Thailand’s second largest city after the capital, Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a bustling metropolis with an historic heart and culture coursing through its arteries. It is also the place I have chosen to base myself for my Thailand cycling adventures. And I am not alone. There is a thriving ex-pat cycling community, with more and more riders each year choosing to spend time exploring the quiet, scenic and well-surfaced roads that surround the city. In this post I shall try to explain why so many cyclists are making this choice.
The main reason for choosing a cycling base has to be the quality of the cycling on offer. In this regard, Chiang Mai is blessed. Urban Chiang Mai straddles the banks of the Ping river and is surrounded on all sides by mountains or hills, meaning we have a choice of flat spins through the river valley, rolling rides in the foothills or challenging mountain climbs, right on our doorstep. Once away from the city the traffic will vary from light to virtually non-existent and the road surfaces are generally good. The scenery isn’t too bad either. So, the cycling is great but what is the city like?
Well, Chiang Mai is historically and culturally significant. Within the ancient city walls, some of which are still visible today, extravagantly ornate temples abound. Considered by many as the place to be for Songkran and Loi Krathong Festivals, it is also a common jumping off point for ‘soft’ adventures and treks in the mountains and jungles to the north. This has made it a popular tourist destination with all that entails. There are plenty of restaurants catering to western tastes so if you are craving a fry-up for breakfast or a big plate of pasta before the next day’s long ride, no problem. English is widely spoken although not always particularly well but even the most vehement xenoglossophobe should be able to get by. There are even several cinemas which show the latest English language movies if you are desperate for a Hollywood fix.
Away from the tourist areas, Chiang Mai is a thriving, bustling university city, large enough to have all the amenities one could wish for but not so big that it is suffocating. Here one can mix with the friendly locals, eat the delicious food on offer at one of the countless street restaurants and generally live life the way the Thais do. It is certainly a cheaper way of doing it. And that’s another reason why so many westerners are choosing to come to Chiang Mai. Even if you are staying in the tourist area and regularly eating western food, the cost will probably be quite a bit less than back home. If you are staying in a Thai area and eating Thai food you will likely be amazed at far your money will go.