3 days bike tour from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai, the northernmost city of Thailand
8/9 days round trip through the mountains around Chiang Rai, northern Thailand
1 Chiang Rai to Mae Sai
2 Mae Sai to Chiang Khong
3 Chiang Khong to Phu Chi Fa
4 Phu Chi Fa to Chiang Kham
5 Chiang Kham to Phayao
6 Phayao to Phrao
7 Phrao to Thaton
8 Thaton by boat to Chiang Rai
What I would do different today
5/10 days bike tour from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
My daughter Anna had never been on a bike tour over several days before, but we wanted to do a nice, flat tour with little traffic together. The result was a bike tour from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (German) with a little train ride in between and almost always on small roads parallel to the major traffic routes. The route can easily be extended, adapted or otherwise individualized. (Route available on request)
6/7 days bike tour from Chiang Mai to Vientiane (Laos) – Visa run by bike
I had to get a visa and wanted to combine this with cycling. The nearest Thai embassy is in Vientiane. It can be done. Let’s go. The route planning is a compromise between long distance and few meters of altitude. Cycling from Chiang Mai to Vientiane (German)
Day trips around Chiang Rai
- Chiang Rai – Mae Sai
- Chiang Rai – Phayao
- Chiang Mai – Phrao
(Routes available on request)
Bike tour from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai
Beautiful bike tour in 3 days from Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, via Chiang Dao (famous for its cave) and Thaton (at Nam Kok) to Mae Sai, the northernmost city in Thailand, near the Golden Triangle. About 280 km
Day 1: Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao
My start was at the bridge over the Ping River 1 km east of the east gate of the old town. The river offers a good orientation for the first about 27 km, because you stay on the right side in northern direction. Small roads lead up to Baan San Pong (left) or Baan Krua (right) and avoid the big city traffic. One always moves near the river and between the country roads 107 and 1001.
Shortly before the 1001 makes a large bend to the east, you turn left across the river and then continue north on small roads for about 8 km. Unfortunatly you have to continue on the 107.
(Alternatively, you could ride out of town until here on the 107).
Now it goes about 53 km partly slightly uphill on the country road with side lanes to Chiang Dao, which is known for its cave in the more than 2000 meters high local mountain, that rises above the city. Attention, before Chiang Dao you should leave the ring road and ride through the city (signposted).
Overnight stay in Chiang Mai
Not far from the airport there is a super clean Hostel specialized for cyclists. And whoever thinks of dormitories now, thinks wrong. Small single rooms, so-called boxes, await the cyclist as well as cycling enthusiasts: Bike – Sleep – Repeat
In addition, the ratings say: compared to other accommodations the best value for money in Chiang Mai.
Overnight stay in Chiang Dao
I stayed at Chan and Cees for a cheap night. I chose this place because it was the shortest way to get to an overnight stay. Because I was pretty exhausted from the evening before :-)
As Chiang Dao is very popular with travelers, there is a wide range of accommodation in different price categories at Booking.com – Chiang Dao.
Day 2: From Chiang Dao to Tha Ton
The next day it goes mostly through the forest over the pass, which is not too difficult and a good road. But here the traffic is more disturbing, because there is no side lane. A motorcyclist from Chiang Mai told me that this is the pass in the north with the most accidents. So be careful.
After the beautiful descent we continue through the plain of Fang. The road is slightly sloping, so it rolls really well. Shortly before Fang you should change to the 1089. Both roads merge again later, but I think driving through the city is nicer.
Via Mae Ai, the 1089 continues to be mostly flat until Tha Ton. Here you can visit a beautiful temple with a view over the river and the area.
Overnight stays in Thaton
A nice possibility for Thaton: Thaton Hill Ressort
A very nice alternative is the Mae Kok River Village Resort with best ratings. Here you can also dine with a view on the river. The resort is about 1 km upstream from the bridge on the right hand side.
Tha Ton also offers the alternative to go by boat on the Kok River to Chiang Rai. So if you urgently need a break from cycling and prefer to continue your journey by small boat, partly over swells, this is the right place.
Day 3: From Tha Ton to Mae Chan (and further to Mae Sai)
From Tha Ton, the road leads from the bridge over the Nam Kok towards the east. In the river valley the road begins to rise slightly and then leads over the pass with over 600 meters of altitude difference. The descent on a very good road is a pleasure in terms of scenery and riding.
Alternatively you can turn left at the Police Checkpoint and continue via Mae Salong, but the constant up and down and steep ramps are no fun with luggage or road bike.
Just before Mae Chan (about 53 km from Thaton, about 8 km before Mae Chan) you should not miss the nice park at Baan Pong Nam Ron with hot springs. The attraction is beside the beautiful life-size replicas of daily work the cooking of eggs in the hot springs. For little money you can get eggs in bamboo baskets at the stands, which you simply put into hot water for a while.
Von Mae Chan nach Mae Sai
From Mae Chan you can either ride along Highway 1 to Mae Sai (just head north on the side lane of the 4-lane road) or ride a few kilometers longer with less traffic through the villages.
The tour, which I have recorded from Mae Chan to the border to Myanmar, the northernmost point of Thailand, leads along roads that are almost continuously well paved. Unfortunately they are hardly signposted and therefore only to be found by those who know the place or with a lot of searching on the map. A GPS device and my GPX data helped to enjoy the village life, the beautiful landscape of rice fields and the view of the mountains.
Round trip through the mountains around Chiang Rai
“The far north” – the partly athletic bike tour in 8 to 9 days in a big loop through the northern Thai mountains around Chiang Rai.
Original Thailand, country life, Mekong, mountain people, lake promenade and forest, lots of forest. All on this beautiful Thailand bike tour.
Day 1: From Chiang Rai through the villages to Mae Sai
90 km, 450 m altitude difference.
Many Thai racing cyclists are on the big roads. For them a direct connection along highway no. 1 would be obvious. This is also possible (and shorter) on the verge, but no fun with the heavy traffic. So my suggestion is a big loop almost completely over small roads.
Start is at the clock tower (หอนาฬิกา), a prominent starting point in the center of Chiang Rai. Only the first part out of the city leads along big roads. Even the airport can be bypassed relatively comfortably on a bicycle path. Another short stretch on a kind of highway and then it goes slightly hilly over the villages through agricultural land.
From Baan Nong Krok, when you turn onto the 1016, it gets flat. Over rice fields and on roads with little traffic, the road continues with views of the beautiful mountains. Just before Mae Sai the traffic increases. The route leads directly to the border to Tachilek, Burma. From there it is not far to Baan Sabai, a nice and quite new hotel in the middle of the city. (More info about Mae Sai with guesthouses, hotel and food)
Overnight stay in Chiang Rai
There are a large number of overnight accommodations in Chiang Rai. Since I live nearby, I hardly ever spend the night there myself. Therefore I have no concrete tip. But with Booking.com you can find the best rated hotels.
110 km, 80 of it flat.
A beautiful tour along the Mekong, the great river that connects five countries.
Start at the border to leave the city eastwards through Mueang Daeng Street, one of Mae Sai’s shopping streets, and past the 2nd Friendship Bridge. Already after 3 km you are on a small country road, which leads 15 km across travel fields. And this almost without traffic. The traffic on the big country road to Chiang Saen is low although the road is so well developed, probably because of the tourist destinations. It goes over 2 small gradients past the Opium Museum and two kilometers further past the Golden Triangle. From the prominent tourist magnet with the big golden Buddha, the Mekong is often in sight.
Chiang Saen – old city on the Mekong
Chiang Saen with its remains of the old city wall and its temple ruins is passed directly along the Mekong. It is nice to watch the hustle and bustle on the big river here. If you are lucky, you can watch the many helpers loading or unloading a Chinese ship – all without machines. After Chiang Saen it is important to go straight on at the crossing in Baan Saeo. Chiang Khong is signposted both straight ahead and to the right, but the country road No. 4007 leads in a big curve along the Mekong. Due to the lush and fertile river valley, the road is flat until 15 km before Chiang Khong. As the valley becomes narrower and we meet the road No. 1129 again, the road goes in a constant up and down to our destination.
The restaurant and bar “The View” is predestined for a stopover. The name says it all. In a beautiful atmosphere you can eat and drink here with a magnificent view on a hill above the Mekong. In Chiang Khong the boats start to Luang Prabang, the world cultural heritage in Laos. Accordingly, this beautiful little town is a frequented place of transit for many tourists. So there are many guesthouses and hotels.
For the overnight stay I recommend the Day Waterfront House. The price-performance ratio for this small hotel directly on the Mekong is great. Big very clean rooms with air-con, balcony, TV, fridge, kettle and breakfast depending on the season from 700,- Baht. Besides the owners speak quite good English.
If the 110 km are too long for you or if you want to take your time for the Hall of Opium and Golden Triangle, you can stay overnight at Rai Puchat at about km 84. The homestay, built in 2015, is located directly on the Mekong and is an oasis of peace and tranquility. Delicious food, cooking classes, large garden with own cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Best suited for people who are looking for a place to come down in the north of Thailand. The Thai-Style wooden house is beautiful, but also a bit typically Thai pompous. I recommend staying in one of the small wooden bungalows down by the river.
About 85 km, mostly uphill, about 1200 meters of altitude difference.
From the Mekong into the mountains. The first 20 km out of Chiang Khong on the 1020 and then following the signs to Phu Chi Fa are still flat, then it becomes hilly and then steep – very steep.
The first beautiful section begins after about 20 km when the 1055 is reached. Here the road meets the Mekong which goes through the mountains. This means that the valley becomes narrow and rocky. The road runs parallel to the river for about 10 km, and there are always rewarding views. At the Panorama Cafe the name is program. After the road turns away from the Mekong river and gains the first meters of altitude, the landscape becomes nice and lush green. There are only a few bigger places left. The ride goes through some very poor villages. It is the territory of one of the mountain tribes in Thailand (ethnic minorities partly without citizenship).
In little Wat Tham Pha Lae I have my lunch break. The peaceful atmosphere is very inviting. Just like the highest of 3 monks who invites me to rest in the prayer hall. So I take a wonderful nap under the gentle eyes of two Buddha statues. From the turnoff to Phu Chi Fa, it gets rough. First I am annoyed because the hard worked altitude difference is lost within a very short time, because it goes steeply downhill, and then I am annoyed because in Thailand the roads always lead up the mountain so steeply instead of in serpentines. The Thai road builders should be brought to Switzerland for a crash course :-)
When the 15% ramps start, I give up and push mainly. On the way I am marveled at by the school children on their way home. They are on mopeds, too. At least one kilogram of lychees picked from the trees gives me energy to keep going. Almost arrived I discover the refuge of a monk who speaks German. He had been in Ludwigshafen in the 80s. Now he has been living here for 12 years in harmony with nature. In the late evening hours I arrive in the village at over 1300 meters. There are many places to stay overnight, but everything seems empty. Sure, here it is only full in the main season, i.e. in winter, when tourists come not only from Thailand to admire the fog in the valleys.
Overnight stay in Phu Chi Fa
I ask for a place to stay in the first shop and get a simple, not very attractive room for 300 Baht. Anyway, I just want to lie down. If you want to have it a bit more comfortable, you can try the Phu Mok Dok Mai Resort nearby.
About 77 km, much downhill, little uphill.
My effort of the day before is rewarded with over 20 km downhill. Not too steep and with a beautiful view – a dream, if the partly bad road would not need all my attention. So I stop often and look over the mountains. Since the road runs very close to the Thai-Laotian border, there are sometimes military posts or detours to border crossings signposted.
On this short stage you can take a lot of time to take pictures or to relax in Phusang Park. The waterfall in this small park is really beautiful and worth seeing.
