The rain is angry and intense, not so much falling as hurling itself viciously and indiscriminately against everything below and exploding with a roar of rage. The sound is deafening, a staccato drum roll, drowning out the noise of traffic. I can barely see through the sheeting downpour. A headwind blows gigantic raindrops into my face, stinging my eyes. I seem to be riding through a surreal landscape imagined by a half-crazed impressionist painter.
I am completely soaked through. That sentence does not do justice to the way I am feeling. I am drenched, sodden. I don’t think I could be any wetter if I were stood, fully submerged in the river that runs alongside the now flooded road. I would stop and shelter from this torrential assault but it’s getting late and I haven’t got lights on my bike. If I am to get home before dark I need to soldier on.And anyway, I am already soaked to the skin. Did I mention that?
I reach an overpass. Water is streaming down the slope, several centimetres deep. I laugh, just a little maniacally. Forget, the headwind, I’m riding upstream…
That was a truly unforgettable day. But one of the reasons it is so memorable is that it is a unique experience. I have rarely gotten very wet while cycling in Chiang Mai at this time of year despite riding four or five times a week throughout the last three rainy seasons. In fact, the vast majority of rides in the rainy season have been completely dry.
Northern Thailand has a tropical wet and dry climate with the south west monsoon usually arriving late May from India and bringing with it torrential rains that last until mid-October. That sounds grim doesn’t it. But it’s not all bad news.
The first bit of good news is that the vast majority of rain tends to fall from late afternoon until early morning. Mornings can be quite fresh at this time of year and the humidity will build up over the course of the day. Late afternoon and overnight rains provide a welcome release.
Obviously, there are occasional days when it does rain during your ride. When it rains in Thailand it tends to really rain. Sudden and fierce gusts of wind will announce the imminent arrival of a downpour. Free-standing signs will crash to the ground, plastic chairs will be picked up and hurled against a wall, drying laundry will be ripped from the washing line. Then the deluge will begin, slowly at first. Huge raindrops will drop individually and splatter on the road. But soon momentum picks up. More and more drops fall until it is a constant stream, a monstrous power shower.
Something so intense cannot last for long. It doesn’t. Usually, after ten minutes or so, the worst is over and it will generally be completely finished within an hour. If it does start to rain while we are out riding we can generally find shelter and wait it out.
The final thing to bear in mind is the temperature. The cloud cover prevents it from getting too hot but, even when it is raining it is generally pleasantly warm. Riding in the rain in temperatures exceeding 20 degrees centigrade is an entirely different experience to the grim torture that can be riding in the freezing rain I was used to in the UK and France.
So, if you leave sometime between 07:00 or 08:00 and are back by mid-afternoon, most days you will probably not encounter any rain at all although the roads may still be damp in a few places at the start of a ride if there has been heavy overnight rain.There may well be blue skies with fluffy white clouds or a forbidding dark grey sky but this will keep the worst of the sun off your backs although don’t forget the sun cream. It is still somehow possible to get sunburnt under the most dark and threatening of skies here in Chiang Mai. In the unlikely event you are caught in a thunderstorm, take cover in a friendly mom and pops’ store until the worst is over. And if you do get caught in the rain, don’t fret over much. You might be getting wet but you won’t be cold.
Now let’s hope I haven’t jinxed anything for tomorrow’s ride…