Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Chiang Mai -- The Samoeng Loop on motorbike

One of my biggest passions is motorcycle touring. In fact that's one of the biggest reasons I chose to base myself in Chiang Mai ... dozens of brilliant mountain rides and thousands of kilometres of excellent riding roads. So hang on to your seat for the next few blogs as I take you on the ride of your life.

But for now, we're going to warm up with a little outing around Chiang Mai ...

It's called The Samoeng Loop, and it's a 100km path takes you from Chiang Mai, up to Mae Rim, across the Mae Sa Valley to Samoeng, then back down around the back of Doi Suthep to Chiang Mai.

In a word: FANTASTIC!!! The road conditions vary from good to excellent in parts, lots of beautiful windy corners for those who like to throw their bike around a bit, too. (Er, that'd be me.)

Kicking off at Chiang Mai, take the Road 107 north from the city at Chang Puak Gate. This is a busy multi-laned road to Mae Rim. Don't forget to fill up with petrol before you set off or somewhere along this road otherwise you might find this turns into a l-o-o-o-o-n-g ride, or walk actually. Soon you are in the wonderful rustic countryside with horses and beautiful fields. Shortly after Mae Rim town, take the 1096 road left to Samoeng.

You are immediately into the best of Thai countryside, with banana trees, open fields, villages of traditional teak wood houses and any number of boutique resorts. I strongly suggest you take the turn off right to Tard Mork waterfall ... about a 10km detour, but a very serene place to enjoy a drink or picnic next to the falls and stream. Entry is 50 baht per person, plus 20 for your motorbike, but the ticket is then valid for ALL entrances and falls in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park on that day. (Mae Sa Falls is a series of 9 cascades, and worth the lovely bush walk to see them if you want to stretch your legs).

Back on the road to Samoeng, you'll be dazzled at the amount of adventure activities and other attractions and distractions on offer. X Centre (an extreme sports centre), Thailand's biggest Orchid garden, world famous Mae Sa elephant camp, handicraft galleries, and a number of great restaurants and coffee shops (and of course millions of typical road side stalls). Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens is stunning when in flower, and there's a 4 km/ 2hr amble around there if that's your kind of thing.

By now, you're in low gear and climbing and snaking your way through the Mae Sa valley. Do keep your eyes on the road -- there's dogs, chickens, cyclists, even elephants that'll surprise you. Jing jing!

But sneak a glance to your right to see the valley stretch out in shades of blue and green beside you. There's a lookout stop at Samoeng Forest -- stunning photo op, as you can see from the photo above.

From there, you climb down toward Samoeng itself, feeling the cooler air. At the T-junction, take a right toward Samoeng, with its charming tree avenues which completely cover over the road in parts. There's also stands of teak trees and bamboo groves.

Samoeng has loads of shops, a big petrol station, a hospital, and -- if you're there on a weekend -- you'll see locals enjoying a game of football on the village green. There are lots of back streets, side streets and whatever to explore for a taste of real Thai small town life.

Then it's back to Chiang Mai. Take the same road back up as you came down on, but instead of turning left at the T-junction where you came down, just keep going straight (well, no, I mean follow the road which is curving left and right, but you know what I mean!) and head for Chiang Mai/ Hang Dong on the 1269. This section is exhilarating, with curve after curve and some nice straight bits to test that your throttle is still working in the 'fully on' position. (There'll be more of this sort of throttle testing in later blogs, believe me.)

Stop at the local fruit stalls for bananas, longans (like lychees), cool drinks. Locals love to ask you where you are from and where you are going.

And then, all too soon, you suddenly hit the 121 Canal Road. Hopefully not literally. You can turn left here if you're heading for north/west of Chiang Mai or keep on straight till the 108 and turn left if you're heading back to south/east Chiangers.

This is actually only a short ride, so best enjoyed by stopping every now and again and enjoying the scenery or the food and drinks or chatting with the locals to make a full and enjoyable day of it.

[Suggestion: pick up a copy of a map called Mae Sa Valley - the Samoeng Loop, published by GT Rider in bookstores in town. That'll give you all the detail you need to know about this route.]

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