Thailand - North
Exploring The Golden Triangle
Mountains high and valleys wide, steep climbs and sweeping descents - perfect sealed roads, gravel tracks, red clay rural trails and deserted byways - a modern city, small riverside villages, mountain communities of hill tribe folk and a Chinese hill town.
With all of this set amidst vast expanses of emerald green rice fields, vegetable farms, orange groves, tea plantations and eucalyptus forests our Northern Thailand tour offers a wonderful diversity of culture, scenery, flora, fauna, roads and trails that come together to provide a superb adventure cycling experience.
At a Glance
Total Days: 12
Cycling Days: 9
Daily Average: 70km
Max. Alt.: 1300m
A wonderful cycling holiday that begins and ends in the provincial capital of Chiang Rai. Our journey will explore a route that includes the border with Myanmar and Laos and the mighty Mekong River; we pass through The fabled Golden Triangle where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos all converge, and we climb high into the mountains that together with the Mekong help form the border between these three Buddhist neighbours.
At 1500 metres, Pu Chi Fa’s viewpoints offer stunning sunrise views across the forests of Lao, and the wide fertile valley leading east from Fang boasts a network of hard-packed unsealed tracks and trails that in themselves are a wonderful cycling adventure.
The challenging climb to a Chinese town populated by the descendants of Kuomintang soldiers is a cycling highlight whilst the town itself is a pleasure to overnight in. We ride into the hills on elephant back and when the road runs out we continue our journey navigating the Mekok River in a long-tail boat.
Ethnically the region is diverse - Chinese, Burmese, Karen, Akha, Yao and Lahu are just some of the peoples of the hills and valleys that we will meet along the way.
This new tour has all the makings of a classic bicycle adventure, and to top it all off it is timed to tie in perfectly with our Southern Thailand tour, a situation ideal for anyone who would like to spend a month of cycling really getting to know the country, taking their time to see and experience the land and its people, slowly, from the seat of a bicycle, and far from the madding hordes.
Overall I really enjoyed the Northern Thailand tour. David is a natural tour leader both for his personal skills and secondly is always thinking many steps ahead to make the journey seamless and enjoyable for all the participants. His enthusiasm and passion for the love of doing this business radiates to everyone around him so it would be very hard not to enjoy yourself on such a trip.
Wally, Canada on Thailand - North
Included in this tour
Twelve nights accommodation is included in the tour price as are three meals per day on cycling days, snacks, drinking water, support vehicles (one or two depending on group size) Thai guide, and tour leader. Transport to and from Chiang Rai airport on the first and last day of the tour is also included. If you are in any doubt about anything please ask.
As always with PaintedRoads, this tour will be accompanied by David
Daily distances of this tour are not particularly high. The shortest day is 40 kilometres and the longest a fairly flat 90 kilometres. There are some off road sections but nothing technical, simply unsealed tracks and trails that can be avoided with alternative options should the weather turn wet. Although many parts of this tour are pleasant easy riding there are sections with very steep climbs and for this reason, the tour is rated as more difficult than our southern Thailand Tour. However, it should be noted that our support vehicles will always be on hand and we can advise on when to hop in to miss the steep climbs.
Having done the South Thailand Cycle Tour a couple of years ago we came back for more. Brilliant holiday: beautiful scenery, peaceful people, lovely food, interesting visits, good accommodation. Painted Roads are exceptional at research, planning, timing, logistics and execution. The days were full but not overloaded and left us feeling fit. There were optional additional challenges for younger or more adventurous cyclists.
Michael and Jane (recreational cyclists in our 60s) on Thailand - North
The tour starts and finishes in the city of Chiang Rai which is 800 kilometres north of Bangkok. Chiang Rai has a small international airport with many flights throughout the region. Air Asia, Bangkok Air and Thai Airways are amongst the airlines well worth checking for flights to and from Bangkok, and further beyond. There are also many buses and coaches of all classes linking the city with the rest of Thailand. Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, is around three hours by bus and has a train station that offers several sleeper trains per night as well as day trains to Bangkok. If you arrive/leave on the first/last day of the tour transport to and from either Chiang Rai airport or coach station is included. Typically the group meets at around six in the evening on the first day of the tour for a drink and tour briefing, although in practise your tour leader or guide will usually track you down soon after your arrival at our joining hotel.
