Khao Phlong is a small hill most people can drive past without even noticing. But if you are a mountain biker in the know, you can't help but look at it with respect.
Khao Phlong downhill track, Chai Nat
GPS info: N 15 12 272 E 100 08 452
Trail condition: Pure downhill
Distance: Around 1 km
Getting there: If you drive from Bangkok via the Asian Highway (No.32), shift to Highway 1 toward Chai Nat downtown. Make a U-turn in front of the aviary, and soon you’ll find a side road on the left. Follow that road and turn left again at the first lane you come across. Keep the hill within sight and you’ll be on the right course. The starting point of the downhill track is next to the Buddhist temple on the hilltop and the finish point is the shooting range on the northern side of the foothill.
Food & drinks: Bring your own supplies.
What your family can enjoy while waiting: The kids will love the feathered friends at the aviary.
Accommodation: There is simple tourist accommodation in downtown Chai Nat.
Local contact: Call Tanaphon Jarupeng on 087-922-6969.
This hill behind the famous aviary of Chai Nat province is home to some of the Kingdom's oldest downhill tracks, the training grounds of the current national downhill mountain bike champion Tanaphon Jarupeng, who has won the title for three years in a row.
I got the chance to ride one of the downhill tracks at Khao Phlong again last Saturday when the Jarupeng family invited fellow downhillers for a meeting there. The word "meeting" is a term used among Thai mountain bikers to refer to unofficial competitions where riders take part for fun rather than for a trophy.
Other than catching up with like-minded folks, the event also gave me the chance to ride the place where I had my first downhill experience about a decade ago.
That day I tagged along after new friends to Khao Phlong to watch them and other downhillers practice for a race. I also brought my cross-country bike only to find that everybody else was using burly, long-travel, full-suspension rigs made specifically for this discipline of mountain biking. Many of the bikes were also equipped with disc brakes, which back then were not common.
I had ridden downhill sections of cross-country trails before and I love the feeling of going at high speed with the help of gravity. I had never tried a real downhill track before, but since I had my bike with me, I decided to try riding the Khao Phlong trail.
After the last racer sped off, I slowly rolled down the winding hillside single track. And soon I had an experience I'd never had before.
It wasn't a crash. I was aware of the limitations of both my skill and equipment, so I was being very cautious. Going at a crawling speed, I tried my best to follow the rut on the loose ground dug by the knobby tyres of other bikes.
Still, there were steeper parts where gravity just wouldn't let me go at my preferred speed. The bike was going faster and I was forced to pull the brake levers harder and harder. And this was my new experience: even when I applied full force on the brakes, so much so that both wheels are locked, the bike kept going forward.
To me it was a new discovery, a feeling I like to compare to my first taste of wasabi. It's an uncontrollable, yet strangely pleasant feeling _ you never have full idea of what it's like until you experience it. And I guess it was part of what got me hooked on downhill mountain biking.
The reason I told you about my debut downhill ride at Khao Phlong is that during the Saturday's meeting I realised that 10 years later, even with much better riding skills and a real downhill rig, Khao Phlong remains as challenging as ever.
Except for the final section where you emerge from the woods to an open hillside, this is not a trail you can go at full-speed. The loose and slippery surface does not allow you to do that. At every corner, unless you approach it with a manageable pace, expect a wipeout. At any moment, your tire traction can become zero. That's the nature of the downhill trails here.
"If you can ride at Khao Phlong, you can ride any downhill trails," Thanaphon told me at the end of the race. And from my little experience, I totally agree with the champ.
Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to email@example.com or go to "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor