What can I say, I love cycling! My plan for a bicycle trip in the Chiang Rai area had initially included taking my own bicycle there, finding a decent map and charging out along the way. Then I searched the internet for an independent tour company and I was more than surprised to find Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour, the only company offering pure cycling adventures in the area. I got in touch with them and picked a day for my tour.
When that day arrived, I woke early and had breakfast at my Chiang Rai hotel, then waited for owner Khun Bee at the reception. Phubordin Thitipongkul (AKA Bee) turned up in a pick up truck and he was already wearing his bike helmet, a good starting sign!
The sonthaew (a pick-up truck set up to carry people) driven by Bee’s sister then drove towards the city outskirts where Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour have their headquarters: a simple family home in the countryside, with a patio so stuffed with bicycles there was no room for anything else. Bee owns 60 of them, all Trek brand, and the family maintains them and fixes them thanks to a mechanic station with of all the necessary tools. We were surprised to see some dated bikes in great order and well-tuned. Khun Bee then gave us a safety run-down, fitted us for bikes and fed us with notions on road customs in Thailand, hand signals and how to keep the ride safe. He stocked a set of tubes and a set of emergency tools in case of a breakdown in his rucksack, as well as a medical kit. These boys are so thorough, and you can tell their operations are so smooth thanks to the love they put in what they do. We were soon set to go.
We were now on the eastern edge of Chiang Rai cycling south along quiet lanes and footpaths toward the Lao River, a route well-studied and previously explored by Bee and his brothers. Lots of small tracks and back roads create wonderful trails that show bikers a side of the Chiang Rai countryside that most tourists will normally not see. We kept a comfortable pace and saw temples along the way, as well as rice paddies, rubber plantations, local markets, quiet neighbourhoods and farmers at work.
The physical activity combined with a weak yet warming sun – we were lucky as the day was not that hot – made me start sweating in no time. The rescue came soon after, when Bee’s sister Ying pick-up appeared parked on a village football ground. Bee’s sister Ying takes care of the food and refreshments along the way in a very clever way: she drives the pick-up through side roads and shortcuts and positions herself at break points, in order for us to have easy pit stops with coffee and local snacks without Bee having to carry them. She also functions as the support team should anything happen to a bike, or should anyone wish to cut the ride short. Temperatures can soar in these areas and it is not always easy to keep on cycling while your body sweats profusely.
It was time to grab the bikes again, continuing our ride through dirt roads and easy single-track trails in direction southwest along the banks of the Lao River. Hardly any motorbike or car bothered us at all. Discovering Chiang Rai countryside through quiet back roads was indeed my target, one that I was accomplishing. The scenery was stunning, there were lots of water buffaloes grazing in the fields. Bee stooped to have a chat with a family or rubber tappers and we later enjoyed a few cultural sights including cocks training for a fight and charcoal making. The day was still reasonably hot and we cycled at slow pace along irrigation canals, where we had plenty of time to get to know more about our host.
Khun Bee hails from Tha Thon, north of Chiang Mai, in the northern Thai border with Myanmar. He was a rice farmer before moving to Chiang Mai where he was a monk for over 7 years and subsequently worked as a guide for a trek and cycle company. He then moved to Chiang Rai looking for opportunities, and once he realised there was no bicycle company in town, he started his company, which is still the first and only bike-only enterprise in Chiang Rai. Bee and his brothers have obtained a Tourist Authority of Thailand licence as guides and also have a company licence, insuring riders on tours. Thumbs up for the guys!
We had so far been on potholed roads, dirt paths, and slight inclines, and it was now time to turn onto a paved road for the final stretch before Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple and one of Chiang Rai’s biggest tourist draws thanks to its unconventional origins – an artist project planned to last 60 years – and contemporary style. We had a lunch of traditional khao soi curry at a local restaurant, after which Khun Bee gave us a good tour of the temple, taking us around each part of the grounds, telling us about the symbolism of the artwork and sculptures, and showing us around the workshop where apprentices create unusual mirrored decorations for the temple.
The second part of the ride, though hotter, was just as interesting. The first leg was along paved roads, but the traffic was really little and we felt extremely safe. Bee then turned to country roads where we saw black herons and white herons fly by our heads, rice paddies, farmers on tractors, dogs. The afternoon went by fast; I stopped lots of times for picture-shooting, and I appreciated Bee patience. After an uphill portion we reached the Singha Park, a lovely compound with a long bicycle lane crossing through it. There we cruised along hills cultivated in fruit orchards, tea and vegetable gardens, we passed a lake with swans and fields of flowers in bloom. It was a great way to end a comprehensive tour, and we took advantage to have some extra discussions with Bee about different cultures and ways of life, the nature and the environment, religion and customs. Bee was a font of information and never tired of answering our questions.
Back at the parking, Ying appeared with her pick-up truck, offering us some energetic coconut cookies and cold drinks. Khun Bee loaded the bicycles on the roof of the truck and we were soon on the way back to town.
This was one of the best and most authentic bicycle tours I have ever been on; it gives you the chance to see the countryside of Northern Thailand through different eyes.
Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour take out large groups and all ages, 8 to 80, all heights can cycle – he has extra large bikes to cater for extra tall men! They also have tandems and pull-on for kids.
Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour is a well-run family business. They love what they do, and it shows. In fact, Bee motto is: “We love what we do and we do it well. We don’t mind competition, since there is room for everyone and we always get decent business”. They are the only company in the area to focus solely on cycling and, as it is their passion, they take pride in everything they do!
The tour was well-managed and highly professional; I highly recommend their tours to anyone who enjoys cycling and wants to see and experience a part of Thailand that your average tourist wouldn’t see. Rides are relatively easy, yet you need to have a minimum of good physical condition. If in doubt, discuss this with Bee at the time of booking so he can place you on the most suitable tour.
Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour also run multi-days tours, for the full list check their website on http://www.chiangraibicycletour.com/chiangraicyclingtour_fullday.html
Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour company profile on our website: http://asianitinerary.com/chiang-rai-bicycle-tour/
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