Our October tour runs at the end of the rainy season which should ensure beautiful lush green landscapes and blue sky with cloud patches. It also means we can expect rain at times.
Our February tour is well into the dry season; rain is highly unlikely and whilst there will be rice and other crops growing ensuring plenty of greenery it will be dryer, dustier and less green than during October. Daytime temperatures will be hot, and night-time temperatures can turn chilly. It must be noted that as with many parts of the world Thai weather has become very unpredictable. Long dry spells in the wet season and days of rain in the dry season are not unusual. This means that a raincoat and a fleece jacket or similar should be brought along at all times of year on this tour.
Please be aware that we have a good knowledge of the many roads tracks and trails of the region and in the event of rain we have alternative route option that we may decide to use.
The North Thailand trip was my first experience with Painted Roads following extensive experience cycling, mostly in Asia over the last 3 years. To say that this trip exceeded my expectations including both enjoyment and previous experience is an understatement. David personally leads all his trips ensuring that individual routes are being continuously assessed and if necessary changed to give the best possible cycling experience with regards both to scenery and traffic. I personally found that all aspects of the trip including meals, snack stops and accommodation - the latter appearing to be chosen with the emphasis on location rather than cost, as highly satisfactory. In summary David leads the trip ensuring continuous humour and consideration for all cycling abilities. I personally look forward to my next trip with Painted Roads later in the year.
Arthur, UK on Thailand - North
At PaintedRoads, we hold firmly to the opinion that using your own bike, the bike on which you feel at home and comfortable is the finest way to enjoy a cycling adventure.
Most kinds of bicycle, except light-weight racing bikes, are suitable for this tour: touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids or cyclocross bikes are all fine. Road conditions vary from asphalt to gravel and some hard packed dirt tracks. Tyres from 35mm in width upwards will be fine but we recommend 40mm on 700c and 2” on 26” wheels as a minimum.
South East Asia is generally a warm place so the ability to carry one or two water bottles is essential (either on your bike or in a backpack). Our back-up vehicle carries water and tools although for those competent with tools bringing your own pump, puncture kit, and multi took is recommended as it would speed up repairs and minor adjustments. If bringing your own bike please bring along a few spare spokes that fit your wheels (please note that different wheels have different size spokes). If your bike has disk brakes or hub gears please bring any components that you feel may be necessary. We carry some spares for our hire bikes but we cannot guarantee that we will have any tubes other than 26” car type valves. Tyres and tubes other than 26” can be difficult to come by in many parts of the world so please make sure you have spares. If in doubt please ask at your local bike shop. A means of carrying your camera, sunblock etc is also useful – either an on-bike bag, handlebar or saddlebag for example or a lightweight day-pack.
ESSENTIAL! Please be sure that your bicycle is in perfect condition before you leave home. Again, if in doubt please consult your local bike shop.
If you wish to hire a bicycle we can arrange for the hire of good quality cycles from our in-country agent. Typically these bikes are mountain bikes, often Trek 3 series or similar. Please request a hire bike at the time of booking. Payment for hire bikes can be made with the balance of the tour payment or in cash on arrival.
Rental Bicycle Recommendation. Although our hire bikes come equipped with a saddle if you have a saddle you use and are happy with it is strongly recommended that you use it on tour. If you use SPD type shoes please bring your own matching pedals. We are happy to fit these for you. You may also like to bring bar ends if you use them at home.
