10 December 2011

Pootling around Mueang Chiang Mai

It was only two weeks ago that we came back from Thailand. Unfortunately we did not take the bikes with us this time, as the logistics were complicated, but could not resist the temptation of hiring bikes for a couple of days.

At £1 per day, we got our bikes sorted from one of the shops in central Chiang Mai. I got a very old-fashioned chinese steel singlespeed bike with a good number of miles/kms on it. The braking system was interesting, and never seen it before. Instead of cables, it had metal wires that connected the brake levers to the brake calipers. The brake levers run along the length of the handlebars and by activating the left (in theory front) you could actually operate both front and rear simultaneously. It was only later that I realised that the front brake was missing a nut, and therefore was not operable at all! oh well, too late, just try and not pick up too much speed. Also, the bike featured a very worn in leather saddle, not a Brooks of course, but something similar. And when I asked the guy at the shop to raise the seatpost, he said it was at its highest position already! I guess they were not originally intended for "tall" Europeans! The tyres were quite substantial, which made for a comfy ride along the streets of Chiang Mai.
20 kg of chinese steel
Lucy's bike was a Westernized Raleigh, dutch-style and same brand as her current commuter. She felt at home on it. And it had semi-functioning brakes.Unfortunately, helmets have not yet made it to this part of the world...We later learnt that even on motorbikes they're not mandatory in the centre, so no one wears one.

Locking up the bikes
We initially got familiar with them in central Chiang Mai, where traffic was pretty quiet. After a short while practicing, we ventured out the inner ring towards the east side of the city. The loop looked like this:

After we visited the train and the bus stations to get our tickets to Bangkok, we headed back into the old town. At some point we got a bit lost, but locals were always helpful and pointed us to the centre. The traffic was not too bad as it all seems to concentrate on the big avenues and the rings around the city. The roads were nicely paved too and looked like this

Lucy, where is your helmet?
We then crossed the old town, just under 3 km, and headed out west towards the University area. We ended up cycling around the nursing and medicine faculties, a compact maze of narrow roads packed with cars and motorcycles. Locals do not seem to use the bike that much in this part of the city, but get on motorbikes instead.

Ride on the left hand-side of the road. This could be anywhere in the UK!
The traffic was generally very civilised to us, and I guess it is because they're very used to two wheeled vehicles. As temperatures rose, we went for a coke, and after a bit of misunderstanding with the locals we got this take away drink

Coke in a bag!

On the way back we stopped to see the mountains on the west side of Chiang Mai and started dreaming about our next visit to this part of the globe. This area in particular is famous with cyclists, who head for the mountains early in the morning or late in the evening, to avoid the heat. Lots of them travel from Malasya and Singapur (on a plane, of course!) to enjoy the challenge of the Thai hills. We also spoke to the Chaitawat bike shop staff, and they told us about their cycling club and annual events such as the climb to Doi Suthep in Dcember. Next time we will definetely bring our own bikes.

Fields & mountains

If you want to know more about cycling and touring in Thailand, here are some of my favourites sites:

Travelling Two: Thailand

Shane Cycles in Thailand

Bicycle Thailand


  1. Love the coke in a bag!!! - Erin

  2. next two month maybe we'll go to thailand and try the coke in a bag!jejeje

  3. Jeje. Coke in the bag rocks! great business idea Rayita ;)!