DESTINATION: DOWNHILL IN CHIANGMAI
(Natural downhill trails that runs no less than 7 km … steep slopes dotted with ruts, rock gardens, loose rocks, roots and a whole lot of fun … this is Chiangmai Downhill)
Downhill riding in Chiangmai, Thailand is an intense experience in many aspects. It is a ride that gives the rider intense thrill, fierce anticipation, fear and a huge sense of satisfaction. It has become commonplace to hear about a friend or a group of riders that you are acquainted with visiting this area for some of the best downhill trails in the region. And many of these are repeat visitors. What is the lure about Chiangmai's downhill trails that keep these riders going back for more? For those who are planning a trip there, read on for a quick first-hand insight into this popular Asian downhill destination.
(Doi Suthep beckons!)
CHAINGMAI AS A CYCLING DESTINATION
Asia is a popular cycling destination for many cyclists. All Asian countries have tour operators that cater to the needs of holiday-goers who want to see the region on 2 wheels. But what we are talking about here is specifically single-track downhill riding. We will leave the other types of cycling for another day. Our attention is centred around the region of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui – the hills where Steve Peat, Brook MacDonald, Wyn and Eddie Masters, Nico Vink, Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale and a whole host of professional downhillers would make a point to ride on a regular basis. These pro-riders love Chaingmai's downhill trails! Doi Suthep is 1,676m and Doi Pui is 1,685 m above sea level. This is the region where most of the downhill action takes place when you visit Chiangmai, Thailand.
WHAT TO EXPECT
All that you heard about Chiangmai are probably true. Expect to be stoked by the terrain. It is not all fearful stuff though. It's long steep single track downhill at its best – with a super generous dose of rocks gardens, loose rocks, ruts, roots and soft dirt slopes dotted along the whole region. Expect to meet these features as you ride. The result? A mix of adrenaline rush, sense of freedom and downhill bliss. Photos and videos don't do justice to the actual terrain and the ride experience. You will have to ride it to feel it.
(You will ride through many sections that look like this – steep descend with loose rocks … unweight yourself from the bike, get into position and enjoy the rush!)
WHERE TO RIDE
Around the area of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui, there are about 13 single-track downhill trails – there are new trails opening and closing over time so keep yourself updated with your guide. Each trails are given a loose rating (single to double black diamond usually). There are easier trails that run through fire roads and easier terrain. Talk to your guide if you want to have a more relaxing ride for a change.
A few of the more popular trails are Bamboo, Gee House, All-Terrain Vehicle, Rock & Roll and Crazy Dust Trails. Bamboo and Gee House trails are good warm-up samplers for first-time downhill riders at Chiangmai. Once the riders get an impression on how the terrain in the hills are like, they can then move on to the more technical trails like All-Terrain Vehicle, Rock & Roll and Crazy Dust. Other trails that are worth checking out include: Ironman, HellTrack, and the Chiangmai Downhill Challenge (CDC) if you have the time and the skills for it. For some scenic rides, check out Huay Thung Tao Lake and Lychee Trails. Your guide would be the best person to consult whether you should tackle some of the trails.
(Gee House Trail)
(All-Terrain Vehicle Trail)
(Rock & Roll Trail)
(Crazy Dust Trail)
GUIDE AND UPLIFT SERVICES
One main reason why riding in Chaingmai is fun is that the trails are long as compared to typical downhill tracks which usually goes for no more than 3km. Often, at typical downhill tracks, a rider may go for numerous rounds in a day with as many rounds of uplift shutters to the start point in a single day. Things are different when it comes to riding in Chiangmai, as each trail ranges from 7km to 12 km long. Uplift shutters take approximately 30-45 minutes up the winding mountain roads with progress slowing to a crawl if the single-lane mountain road portion of the route encounters "traffic congestion". There are a few start points in the hills which in turn branch out to different trails. The trails end at different exits in the hill districts. It is easy to get lost or miss the supply vehicle. A guide is important for riding in the hills of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. In a nutshell, they know the trails well and would provide the best advise on which trails to go for and how to best tackle each trail. They are also the uplift shutter, technical support and safety party. Each guide service team would have a point rider and a sweeper who are well versed with the terrain and are also competent technical support should there be needs for help. The support vehicle also acts as a place of storage and replenishment of supplies.
Guide fee is approximately B1500 per person per day and bike rental is about B800 per day (all prices subject to changes)
(First aid kit, water and other supplies are in the vehicle. Your bikes will be in good hands too.)
PREPARING FOR THE TRIP
A rider would need to prepare themselves in 2 main areas. One – their riding skills and two – their equipment.
If it is a rider's first visit, it would be prudent to suggest a pre-trip train-up on physical fitness and riding skills. The trails are not regular downhill tracks. While there are drops, berms and kickers built along the trails, the long trails are subject to the weather conditions. The forest is very much alive and even the guides cannot be sure they know how the ground changed after a torrential downpour. Riders will just have to be prepared for the ride with an alert and committed mind.
With regards to equipment, it really depends on riders' preferences and confidence. Bikes can be rented there should riders not want to bring their own bikes. Some experienced riders prefer to ride it safe with full body armour, while others prefer the agility that comes with fewer armour pieces. This is very subjective. We advise beginner riders to use the following checklist:
– Full face Helmet,
– Neck Brace
– Chest, Back and Shoulder Protection
– Elbow Guard
– Knee and/or Shin Guard
– For long rides, it is advisable to bring along a Hydration Pack.