(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner; S = snacks)
Day 1: Arrival in Chiang Rai
The first day of the tour is a day for arriving and meeting the rest of the group. If you fly in you will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. During the day you will meet by your tour leader and come evening we can gather to discuss the details of the tour and afterwards to head out for our first meal together
Day 2: Thaton
After breakfast, we need to take some time to assemble our own bikes ready for the tour or become acquainted with our rental bikes. Once the machines are prepared our exploration of northern Thailand will begin with a beautiful ride through the delightful countryside as we head north towards the little town of Thaton. Our ride will take us along lanes, trails and rural byways as we pass through rubber plantations and small villages with a backdrop of temples and forest. Come lunchtime the road peters out into narrow challenging and remote trails and at this stage we will take to the river to finish today’s journey in a classic Thai long-tail boat. The remainder of the day’s journey offers a unique view of northern Thailand as we pass rural villages and tropical vegetation en-route to the small town of Thaton where we can enjoy our hotel’s pool before evening drinks and a riverside dinner.
Day 3: Thaton
The beautiful Thaton valley was the initial inspiration for the North Thailand tour, and today we will find out why as we spend the morning following a quiet rural road winding past orchards of tangerine trees and fields of rice as we enjoy our first longish day’s cycling. The mood of the ride changes a little after lunch as we explore the wonderful unsealed tracks and trails that zigzag across the valley floor giving us an insight into the agricultural life of Northern Thailand.
The day's route is a circular ride that takes us back to the same hotel for a second night where, with no need to unpack our bags we will have more time to cool off in the pool and enjoying a post-ride beer, or the more energetic may wish to take ride the short steep climb to the town’s temple and enjoy the beautiful view over the valley.
Day 4: Mae Salong
Today we have a change of culture and riding conditions as we head to the Chinese town of Mae Salong. A clue as to the cycling challenge ahead lays waiting for us in the shape of some steep climbs as we leave the Thaton Valley behind us. After 30KMS we turn north and face one of the tour’s major challenges, the 13KM climb to Mae Salong. Some may conquer this climb under their own steam, whilst many will opt to use our support bus, but whichever way you make the climb the Chinese culture, food, and language of the mountain top village where we spend the night make a wonderful end to the day.
About Mae Salong.This village which runs along a hilltop ridgeis home to the descendants of Kuomintang warriors who fled China at the end of the civil war. For decades this area was off-limits even to Thais, with the consequence of Chinese culture and tea cultivation become predominant in the area. There are several small tea factories and tea shops where the local produce can be sampled. At around 1400 metres it also has a cooler climate.
Day 5: Doi Thung.
Leaving our resort in Mae Salong we first follow the undulating mountain ridge before turning south for a rural and dramatic descent through forests of eucalyptus, past a gleaming golden spire atop the white dome of a Buddhist stupa defended by white lions and head down down down through small villages and hillside farmland until reaching the wide well surfaced and relatively flat road of the valley floor. The tempo changes come afternoon as we follow rural roads through rice fields, tea plantations and pineapple fields to a lovely country resort where we can relax by the pool with pre-dinner drinks.
DAY 6: Chiang Saen
Today we head east across mostly flat farming land to the Mekong River. Our cross-country route is on small winding roads, mostly well-surfaced roads but with some unsealed stretches. We will lunch at the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos, and Burma all converge in the Mekong River. Following lunch, we have less than an hour's ride to our riverside resort where we will spend the next two nights.
DAY 7: Chiang Saen: Rest Day
The small town of Chiang Saen sits on the western bank of the Mekong River overlooking Laos and will host us for our rest day. Simply relaxing in our resort’s garden is an agreeable way to while away the hours, but for those who still have energy to burn and curiosity to satisfy Chiang Saen offers an interesting glimpse into small-town Thai life as well as an opportunity to explore the temples and ruins of the ancient Lanna Kingdom and promenade along the riverfront.
DAY 8: Chiang Kong
Today we become better acquainted with the mighty Mekong River as our rural ride tracks her twists and turns south. Rising and descend along a twisting country road we head to our second border town in little more than 24 hours. This border town has slightly less bustle though as sleepy Chiang Kong is more in tune with the needs of weary travels than cross-border traders and we can enjoy a relaxing evening overlooking the Mekong and lights of nearby Laos.
