Looping the loop (after a fashion)

On a recent trip I made to the North I had two "missions" in mind. One was the jaunt on Doi Inthanon which I wrote about the week before last. And the other was an epic - for me, anyway - ride from Chiang Mai to Lampang.

Nope, I wasn't planning to take Highway 11, the main link between the two provinces. No way! That route's far too dangerous for a single-track lover like me; it attracts too many fast-moving cars, trucks and buses, often with crazy drivers. Not to mention the scorching sun.

Preferring a peaceful ride, with some shade if at all possible, my target was one of the two smaller roads that snake through the forested mountains of Jae Son and Mae Ta Khrai national parks which straddle the eastern side of Chiang Mai and the northwestern part of Lampang.

Option 1 was Highway 1252 which starts off Highway 118 (Chiang Mai-Mae Suai, Chiang Rai) to Muang Pan in Lampang, passing the headquarters of Jae Son National Park.

Option 2 was Rural Highway Lampang 7056 that links Tambon Huai Kaew in Chiang Mai's Mae On district to the Jae Son HQ on the other side of the mountain.

Both are two-lane, mostly well paved roads with very little traffic. These winding mountain roads are not direct connections between cities and they are too narrow and, along many stretches, too steep for speed-addicted, long-distance drivers. Most of the automobiles you encounter on these two routes belong to locals.

Highway 1252 stretches almost 60km from its northern end at Ban Pang Fan to Jae Son NP; the other road is shorter by about 20km or so. Either way, you can expect super-steep sections as well as lots of greenery and some nice scenic lookout points. A few villages can also be found along the way and some of these settlements, like Ban Mae Ton (first route) and Ban Mae Kam Pong (second route), also offer homestay accommodation to travellers.

The best time to attempt either of these routes on a bicycle would be during the cool season, especially towards the end of that period, in February, because that's when the purple bauhinia trees (siao in Thai) come into flower. I was there a few days before Songkran and there were still a few late-bloomers left for me to take pictures of. Daytime temperatures are usually high throughout April, but if you get to the headquarters of Jae Son NP at the right time of that month you'll be treated to the sight of a spectacular natural phenomenon: the swarming of cicadas at the hot springs. But, believe it or not, it can get quite chilly at night in the park's camping ground - even at this time of year.

I'd planned to start from the Chiang Mai end of the route simply because I was approaching from that direction.

However, if you're coming from Bangkok or any another province south of Lampang, the most convenient place to begin this cycle ride is from the Jae Son HQ.

And guess what? If you glance at the map provided, you'll notice that there's a road that runs from north to south connecting the two routes. This allows cyclists to complete a big loop, meaning you can leave your car at the park and ride back to retrieve it without ever having to retrace your steps.

I'm sure that any serious cyclist would love this testing loop. Too bad I'm not one!

I have to confess that I didn't actually ride the mountian roads as I was originally determined to do. I didn't complete the second of those two missions because during my earlier ride on Doi Inthanon, the going was so rough that it ruined the suspension fork on my bike and I had to send it off for repair.

With no fork, the bike wasn't useable so I decided to leave the frame with an artist (and fellow mountain-bike enthusiast) in San Kamphaeng for a new paint job. (We agreed on replacing the flame-patterned stickers on the top tube with new flames created by airbrush painting. I'll definitely show you a pic when the work's all done.)

And I hope that's an acceptable excuse. To be frank, I wasn't unhappy about the mishap with the fork because I'd been on both those mountain routes before and I knew I wasn't sufficiently fit to attempt them. On my latest visit, as I observed the road conditions through the window of a pickup during a preliminary drive along the 1252 to update myself, I was able to visualise myself struggling up those long, steep ascents, sweating, panting and finally falling off the bike to sprawl unconscious on the ground.

Anyway, I'm sure for a lot of you, roadies and mountain bikers alike, this arduous loop would be just your kind of fun. Now that I've shown you the way, I guess - on second thoughts - that my mission has been pretty much completed.

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 pongpetm@bangkokpost.co.th or go to "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.

Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.

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About the author

Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor