Chiang Mai is the largest city in the North of Thailand and is located very close to the highest mountains in the country. What makes Chiang Mai so great for cycling is that there are beautifully smooth and well maintained roads going up these mountains!
I had the privilege of living in Chiang Mai for nearly 2 years and during that time I cycled thousands of kilometers. This list features some of the best road cycling routes in Chiang Mai, as well as the surrounding area. If this does not inspire you to take your bike with on your next trip to Thailand, then nothing will.
Best Road Cycling Routes in Chiang Mai:
10. Doi Suthep Mountain Climb
The famous Doi Suthep mountain features what is arguably the most iconic climb in the whole of Asia. This is true if you go according to the climb’s popularity on Strava and the competitive nature of the fastest male and female times. The climb starts at the Chiang Mai Zoo, situated only a handful of kilometers from the city center.
If you live in Chiang Mai then this will likely be where you do most of your training.
9. Mon Chaem
This route will take you through Mon Jam, a small agricultural community where all sorts of organic produce are grown in the cooler temperatures of the mountainside. It offers some breathtaking landscape, while giving you a chance to explore an area rarely visited by the average tourist. When I was in Thailand a group would meet every Monday morning and do a ride called “Mon Chaem Monday’s”. I’m not sure if that is still going on, but show up outside the Chiang Mai Convention Center at 8am on any Monday of the year and you’ll find out.
8. Starbucks Bunchie
The Starbuncks Bunchie is like a mini race every single Friday in Chiang Mai. Everyone meets at a 7-Eleven on Canal Road and roll out at a leisurely pace for a few kilometers. This is until the group are finished navigating a series of traffic lights, at which point the RACE IS ON!
The “race” is only for 20 odd kilometers, after which the group rolls back to Chiang Mai for a coffee at Starbucks, hence the name of the ride. The roads on this route are anything but scenic and there is always a fair amount of traffic to contend with on the way back, but it is definitely a good workout.
This is without a doubt my favorite training ride in Chiang Mai. I’ve done it countless times and it never gets old. I find it to be a perfect mix of flats, rolling hills, mountain climbs and nail biting descents.
Speaking of descending! This is a public service announcement : TAKE IT EASY when you are going downhill in Thailand. It is very common for motorbikes to pull out onto the road unannounced. There are also A LOT of dogs running loose and often trying to get in under your front wheel. I don’t want this to discourage you from riding in Thailand. All I’m saying is pay attention to your surroundings and do not descend like you are Peter Sagan racing on a closed circuit.
6. Samoeng XL
The Samoeng XL is just an extension of the classical Samoeng ride listed above. It adds an additional 30km’s to the route. There are in fact a few variations to the classical version, all of which take you through the gorgeous Samoeng District.
5. Doi Ang Khang Mountain Climb
I am cheating a bit here because this climb is not technically in Chiang Mai, but I do know a few crazy people who have cycled from Chiang Mai to the top of Doi Ang Khang and back. The total distance of this ride is a jaw dropping 300km’s. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are a sane individual and you manage to get a lift to the bottom of the climb. The climb alone is a beast to contend with. The whole ascent is BRUTAL, but the final 5 kilometers even more so and averages at a leg busting 13%. Make sure you have climbing gears on your bike or else it is going to be a long hike to the top of the mountain.
4. Doi Pui and Hmong Village
Remember Doi Suthep listed at number 10 on this list? Well Doi Pui is further up on that same road. So instead of turning around when you get to the Doi Suthep temple, you keep going up. Eventually you will find yourself on a recently tarred, silky smooth and narrow road in the middle of the forest. It will feel as though you are riding through the Amazon.
When you are finally done admiring the view at the Doi Pui lookout and you start descending, you will see a sign for Hmong Village. Ignore your aching legs and pay this village a visit. You will be greeted by a host of friendly locals selling souvenirs next to the side of the road. For a second you might even imagine yourself living in this small mountaintop community for a week, or two.
3. Chae Son National Park
A little over 70km’s to the east of Chiang Mai, lies Chae Son National Park. It is home to some of the steepest and most epic cycling terrain on the planet. I have to stress how steep the terrain is here. This could be the best ride you have ever done, but it could also be the worst. If you don’t have the correct gearing on your bike you will find yourself walking up most of these climbs. Believe me, I am not questioning your climbing prowess. I speak from experience when I say that you will battle to find roads this steep anywhere in the world.
2. Chiang Mai to Pai
On the road from Chiang Mai to Pai you will be treated to the best of what Thailand has to offer. The route is around 130km in length, with a fair amount of climbing. Most bicycle travelers choose to spend the night in Pai and then cycle back home the following day. I would personally recommend this, because the route is so beautiful you will want to ride it a second time.
1. Doi Inthanon aka “The HELL of the NORTH”
This really is a case of saving the best for last. You do not go cycling in Thailand and forget to ride up the infamous Doi Inthanon. It is infamous because of how many riders have FAILED to summit this beast of a climb. Some have called it the “hardest climb in the world”. I would not exactly go that far, only because I do not know what else is out there. I am assuming there is something that is harder – I just have not been able to find it.
There are two ways to approach this climb… the “easy” side and the hard side. Easy is a very relative term in this case. The easy side of the climb simply limits the total amount of climbing you do during the ride, if you start and end your ride in Chiang Mai. The final 16km’s of the climb is the same regardless of which route you choose. If you choose the hard way, you will be climbing and descending a lot before reaching the start of those final 16km’s. Does that make sense? I hope so.
If not, I have attached my Strava ride of Doi Inthanon below. You will see that I took the hard way to the top of the climb and the easy way down. If you manage to ride the hard way up and the hard way down, send me a message and I will pop you a well deserved KUDOS and follow on Strava. Only a small handful of people have been able to do it the hard way out-and-back.
Oh, and in case you were wondering… the summit of Doi Inthanon is officially the highest point in Thailand. Wouldn’t that be something to have on a t-shirt?
I hope this post has inspired you to go cycling in Chiang Mai!
Have fun, be safe and RIDE ON!