Forget the taxi, minivan, songthaew and motorbike when you’re in Chiang Mai. Just jump on a bicycle and you’ll discover parts of the city you never knew existed. At the invitation of the Recreational Thailand Biking we’ve had an unforgettable bike ride through our favorite city in northern Thailand: Chiang Mai!
Cycling in Chiang Mai
Dive into colorful alleys with undiscovered temples on every street corner. Cycle along Chiang Mai’s most famous river: the Ping River. Eat the best Khao Soi Kai in Thailand, visit a leprosy centre with twenty residents and ride through the paddy fields of Chiang Mai.
A new and surprising way to explore Chiang Mai we recommend for everyone!
We were greeted by our guide, Koi (Little Finger). She was fantastic; funny, knowledgeable, spoke good English and showed us many amazing things in Chiang Mai. We started the tour at a small temple shrine which we’d never seen before.
“Here do you see King Rama V, he was a very good and busy king. Good because he studied in England and did lots of good things for Thailand, and busy because he had 88 children!”
We cycled in the back streets along the Ping River and suddenly stood in the middle of a deserted residential area. The area had a gloomy atmosphere; the houses were well maintained but the streets were deserted. This was so unlike Thailand – where the streets are always bustling with people.
We stepped off our bikes while Koi told us the impressive story of this almost extinct leper colony. Over a hundred years ago there were 500 people living in this village. Fortunately, leprosy is on the decline in Thailand so there are only a handful of people still living here.
The people who live here are lonely, rejected by their families and completely cut-off from society. They have no money and few possessions and receive three small meals for the day – that’s it.
We walked towards one of the houses. The garden was perfectly maintained and looked freshly swept. A man with amputated limbs sat on the ground and was very happy to see us. Koi asked him some questions, and we could communicate with him via her. He told us that he was proud of his garden, flowers and plants.
As we left the house we saw the loneliness in his eyes. It was only half past ten in the morning, but we were the only people who would speak with him that day.
We had a lump in our throats as we continued our tour. We left money behind so that he could buy new plants, and Koi assured us that she would arrange this for him.
Daily life until cremation
The trip continued as we passed paddy fields, ate the tastiest Khao Soi at a local restaurant and cycled through narrow alleys watching daily life unfold.
We enjoyed absorbing all the activities around us: from an old lady on the corner selling us fried banana to a tiny bakery where cakes are fresh from the oven. Children along the road who greeted us with a big smile: “Helllloooo, how are yuuuu?”
We haven’t even mentioned the temple in southern Chiang Mai where weekly funeral ceremonies are held. At this small temple the ash and bones from the previous cremation are not completely cleaned out after the cremation – which is common in rural areas in Thailand. In northern Thailand an ordinary funeral is open to the public and lasts three days, and includes festivities, loads of food and games. The cremation takes place on the final night.
So different than what we are used to.
We’ve been to Chiang Mai many times, and yet this cycling tour has shown us so many new things – things that genuinely surprised us. And that’s one of the best things about traveling in another country: being exposed to a different culture that continually amazes you!
Needless to say, we definitely recommend the tours of Recreational Thailand Biking. Even if it is your first time visiting Thailand, this bike tour will blow you away because everything is new, different, interesting and surprising.
We advise that you book this tour on a weekday. We unfortunately did the tour on a Sunday, which meant that the school we were supposed to visit and the workplace of the leper colony were closed. On a weekday you’ll have more contact with locals, which makes the tour even more interesting.
Recreational Chiang Mai Biking
The bike tour, Colors of Chiang Mai, takes four to five hours and costs 1,100 baht per person. A basic fitness level is sufficient to participate. The bikes are well maintained and can be provided with children’s seats. The guides speak good English, are from the area and know the region by heart. Food and drink is included.
In addition to the Colors of Chiang Mai, Recreational Thailand Biking offers four other bike tours in Chiang Mai. They also organize bike tours in Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Hua Hin and Pattaya. More information about the bike tours of Recreational Thailand Biking can be found here.