A few years ago, this was one of our regular rides but, for some reason, it seems to have gone out of fashion. When we rode it last week, for the first time in ages, I was reminded just how splendid a ride it is. Someone described it as the northern “Khun Bee’s” which, in terms of distance and profile, is fair enough. But they each have a distinct feel.
Water is very much the theme of this ride. We spend much of it alongside a river, then a canal, then we ride across a dam, a weir and several bridges. Those of you who believe that, once you start a ride, you shouldn’t un-clip until the finish will be disappointed. There are a couple of barriers to negotiate but we think that the breath-taking views are worth it.
We head north from the Convention Centre and pick up the river road just after the junction with the main road to Chiang Dao. This takes us through suburban Chiang Mai, with its bustling activity, into the countryside where small groups of workers tend to the rice fields. We emerge on the Phrao Road. Further north, this is a great road to ride but here it can be a little busy, so we cross the road and pick up a small road that runs alongside the Mae Faek irrigation Canal.
The canal is a vital source of water to the many rice fields in this valley but it so much more. Cattle graze the banks. Fishermen, waist deep in the water, cast their nets. Children splash each other as they cool off in the shallows. The bird life is spectacular. As we pedal by at an easy pace we see kingfishers, bee-eaters, heron, egrets and storks plus a whole bunch of exotic species we cannot identify.
We meet the Phrao Road once more but this far north the traffic has thinned considerably, the road is wide with a good hard shoulder and the pace picks up over a pleasantly undulating terrain. There is one small climb but, before we reach the top, we turn left and are immediately swooping down an exhilarating descent on a quiet rural road. More undulations follow until the road emerges onto a secondary road. We sometimes turn left here and head back to Chiang Mai without bothering to visit the dam. But today we have guests and we want to show them the views of the reservoir so we head right. There is a very short but brutally steep climb up to the dam and then we are dismounting and lifting our bike over the barriers.
Although the water levels are alarmingly low following some unnaturally dry weather over the last few years, the view from the dam is spectacular. To our right, verdant green mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the peaceful looking lake. To our left a vast, fertile plain stretches into the far distance.
We are soon clambering back over barriers at the other end of the dam and speeding down a gradual descent. There is a gentle climb (more of a drag really) up to Mae Taeng hospital and then we are once more hurtling downhill to the main road that links Chiang Mai to the tourist and trekking destinations around Chiang Dao. We head back towards Chiang Mai and almost immediately turn off the main road onto a small service road that leads us past the Mae Taeng Correctional Facility (best experienced from the outside I’d suggest) to a weir across the Ping river that controls the flow of water into the Mae Faek irrigation canal. There is a little more dis-mounting and re-mounting here but we don’t mind. The weir is pleasantly scenic and a popular picnic spot for local Thais.
We follow the canal for a short while, taking care to avoid the occasional pot-hole (this is the only sketchy section of the whole ride) before cutting back to the river which we will follow all the way back to Chiang Mai.
Facts at a glance
- Distance: 126 kilometres
- Elevation Gain: 782 metres
- Terrain: Flat then rolling.
- Type: Loop
- Road surface: One short sketchy section. Otherwise generally excellent.
- Traffic: Light.
- When: Posted occasionally on RoadRiders.