My lungs are bursting, my legs pushing hard on the pedals but it is a real effort just to get them to turn. Ahead of me I can see the road flatten slightly. No more than two hundred metres distant. “Keep going” I tell myself, “You can do this”. I am moving so slowly that my bike computer is telling me that I have stopped. Forlornly I flick the gear lever. I’m already in my smallest gear. No respite there. I barely notice the spectacular mountain scenery as, panting, I inch forward to the crest of the hill.
I’m on the road to Ban Nam Sum, a ramshackle Hmong village less than twenty five kilometres from central Chiang Mai. The ride is known amongst cycling ex-pats as the Avocado Loop and whilst it is by no means a secret, probably qualifies for ‘hidden gem’ status by virtue of the fact that it appears to be ridden relatively infrequently.
We leave the PTT / Cafe Amazon. We head south for a couple of kilometres on the main road but then turn off and from then, it’s scenic back roads almost all the way. There are a few twists and turns on the next section to avoid the main road so it’s a good idea to take a map or follow someone who knows the route. There’s a short climb which we normally like to race up (but not today as we are saving our legs for what is to come) and then a short, twisty descent that brings us out onto the Samoeng Road.
We turn right onto the Samoeng Road and do a pleasantly rolling 6 kilometre section of the clockwise Samoeng Loop. The road kicks up for half a kilometre or so, flattens out and then we turn off onto the rural road to Ban Nam Sum. Here the real adventure begins. The road is narrow and mainly concrete as we wind our way through a small Thai village. The road starts to rise almost immediately, nothing too serious at first but as we emerge from the village it begins to get noticeably tougher. We each start to find our own rhythm and pace and the group starts to split apart. The mountainside on this part has been extensively cultivated and there isn’t the usual jungle hiding the view so there are some spectacular panoramas to enjoy as the road snakes its way up the mountain.
The road surface is a little bumpy in places but we barely notice as our speed is so slow. After a couple of kilometres the road really kicks up for a short but excruciating section. 600 metres at 18 percent according to Strava but there are definitely some pitches in excess of 20 percent. Finally, as we enter the sleepy Hmong village, the gradient eases for a short while and then , as we leave the other side of the village, plummets dramatically. Take great care on this descent. It is super steep in places. At the bottom of the descent there is a short (maybe 20 metre) section of dirt road which some may choose to walk and then you are climbing again, now in the shade of the jungle either side of the road.This final climb is only about 2 kilometres long but there are a couple of pretty steep sections to negotiate.
And then we emerge at the bus stop at the top of the switch backs on the Samoeng loop, tired but elated to have made it. We regroup here and take a short rest before descending back on the main Samoeng Road towards Hang Dong, past the turn off we’d taken earlier, onto the rolling section and then back the way we came.
Chiang Mai has more adventurous rides with even more spectacular scenery and more challenging climbs. But none are so close to the city. To come close to matching this ride on any of those counts you need to go quite a lot further. In terms of sheer ‘bang for your buck’, this ride really is difficult to beat, packing so much into its brief fifty kilometres.
Facts at a glance
Distance: 50 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 1,089 metres
Terrain: Mountainous with some very steep gradients
Road surface: Some rough sections.
Traffic: Moderate to quiet