This route is shamelessly stolen from Jeff Vogel, founder of the Chiang Mai Road Riders Yahoo group and a man with a lot of years cycling in Chiang Mai under his belt. Jeff had posted a ride billed as a “northern meander”, the idea being we’d head north with no particular route in mind and follow our noses. Just how I tend to like it. This was the route Jeff took us on and I enjoyed it so much that it is rapidly becoming a staple of mine.
Deserted, rolling roads at Rajabhat University
We leave from the Convention Centre and head north via the Military Road. We cross the Samoeng Road and continue alongside the irrigation canal, making our way past an assortment of “attractions” like Tiger Kingdom, the brand new Magic Land and the gloriously named Elephant PooPooPaper Park. We navigate our way through a wonderfully scenic village (the name of which may or may not be Baan Hong Nai) soon emerging onto the Prem Road.
You won’t find the Prem Road on any map. Well, you will but it won’t be called the Prem Road. The Prem Road is the name given by ex-pat cyclists to a rural road that runs from Mae Rim to the Pai Road. The origins of the name are lost in the mists of time (although Jeff may know) but are presumably related to the fact that the international Prem School is located on an adjacent road. Anyway, the Prem Road as I shall continue to call it, is one of the more popular arteries for cyclists heading north from Chiang Mai and was probably the first ride I ever did in Chiang Mai.
It’s a little busier than it used to be but this is a picturesque, pleasantly undulating road that imperceptibly rises as you head north. The temptation is to blast along it but we’ll usually resist that on this ride and save our legs for the fun to come.
After 12 kilometres we turn right onto the North West Passage. This is another of those ex-pat cyclist names (I can feel a reference page coming along) that presumably relates to the fact that this road can be used to connect the river road to the Prem Road. We won’t be using it for that though. Instead we’ll turn off into the campus for the Agricultural Centre of Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, a 2,300 acre facility with currently barely used, wide and well-surfaced roads criss-crossing the site.
There are signs that the campus is being upgraded and we are expecting one day to be turned away but, for now, we are usually greeted with a playful salute from the security guards on the gate as we cycle through the entrance and past the Dean’s office. Here we let rip. It is near impossible not to get carried away on roads that seem to swoop and soar. We limit ourselves to a lap and a half at this time of year, a mere 10 kilometres of exhilaration, and exit the University via a short but sweet descent onto Highway 107. The main Chiang Dao Road is a lot less busy this far north but we hug the hard shoulder and a mere 3.5 kilometres later turn off onto the North-North West Passage (possibly, the consensus seems to be less clear on this one) which takes us through a small, Thai village onto a quiet country road that rolls through a rural idyll back to the Prem Road approximately 5 kilometres north of where we left it.
Here we will usually find a Mom and Pop store where we can replenish water bottles and grab a sweet or savoury snack to restore our energy levels.Suitably refreshed we turn off the Prem Road and head towards the road to Wat Prabhat Tabhat Si Roi (Four Buddha Footprint Temple) one of the hardest climbs in the area. But that is for another day. Instead, we make a small loop that takes us up a small hill, gives us breathtaking views of the valley below, and brings us back onto the Prem Road. Then it’s back home the way we came. The road’s undulations are gradually taking us downwards and that is good news for our weary legs as someone will usually decide to pick up the pace on this stretch.
Facts at a glance
Distance: 96 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 615 metres
Road surface: Moderate to excellent
Traffic: Moderate to almost none
The Rajabhat Uni loop