Day 9: Pu Chi Fa
Heading out of town we pass the newest of several cross Mekong bridges linking Thailand and Lao before joining a rural road with splendid views of the river. High-speed long tail boats and Laotian freight craft ply their trade as we cycle by, and after a while, the Mekong hands international border duties over to the mountain range at the top of which we will spend the night. With high daytime temperatures, a 16-kilometre climb, and gradients too steep to be amusing we make use of our support vehicles to transfer us to the top of this climb. Following lunch at a restaurant with magnificent views we resume cycling in a very different part of Thailand. At around 1300 metres the temperature is lower and we now follow a beautiful ridge that undulates through an area far more akin to Lao than to Thailand.
DAY 10: Thaon
For those willing to rise before dawn a treat awaits this morning. A stiff walk will take us to the highest viewpoint in Chiang Rai Province where, at 1500M, we can watch the sunrise through a sea of cloud below us as we look out over Laos.
Cycling out of Pu Chi Fa after breakfast another treat awaits in the form of what is arguably Thailand's most wonderful ride. For the next thirty-six kilometres, we follow a ridge that undulates through wonderful scenery with stunning views across softly textured valleys. The temperature rises and the vegetation changes from farmland to jungle as we slowly lose one thousand vertical metres of altitude cruising down to a lovely little riverside park where we can enjoy a picnic lunch. The afternoon’s ride is of an altogether different flavour as we wind through lowland villages and rural scenes to the town of Thaon at the end of a thoroughly delightful day.
DAY 11: Chiang Rai
Our final day on the road is a flat rural ride save for a rather challenging hill directly after our morning break. Rising 200 metres in just two kilometres this will be seen as an invigorating challenge by some, and a good reason to hop in the support vehicle by others. The afternoon involves a beautiful section of red gravel road leading us around a pleasant lake affording fine views and a fitting spot for our final tea break of the tour.
Meals: BL S
DAY 12: Finish
The tour officially finishes after breakfast. For those who are flying out today, we will provide transport to Chiang Rai International Airport.
Markers below are clickable as are the markers on the map itself.
We're sorry we don't have any future dates for this trip in the calendar yet. Do please get in touch if you'd like to ask about some dates or a custom trip.
Our Other Tours in Thailand
1000 kilometres on the road less travelled - a multi surface adventure tour
Dates: January 2020
Gravel bikes, All Road bikes, Adventure bikes - whatever you wish to call them these bikes are fantastic, and, allowing a brisk pace on road whilst still being supremely capable off-road they open up a wonderful array of possibilities for the adventure seeking to explore the path less travelled.
A little know secret of Thailand is its astonishing network of unsealed roads. Gravel, grit, dust, and dirt trails spread out across the entire nation like vines, but generally, remain unknown and untraveled by all but the local farmer.
Slowly these roads are being sealed, meaning that quiet rural blacktop byways and concrete lanes link these unsealed gems and provide those with time to explore the opportunity to enjoy a unique adventure and see a Thailand a world away from the tourist land that 99% of tourists experience.
Drawing on a long-held passion for exploring the roads, tracks, and trails less travelled, we have woven a route from Chiang Rai in the country’s far north, to Ayuthaya, the ancient capital less that one hundred kilometres north of the nation’s present capital, Bangkok.
If you enjoy adventure cycling, gravel roads, byways light of traffic, and seeing the side of a country seldom experienced by the vast majority of visitors then this really could be just your sort of tour.
Total Days: 13 | Cycling Days: 10 | Difficulty: 6/10 | Daily Average: 105km | See more information, dates & prices »
Bangkok to Phuket - Coastal Southern Thailand, Far From The Madding Crowds
Dates: December 2019 | February 2021
If you are looking to see the Thailand your friends visit on holiday, if you want the same experience as 99% of Westerners in Thailand, then this cycling holiday is absolutely not for you. If however you are looking to see a Thailand that is still the land of smiles, where Thai people are friendly and interested in why you are travelling through their country, a Thailand of fishermen and farmers and small seaside towns revolving around the laid-back local people, then it is difficult to think of a better way to see the country than cycling south Thailand.
If you wish to truly experience Thailand then this tour could well be for you.
Total Days: 13 | Cycling Days: 10 | Difficulty: 5/10 | Daily Average: 70km | See more information, dates & prices »