Cycling in Thailand


Doi Inthanon, the big climb of Thailand

February 2020.

Tanya and I decided to do a cycling trip to Thailand and chose the Kanchanaburi Hills ride organized by Spice Roads as it was long and difficult enough without being too long or difficult.

1671F0FB-A5BB-4D2E-BB76-5414F45BB256The ride also visited several places on the infamous Railway of Death, built by prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in World War 2. My father was one of those POWs so I was interested to see where he’d spent three years of his life, even if I couldn’t experience what it must have been like.

From my limited time of riding in Thailand, the roads were mainly very smooth with good cycling shoulders, and the drivers were all very courteous, so I never felt unsafe.

Chiang Mai

After the bike tour we flew up to Chiang May for a few days. Chiang Mai has been called “Asia’s equivalent to Girona, a cycling mecca with little traffic, perfect roads, beautiful scenery, and ideal weather.” It’s a sprawling city with a metro area population of about a million people but the real interest is concentrated in and around the old town, a two kilometer square of temples, cafes, restaurants and stores. Just outside the old town you’ll find the Night Market, an incredible collection of food courts and little stalls selling anything that tourists might buy. And believe me, the old town and the Night Market are filled with tourists.

Doi Inthanon

Besides seeing Chiang May, I also wanted to ride Doi Inthanon, perhaps the hardest climb in Thailand, going up to the highest point in Thailand.

Adding to the interest was that PJAMM Cycling calls Doi Inthanon the third hardest climb in Asia, while another web site author called it “the hardest climb I’ve done in my life.”

I signed up with Spice Roads for their Ride to the Roof of Thailand ride, which they offer every day, although there are apparently few takers 😀. They need a minimum of two people to put on the ride so I had to pay a “single supplement”, making the ride quite expensive. But I figured it was worth it as I didn’t know if and when I’d be back.

Doi Inthanon turned out to be the hardest climb I’ve done in a long time. It’s long and contains many brutally steep sections where I could only just keep my legs moving in a 34-32 gear. Fortunately it’s not continuously steep, with brutal sections of 12-16% interspersed with flatter or even downhill bits. But the steep sections are long enough that this was a very hard climb for me. My Garmin recorded 46.35 km (29 miles) with 2,239 meters (7,346’) of climbing.

The road is fairly busy as it’s a popular tourist area with several waterfalls, a pagoda complex, a Hmong vegetable market, and the highest point in Thailand. But I never felt unsafe.

The start is about an hour and a half drive SW from Chiang May in a town called Chom Thong, where the 1009 road leaves the 108. The first 8 km are easy so it makes a good warmup. At about km 8 the road splits and you bear right following the sign for Doi Inthanon, and are now faced with your first steep hill. Fortunately it’s short and you soon reach Checkpoint #1, where you have to pay 300 baht to enter the park. This is where many people park and start the climb.

The next hill is even steeper, maybe 16%, and you now get into the rhythm of brutally steep sections followed by easier sections. At around 29.5 km you get a long downhill which takes you to the National Park building and a large restaurant, then shortly after that you pass the Hmong vegetable market. Apparently the hill tribes in this area used to grow opium but in 1969 the King created the Royal Project to change the hill economy from opium to vegetables.

At km 37 there is a second checkpoint where they verify you have a ticket. As you keep climbing you see a pagoda up above and hope it’s the top, but in your heart you know it’s too close to be the top. Unfortunately, it is too close, and at km 41 you pass the turnoff for the Great Holy Relics Pagoda, with another 5 km still to go before the top.

Fortunately the last two kilometers are much easier, with flat, downhill and easy uphill to finish. You end at a parking lot on the right just in front of a Thai Air Force weather radar installation, feeling grateful that the climb is over 😁.

A short walk uphill takes you to a sign telling you that you are at the highest point in Thailand. You can now take a celebratory photograph in front of the sign.

Links and Other Clicks

Spice Roads main website.

Spice Roads Ride to the Roof of Thailand.

PJAMM cycling’s Doi Inthanon page.

A description of racing the Conquer Doi Inthanon Challenge.

The Hardest Climb I’ve Done In My Life.

Other Cycling Pages