhead also offer several other tours, including DH shuttles and multi-day epics. If traveling with a group of friends, custom tours and guide/driver/vehicle options can also be arranged.
In the words of Van Stokes from Tennessee (one of my riding companions on Buffalo Soldier) : " ... a tour with Trailhead is more than just a bike ride, it's an experience". From their local knowledge and guiding, to their passion for cycling and their love of the outdoors, each tour is unique.
Did I mention that each ride is never complete without a fresh coconut and a gourmet five dish Thai meal? All included in the price of the tour. (Bottled water and lunch is also provided).
SilkAir offers regular return flights from Cairns to Chiang Mai (via a stop-over in Singapore) several times a week. Having recently upgraded their aircrafts operating out of Cairns, the 6h50m flight to/from Singapore was very comfortable. Flight time between Singapore and Chiang Mai is a further 3h (approximately).
Though my introduction to Chiang Mai was purely to sample the dirt on offer, the area does have a strong reputation throughout Asia as a road cyclists playground; where steep climbs are as plentiful as the high-end road bikes scaling their slopes.
So, what are you waiting for? Get over and discover Chiang Mai for yourself.