– Spares: Tyre Tubes, Brake Pads and Rotors, Spare Deraileur Dropout
– First Aid: Plasters, Medical Dressing, Muscle Relaxants sprays or cream, Charcoal Tablets
WEATHER IN CHIANGMAI
Chiangmai has tropical wet and dry climate. This means some months are wet months with up to 15 days of rain. Rainy months are from May to October, with the wettest months being August and September. While many are aware of the higher probability of rain, there are still many mid-year travelers who would take the risk with the weather than to miss the trails totally during their vacation. Keep your fingers crossed and pray for good weather.
(Huay Thung Tao Lake)
OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN CHIANGMAI
Chiangmai is a very popular tourist destination, be it for cyclist or otherwise. It was listed as one of the 25 Best Destinations in the World by Trip Advisor (a well-known and credible travel website) Some of the must-visits include :
Wat Phrathat – a majestic temple located on top of the hill. Thailand is a Buddhist country and has many majestic temples throughout the country. There are at least 10 other Thai Buddhist Temples that are worth a visit when you visit Chiangmai.
Wat Chedi Luang – The 600 year old ancient temple that once house the Emerald Buddha statue.
Bua Tong Waterfalls – A rustic retreat that is relished by both tourists and locals.
Lanna Folklife Museum – A perfect place to learn about the Lanna culture.
Hill Tribe Villages – There are many hill tribe villages in Thailand and the Northern region has no lack of them. While many had became tourist attractions, it would be good to single out some that still practice the old cultures.
Night Bazaar – There are many night bazaars in Chaingmai and these are places with good bargains for souvenirs, t-shirts, decorative products and other trinkets. When there is a night bazaar, that would mean that popular tourist activities like Thai Massage, good food and drinks are not far away.
Thai Massage – Anybody who visited Thailand before would have experienced good traditional Thai Massages, we listed this because this is one best way for riders to relax and recover from the day's riding and be ready for the next day's.
Thai Cuisine – One of the main attractions of visiting Thailand is the mouth-water Thai cuisines. Chiangmai has a good mix of Thai and Thai-Chinese cuisines to suit your taste. One unique attraction is the Khantoke Dinner – a century old Lanna Thai tradition that is offered to guests on special occasions.
Catmosphere Cat Cafe – A novel cafe to visit while you are there, where one can enjoy a cuppa with cats.
The most popular flight to Chiangmai from Singapore is either via Silkair or Thai Airways. Silkair offers direct flights daily but there is only one flight a day. As for Thai Airways, they fly from Singapore to Chiangmai via Bangkok. The advantage of taking Thai Airways is that travelers are free to connect the flight they prefer since they offer a few flights a day from Singapore to Bangkok. Some travelers may even be stopping over at Bangkok for a couple of days before proceeding to Chiangmai. Other airlines include Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air Asia, Air India, Bangkok Airways, China Eastern, China Southern, Lao Airlines and Malaysia Airlines. When choosing a flight, be sure to note the allotted baggage weight as a typical bike bag would weigh 30kg with personal bike and gears thrown in. Return airfare starts from SGD$300 onwards. (Air fares subject to change due to "early bird offers" and other reasons. Flight timings and frequencies subject to changes by airlines).
START PLANNING NOW
Thrilled yet? We are sure you will be. As downhill riding becomes more popular amongst the mountain-biking crowd, the hills will be seeing more visitors from all over the world. We have had news that the guys at Chiangmai had many days of being fully booked. Planning early and going in a small group ensure certain economies-of-scale. To start you off, here are the 2 main operators that has been receiving worldwide visitors for the hills. See you in Chiangmai soon!
X-Biking Chiangmai, Thailand
Before they were X-Biking these guys were just Downhill-hungry locals inspired from reading magazines and watching videos of other riders from the rest of the world. They had bikes, they had a mountain at their backyard and they started digging out trails. Over 15 years, they are still digging and had shaped and sculpted 1800 meter of the mountain which are regularly featured in the magazines (Dirt Magazine) and in the videos (This is Peaty). There’s a lot to say about these Chaingmai trails, lines and race tracks but two words say it best: Steve Peat!. After first riding with the locals in 2012, Peaty went back with his mates in 2013. The Chiangmai riders' Hall of Fame now includes Brook MacDonald, Wyn and Eddie Masters, Nico Vink, Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale plus a whole host of Asian national champions. They weren’t passing through either; they made the trip there specially because it is now a ‘must ride’ destination for them. The Chiangmai Downhill Challenge is the biggest little race in Asia. These guys will show you the lines that the pros rode, and are also able to equip you with the bike and gears you need. And when that’s done they have a big pick-up and a stocked coolbox to get the riders and the bikes back to the top of the hill refreshed and ready for another round! Choose from full-on world class Downhill lines, Enduro and Cross Country loops or mellow rides. The gravity trails will probably be some of the longest descents you’ve ever ridden. And did we mention that these guys are rated ‘Excellent’ from Trip Advisor too.
Address : 23/1 Chang Moi Road, Soi 3, T. Chang Moi, A.Mueng Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300
Phone: +66 89 951 0015
Mad Monkey Chiangmai, Thailand
The Mad Monkey Team pride themselves as the most affordable and experienced Chiangmai based downhill bike tour service. Home of the original Chiangmai Downhill Boys, these guys emphasized that the gravity trails are carefree, need no lines and time limits. They just want to make sure all who visited had fun. Their well-equipped services cater to beginners, experts and professional riders. Similarly to the above operator, Mad Monkey Team caters to riders who are looking for challenging Downhill trails, All Mountain challenges or a casual Cross Country rides.
Phone: : +66 81 681 0368
(Deep forest single-tracks – helmets and goggles highly recommended)
(Not all sections are gnarly, there are flowy high speed sections too. Just watch out for the ruts)
(This is raw single-track downhill at its best! Ride it to feel it!)
Photos by Bikezilla, Danny Wong and Calvin Chin