Those who have visited the famous scenic lookout point of Huai Nam Dang National Park, which straddles the border between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, must find it hard to forget the magnificent panorama of an endless mountainous landscape, a dreamlike scene especially early in the morning when the ridges are obscured by the expansive sea of fog bathed in early morning sunshine.
At the lookout point, everybody can't help but face east to the most striking part of the grand vista. Of course, it's none other than the iconic jagged peaks of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, the Kingdom's tallest limestone mountain that towers above all others in the vicinity.
Among those distant mountains there are several dirt roads used by the locals, many of them hilltribe folks. One of those roads links Huai Nam Dang and the town of Chiang Dao, which if you view from the lookout point is hidden behind its namesake mountain.
I've long wanted to ride that route. The total distance is roughly 50km. Although I had never used that particular road before I had once travelled on a 4X4 truck from the national park north to the town of Wiang Haeng near the Myanmar border before, so I had a pretty good idea what kind of conditions awaited.
So last week, together with a couple of friends, I finally got the chance to do it. Since we are not that physically fit, we planned to finish the route in two days, staying overnight halfway at Muang Khong, which is the only big community in the area. Also to play it safe we had checked with local mountain bikers that riding west to east, from Huai Nam Dang to Chiang Dao, involves less climbing than the other way round. Of course, we chose the easier way.
After spending the whole night on the road and the early hours of the morning shopping for supplies and having a quick breakfast at Talat Mae Malai, the last big market before Huai Nam Dang, we reached the park around 9.30am and were ready for the ride soon after that.
We told a friend who was the driver to hang on at the parking lot for the next two hours to catch some sleep. Each biker had a backpack filled with water and snacks because the truck would not be with us until lunchtime, by which time we hoped we would have reached Muang Khong.
The ride started with a series of fast descents, first on the park's asphalt road then on a dusty mountain track. On the way, we passed a Lisu village where we stopped, only to find out from a local man we said hello to that we had just made a wrong turn.
After getting back on track, we found that the trail now went up and down the mountains, passing forest land as well as tangerine and other fruit plantations, and crossing a number of refreshing shallow streams. It should be noted that despite my not-so-fit legs and the fact that my full-suspension bike weighs as much as 16kg, I managed to clear those ascents pretty much with ease. The secret to that was the telescopic seatpost, which allowed me to increase the height of the seat when I needed to climb and lower it when going downhill. Get one if you can, trust me on this kind of trail you'll find it's a godsend.
About 5km before Muang Khong, we made another stop at a Karen village where a man kindly invited us into his house. Our truck also caught up with us there.
We rode on from the Karen village, feeling regretful as we struggled our way up the hills. It was the longest and steepest climb of the day. But after we passed the highest point and glided down the mountain we were delighted by the sight before us. It was a river and a vast expanse of lowlands.
Yes, we made it to Muang Khong. It was about 1pm. To cut a long story short, we were so tired that everybody agreed we should scrap the idea of riding the other half of the planned route since it would be mostly uphill.
So, after lunch, we packed the bikes and rode on the truck to Chiang Dao instead. Along the way, as the truck climbed one steep slope after another, we were so happy that we had made the right decision.
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 is Life's travel editor and a bike freak.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor