Cycling in North Thailand
Cycling in north Thailand offers many options for the adventurous traveler. Many first time travelers to Thailand take the train to Chiang Mai and travel from there either the Golden Triangle, Mae Hong Song and further south to Sukhothai and further south. Many seem to forget the north east which is also interesting. But north Thailand has so much to offer it's understandable you may want to skip some part.
In my first journey in Thailand I took a train to Chiang Mai and worked my (including the north east) down to Bangkok.
Since than (1991) I have been back to Thailand many times. In February 2012 I decided to cycle from Chiang Mai in the north to Satun in the south. This page is the introduction into what happened and what I recommend.
Regardless, Chiang Mai is for many travelers the first stop in north Thailand.
The Far North
North Thailand is worth spending a month alone. If you want to explore north Thailand, make sure you have at least a month visa (overland visas, a stamp in your passport is only valid for 15 days!).
I've cycled Huay Xai to Chiang Mai some years ago. The road I took went via Chiang Rai, a nice and quiet road until you reach the Chiang Mai area. Chiang Rai is more relaxed, some temples and markets but in reality, there are more interesting places to visit.
The Golden Triangle is for many travelers a must visit. The first time I was in north Thailand I did trekkings in Doi Inthanon (including an elephant trekking) and went up to Tha Ton and Fang.
Here I did a cave trekking (pretty rough, no lights and without a guide impossible to explore) which lead me just across the Burmese border.
I went into Doi Angkhang park and from there further to Chiang Rai and Nan.
For many travelers Mae Hong Son is another must visit parts of Thailand. Visiting the "Longnecks", a tribe that put rings on the women's neck for beauty reasons is an essential part of the journey.
But wherever you will travel in north Thailand, Chiang Mai will be your starting point.
Where is central Thailand located? Roughly north of Bangkok and further up to around Sukhothai. This area has several UNECO World Heritage cities and parks worth the explore.
There are several National Parks too. Ta Phraya (near Sakao and Buriram), several in and around Kanchanaburi should be mentioned but there are many more.
The most important sites to visit are Sukhothai and Ayutthaya but in my opinion Lop Buri, Kamphaeng Phet, Phi Mai, Phanom Rung and Muang Tam are just as good, though either smaller or more widespread.
Kanchaburi is located west of Bangkok and doesn't technically belong to north Thailand. But it might be accessible through the border road
Kanchanaburi has a history with the River Kwae bridge. The city is probably best to visit on a 2-3 days trip from Bangkok as cycling out of Bangkok in that direction is not much fun. It's hard to find smaller roads so most of the time you will be on big ongoing roads.
The main reason to visit is the river Kwae bridge which is just beyond River Kwae Bridge station towards Thamkrasae.
There's nothing special on the bridge itself but the history itself. It was part of the infamous Burma-Siam Death Railway, build by Japanese Thai and Allied prisoners and completed in 1943.
Part of the railway is still in use, Bangkok-Nam Tok but the continuing trail to Moulmein in Myanmar is no longer in use.
What makes the visit more impressive are the museums and cemeteries all along the city.
Cycling in North Thailand
If you consider cycling in north Thailand, planning is essential as there is a lot to see and explore. It's unlikely you can (or even want) to do see everything. Here are two possible routes from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
This bicycle ride will take about 2 weeks including time to explore the main sights on the road.
Chiang Mai - Doi Tao - Sukhothai - Phitsanolouk - Road 11 south in the direction of Nakhon Rachasima (Khorat) passing Si Thep National Park - Surin, Phanom Rung/Muang Tam - Aranyaphratet - Bangkok (or via Lop Buri to Ayutthaya).
You might have time to visit Kanchanaburi and the River Kwae bridge.
If you come out of Laos from Huay Xai with a 15 days visa, it might be worth to cycle to Loei and go back into Laos to Vientiane and organize a 2 months visa for Thailand there.
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Doi Tao and the road to Thoen
Doi Tao, about 150km south to south west of Chiang Mai is a little known but beautiful lake side. You will enjoy the peace and quietness after the busy Chiang Mai city. Wonderful place.
A day later I cycled through rural Thailand where I met some amazingly friendly people, some cool hills and got myself in between bush fires
A very pleasant and inspiring bike ride from Thoen to Sukhothai. Further a great visit to the countryside and the continuing road south to Kamphaeng Phet
Maps of Thailand
Traveling in Thailand without a map is possible but I like maps. Here are some recommendations international and local made Thailand maps.
North East Thailand
Lesser visited by travelers doesn't mean less interesting. North East Thailand is especially interesting to cycle. Areas around Surin, Ubon and Mukdahan get travelers, here's why: