7 Reasons You Should Go
You're welcome everywhere. Aside from a park ranger running at us and making a throat slitting gesture (he was simply worried about our safety, but had a terrible way of displaying it), every person we encountered carried a welcoming disposition of care and interest in who we were and what we were doing. Being nice may not seem like something worth point out, but it'll mean a world of difference when you're looking for a hot meal, struggling with your inability to speak Thai, or hitchhiking to the top of a mountain that you've decided simply isn't worth pedaling. The following two gentlemen were happy to help us out and threw us, and our bikes, on top of the pile of strawberries in the bed of their Toyota Hilux.
It's surprisingly easy to get away from the expansive tourists traps that grew out of Thailand's recent tourism boom (you know, before everybody recently decided they needed to see Iceland). You'll be inundated with cheap frustrations as soon as you get off the plane, but worry not, it's easy to escape. Pedal only a few miles out of the city centers and you'll instantly find areas where people only speak their language, eat their food, live their routines, and have no reason to include English on their signs. You'll be experiencing Thailand's version of the Eastern Sierras in comparison to Yosemite.
Even if you default to sitting around a camp stove and sleeping in your hammock once night falls, the comfort of a cozy bed can be quite inviting after a long day of cranking 55-pounds worth of bike and gear through humid mountains. For such instances, accommodations are easy to find and extremely affordable. Without ever planning more than a day ahead, it's easy to stumble upon places where two folks can get a private room with a hot shower and breakfast (not just toast) for the equivalent of $15 US.
Whether dirt or paved, the roads rarely saw much vehicle use once we escaped from the hustle and bustle of cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. During descents, it's nice not to worry as much about white-knuckle drivers whipping through the tight corners. While climbing, we often took advantage of the deserted roads by paperboying to our hearts' desires. Dirt roads were free of dusty traffic and we often had them all to ourselves.
The undisputed signature dish of Northern Thailand. It's a rich and creamy coconut curry soup covering rice noodles and shallots, while topped with fried egg noodles and served with a slice of lime. I can be found anywhere there is a stove and is often the only thing being served. There may be a menu, but you're likely to get khao soi no matter what you order. You won't be disappointed by that. Get it with chicken (khao soi gai) and you'll have enough fire in your belly to get you through to dinner.
You'll encounter more of them with every turn you take. Each new town will provide you a handful of new puppies to play with. Many of them clearly have had a tough go at life, meaning they're even more in need of a little love. Use the opportunity to let your legs rest while playing with the local pups. Yes, they may be carrying something you don't want in your system. So get your shots and then get to pettin'!
You'll finish your bikepacking trip feeling like a champ. The kind of champ that craves long days in the saddle and politely drops fellow riders along the way. Even if you overstuff yourself at each meal and finish each day with a few Chang beers, 16% grades will make sure you return home considerably stronger and fitter than when you left. Remember that when you're searching for a lower gear that doesn't exist.
3 Reasons You Shouldn't Do It
Accurately measured and without any exaggeration, this monster had an eight-inch wingspan. Sure, it's a harmless golden orb weaver. But still...eight inches...
Notice how this has snatched two spots on the list? Throughout every climb of your route, I can guarantee you that sections of it WILL consistently deliver 12% grades, with spikes up to 16%. Whenever you think it can't possibly get any steeper, it will. You'll curse each climb, it won't change anything, and there will be another one (probably steeper and longer) before the day is over. Some can embrace it, some will hate it. To put this in perspective, the steepest grades of the Tour de France typically hover around 9-10%. Not appealing to you? Don't go bikepacking in Northern Thailand.
Hate them as much as I do? They're the fuel of Thailand. Tell anybody to withhold them from your meal and you'll likely get a laugh in return. They're not being rude...they simply think you're crazy. You're not crazy. Squishy mushrooms, dry mushrooms, massive mushrooms trying to pass off as chicken, tiny mushrooms that sneak onto your spoon, and even mushrooms that have been made into on-the-go treats. Let's be real though, this shouldn't be enough to deter you. Buy your ticket and get your bike to Northern Thailand.