Overnight stay in Chiang Kham
In Chiang Kham I booked a good room with air-con and a great bed. For 890 Baht not too expensive for the very clean and big room in the hotel for people on business trips. That means everything you need and good. Also a massage was in today as a reward for the last days. 60 minutes for 350 Baht.
The Chiangkham Grand Villa is highly recommended. It is located right on the route, is clean and quiet.
About 65 km, flat, nothing special. (i.e. athletic cyclists can also cycle through from Phu Chi Fa to Phayao).
At the beginning and later again near Chun there are only a few kilometers possible on small roads. Otherwise it goes over relatively large country roads partly also with heavy goods vehicle traffic. But for me it is not so tragic, because the air is clear and the mountains are visible. Along the major roads is a lane for slower vehicles. As so often at such stages, I let my thoughts run free and don’t even notice how time passes.
The promenade at the lake in Phayao is really nice. With the mountains in the background it reminds me somehow of Switzerland. There is a lot going on today on May 20th, because half of Thailand is on its way to a temple because of a high Buddhist holiday. Here in the lake there is a small shrine, to which today a floating bamboo bridge leads.
At the picnic by the lake (highly recommended, there are sellers who provide you with food) I got to know Wolfgang who lives here. His tips on what to discover here in Phayao and the beautiful view lead to the decision not to ride further today. So I would like to visit the aquarium at Highway No. 1 with the famous giant catfish, but unfortunately it is a holiday. Otherwise it is open from Monday to Saturday from 8.30 to 16.30 and on Sunday from 8.30 to 12.
The wall painted by local artists at the “Ancient Port” is not so easy to find and not very impressive. But some of the paintings are really interesting.
Overnight stay in Phayao
Of course I wanted to know it and followed his advice that one can still stay overnight in a hotel for 200 Baht. I wanted to know that. Now I know it. There is indeed still a hotel like the Tharn Thong Hotel, which seems to be from another time. The equipment is accordingly. The telephone system in the reception is actually still in use and the elevator smells just as old. Considering the hot season I decided to take the room with air-con at 340 Baht.
Update: Meanwhile I stay overnight in Phayao much better. For only 690,- Baht you get a very clean, large and well equipped room only 2 km away from the lake. My tip: The Kanlaya House has dedicated staff and is super clean.
128 km, over 7 hours, many altitude meters
Wow, that was a little over my head. Actually, I wanted to ride further yesterday to keep this stage shorter. But I didn’t do that. So today it became really exhausting again – but nice.
The morning atmosphere at the lake was beautiful, the view of the mountains very clear. That was very promising. After the first 20 km on mostly small roads, began the first ascent. A moderate climb over 10 km on a wide, but at the time of day little frequented bigger country road. I envy a road bike group coming towards me for the beautiful descent and I hope that I will also be able to enjoy it on this stage.
And indeed, right after the pass I am on a 10 km flow. I continue through a beautiful area over wide roads. Another longer ascent is on the way before I reach the road connecting Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
On this extremely busy road I don’t feel like driving any longer and therefore I choose to cover the next 15 km with the Songthaew. This costs me 100 Baht, but preserves my legs and nerves from the upcoming challenges.
It goes over steep ramps into the mountains towards Phrao. 15 %! It’s enough to make you weep. These little roads always go over the mountain instead of around it. It’s no fun for me with luggage. When I then had the feeling that soon I would not be able to do it anymore, I suddenly saw the plain of Phrao near a village. Yeah, made it!
A wave of relief and joy gives me new energy. I also need it for the 20 km demanding downhill to Phrao. Great.
Overnight stay halfway in in Wiang Pa Pao
For all cyclists who do not want to do this king stage in one piece: there’s a very nice place to stay halfway up the trail. In Wiang Pa Pao there is a wonderful “homestay”, which was recommended by a friend: Phoomtada : Phoomtada
Overnight stay in Phrao
Im Ortskern gibt es zwei günstige Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten. Einmal ist da das individuell eingerichtete Granny Tea House* für billige 300 Baht incl. Frühstück außerhalb der Saison. Leider ohne Aircon und deshalb nur für die kühlen Monate geeignet. Nicht weit findet sich die im Phrao Place*. Sehr saubere und große Zimmer, allerdings mit harten Betten. Nicht jeder mag das so wie ich. Bei beiden sind die Besitzer super nett. Im Umland gibt es dann noch mehr Auswahl.
