Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Mountain Biking Holiday - Thailand

Thailand, commonly referred to as ‘The Land of Smiles’ is a great destination for a mountain biking holiday. From the lofty peaks of the northern mountain ranges, through the lower plains of Bangkok and the central/eastern region, down to the limestone formations and beautiful beaches of the south, this diverse Kingdom offers something for everyone.

The Northern mountains which surround Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai probably offer some of the longer established riding trails and adventure areas. With peaks rising to over 2,500 metres there are ample opportunities for uphill ‘grinding’ followed by serious downhill ‘grinning’. The trails vary from quiet, backwater blacktop and gravel/dirt roads to single track jungle trails and just about everything in between. The vistas are overwhelming and the friendliness of the local people and hill tribes are welcoming and sincere. Throw in some great Thai cuisine with its reputation for a fusion of flavours, and herbal delights with a liberal sprinkling of the famous Thai chilli pepper and every turn of the trail, lunch time and evening stop throws up another memory to savour.

You might think that an urban sprawl such as Bangkok (locally referred to as the Big Mango) would be a ‘wasteland’ for mountain bike riding but within an hour’s drive in most directions out of the city some excellent riding can be found. A few examples that spring to mind  are Phuttamonthon Park (30 mins west of the city centre), Khao I-to  (close to the Khao Yai National Park) and Tam Pratoon in Chon Buri Province, the latter being  around 1.5 to 2 hours east of Bangkok. These sites are a favourite weekend haunt for the city dwellers.

Heading south the coastal area from Cha Am to Hua Hin and Prachuap Kiri Khan offers some great riding trails, not least the trek from the nearby mountainous border with Myanmar and the Kaeng Krachan National Park. Continuing further we find Pranburi and the Sam Roi Yod National Park with its towering peaks and myriad caves.

Surat Thani, the gateway to the South of Thailand, offers a mix of stunning scenery and laid back beaches. From the National Park at  Khao Sok (reputed to be the oldest evergreen tropical forest in the world) to the amazing limestone karst formations of Phang Nga, Phuket and the Andaman coast down to Krabi, there are a variety of trails and riding options. Despite the intense heat and humidity of the summer and inter-monsoon seasons many of the trails in the south pass through vast rubber and palm oil plantations, which form a natural shaded, cool riding area. Meanwhile on the eastern, gulf side of the peninsula, you have the tourist islands of Samui and Koh Phangan, across to the Thai Riviera from Khanom down to Nakhon Si Tammarat where the coastal plains steadily gain altitude leading to some refreshing waterfalls and mountainous national parks with summits up to 1,800 mtr.

So whether your passion is bombing downhill, riding singletrack jungle trails, exploring the national parks and waterfalls, cruising the beaches and islands or just some excellent X-C, there is something for everyone in Thailand, where mountain biking is sure to ‘make you smile’.