Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by bicycle - 183km
Day one - Chiang Mai to Wiang Pa Pao 100km
Brief: One road - Highway 118. Full day of hard riding. Recommend starting at 5am to battle the ChiangMai-ChaingRai provincial border mountain. Route 118 has occasional eating and drinking options. Wiang Pa Pao has plenty of affordable sleeping options. If the last 12 km is too far then there is sleeping options at a hostel called; Cabbages and Condoms, however the price is twice the average.
Take highway 118 out of the city joining plenty of traffic on the pancake flat road. Averaging around 20km/h for 40km, then the road starts to climb.
The hills are long and steep, and we are constantly fatigued and start to struggle to recover in between hills.
We stop for a coffee at a resort called Suan Som Doi Saket, and by now it's 11am. We realise that with an average speed of 5km/h the available options to eat will become less frequent, so we decide to eat another kilometre down the road. By the time we get back on the road it's now blisteringly hot, with a real feel temperature of 43°C.
With no breeze, at a slow speed and a vertical ascent we are frequently stopping. We recognise the fact that we aren't able to do this. The gears on the bikes wouldn't allow us to move gradually up the hills and we end up pushing the bicycles. We decide to take shade in a petrol station and refresh again on cold beverages. There is a lot of passing pick up trucks and I try my luck hitching a ride... To no offer, the petrol station owner suggests trying the local police box.
This is where our luck turns. The friendliest policeman tops up our water bottles with cold, icy water. He shares his stories of cycling and then briefs us on what is to come. He explains that we will continue going up for another 5km up to the provincial border.
Back on the bikes, a kilometre up the road, the same policeman passes us, offering to chuck our bikes in the back of his pick-up and to take us to the top of the mountain. From the top we then flew down the mountain where we eventually arrived at a hot spring where people were boiling eggs in the hot water. We didn't have eggs... but we did feel relieved that the worst was behind us.
The road then flattened back out again and we made good progress. We arrived at our original destination; a hostel called Cabbages and Condoms. However, on arrival we realised it was out of our budget and there was limited food options around. We then jumped back on the bikes, riding next to paddy fields at sunset into Wiang Pa Pao. There is a lot of signage leading to a small handful of local guesthouses, ranging between 400-600 baht a night (breakfast included). We had a very special evening here, eating in the only restaurant in town which offered fantastic curries.
Day two - Wiang Pa Pao - Chiang Rai 83km
Brief: Flat easy riding on the 118, and beautiful local life with the turning onto the 1211 running into Chiang Rai. A difficult section just past the town of Mua Suai for a total of 20km uphill riding.
The dead flat horizon is a welcome sight as our legs feel a little tighter than normal after yesterdays killer day. This route is fantastic with plenty of stopping opportunities, notably the award winning Doi Chang coffee shop, which offers a chance for breakfast only 15km down the road from Wiang Pa Pao. There is also a winery en route (Chiang Rai Winery), after hearing good reviews we decided to try it out for ourselves. Even at an early time of the day we thought we would have a tasting, however the winery seemed surprised by our visit and our experience was a bit cold. Despite that the fruit wine is interesting and you might have a different experience on your trip. (let us know!)
Pushing on to Mua Suai, which is then the final town before the riding gets hard. A lunch stop is recommended. In the town there is a parallel road east of the main highway which offers eating options and there is also a market.
We now start to realise that there is a change in gradient and we are gradually climbing. As the map shows a lot of bends, we took this as evidence of a mountain pass, so we decided to take our 3 hour lunch time break at Charin Garden Resort. This is a beautiful spot by a river with a cool bridge, ice cold drinks and some shade. If nothing had taken your fancy in Mua Suai, then you should be find something to your taste here.
At 3pm we were prompt to continue on with the remaining 40km. The work was hard as the temperature was still merciless, however by taking it easy and frequently stopping at the top of each hill for water, we tackled our objective. Turning on a clearly signed left, you climb the remaining hills of the journey, then leading you onto the 1211, there is a small village offering incredibly cheap passion fruits. Get some!
The road begins to level and the evidence of the approaching city becomes obvious with other local bike riders appearing and greeting us with a wave. On route you will also pass the surreal site of the Singha Park, 13km from Chiang Rai. It looked like a strange small Disneyland and we decided to keep on going...
By taking the route 1211 you have a safer quieter riding experience, however if you want to see the White Temple, you will need to take a right off of 1211 onto the 1208 and it is on the junction with the main highway 1. Again only 13km from Chiang Rai.
However, not willing to lose this beautiful section of the road we decided to continue on the 1211 into Chiang Rai and returned the following day to see the peculiar site of a white temple on highway one. This is an easy flat motorway section with a reasonable amount of shoulder to ride on.