In the centre of the village there are two cheap overnight accommodations. One is the individually furnished Granny Tea House for a cheap 300 Baht including breakfast out of season. Unfortunately without air-con and therefore only suitable for the cooler months. Not far away is the Phrao Place. Very clean and large rooms, but with hard beds. Not everybody likes it like me. The owners of both are super nice. In the surrounding area there is even more choice.
101 km, 1020 m altitude difference (especially in the first third)
Phrao is situated in a beautiful plain with high mountains around it. It looks very fertile. Many mango and lychee plantations line the streets.
Then suddenly a warning sign: “Danger” and “Warning” I can read. A short time later I know what it warned of. In a 20% ramp with curves and a bad pavement even car drivers have difficulties. For me, even pushing becomes exhausting. (By the way, I measure with a slope inclinometer in the Outdooractive app).
Since I started without breakfast again, I stop in the first village in the middle of no man’s land. In a small shop I tell Pohn the shop assistant that I am hungry (“hiu kao”) and ask if there are any nuts. She offers me to cook eggs, which I gladly accept. I talk to her husband and a short time later she comes back with a big pot of rice and some bowls. She sets the table for 3 people and says that they haven’t eaten yet either. Omelet, fish and – beetles (!!!) are served. Okay, I want to try that. And actually they taste not bad. It’s all in the mind. If you forget that they’re bugs, it only tastes like fried food.
Thiwit proudly tells me that her daughter is studying in Bangkok and asks if there are any children from the Karen hill tribe in my orphanage. Since I still have a long way to go, I soon set off again, although I would have been able to stay here for a while longer with these friendly people.
The route continues in a constant up and down through the less populated mountains. Among other things I discover a cave, where obviously also a monk lives. Since I don’t have a good flashlight with me, I only dare to go in about 50 meters.
At the junction with country road no. 107 I turn right towards Fang. I already know this busy road. Here I drove from Chiang Dao to Thaton 2 years ago. At that time I was already surprised how densely built-up this road is. On the next 55 kilometers there is not one kilometer that has not been covered with a house or a hall. But the terrain is slightly sloping, so that it goes fast via Fang and Mae Ai to Thaton.
In Thaton there is besides the bridge over the Nam Kok – the river that flows to Chiang Rai – a quite nice Wat (temple) above the city to admire. Who still has enough energy left should ride up to the 8th level and enjoy the great view there. The interesting combination of Chinese snake sculptures, heroic statues of former kings and a Chedi is also included. I do this the next morning before leaving for Chiang Rai.
Overnight stay in Thaton
I had chosen a promising resort directly at Nam Kok and booked it with Booking.com. But the formerly beautiful resort seemed to be very run down. Everywhere the traces of decay were to be seen on the 15 year old buildings. Some construction workers were repairing the front of the restaurant. It looked like a sysiphus job to me.
This is the advantage of booking through Booking.com. Payment is only made on site and the booking can usually be cancelled free of charge. So I could have just looked around for something else. In the low season no problem.
A very nice alternative in Thaton is the Mae Kok River Village Resort with very good ratings.
Day 8: Thaton to Chiang Rai
On the Nam Kok (Kok river)
In the morning long tail boats leave for Chiang Rai if the water level is sufficient. Normally the water level is sufficient from the rainy season until about March.
What I would do differently today: Split stage 6 into two days.
I did this whole tour during the hot season. It’s not really recommended. Some stages have become accordingly exhausting. Not only because of that I would shorten this extreme stage, but simply to enjoy it. There is so much to see along the route and for many cyclists who don’t ride in the north of Thailand that often, it is nicer to ride shorter and stop more often to look at something or get in contact with locals.
As always, I am happy to have your feedback, experiences and suggestions.
Have fun riding your bike in Thailand.