Chiang Mai, the biggest city in Norther Thailand, is the new growing hub of cycling in South East Asia. The ex-capital of the Lanna Kingdom is predominantly flat, but it is surrounded by the highest peaks in all Thailand, making of it the perfect cycling destination from where to start exploring South East Asia.
We have been based in Chiang Mai for over a month and decided to built this guide, which we hope it will be helpful for all the cycle tourers (and non) willing to have an enjoyble experience in this vibrant and fascinating town.
Reaching the city centre from the airport is easy. Upon leaving the arrival hall, hordes of taxi drivers will want to grab your attention. Bergain for the best price – usually, not more than 300 Bath. The majority of taxis at the airport have BIG cars and, for us, it was extremely easy to fit two bike boxes, two large bags and, of course, ourselves.
1.BUYING A SIM CARD
You can buy sim cards at bigger convenience stores like 7Eleven, which are everywhere around the city. The process is simple, although you will need your passport. A quick scan and you re good to go.
With 299 Bath you can get 2.5GB of data and 100 Bath worth of credit for phone calls. The promotion is valid for 8 days, after you which you can just top up again and get more data.
Book Zone: here we found the famous Nancy Chandler’s Map of Chiang Mai, with detailed info about all the must try places in town. It has a good assortment of Lonely Planet travel guides of Thailand and neighbouring countries. It has a small range of maps, especially for cycling loops around Chiang Mai.
The Lost Book Shop: second hand book shop with guidebooks in several languages, a few maps, novels and literature of any sort.
TrailHead Bike Tour Cafe: This is a lovely coffee shop located in the Old Town. The coffee is nice, the environment is relaxed and they also sell a small assortment of outdoor/cycling gear, like Halinox Camping Chairs, Buffs, water bottles, etc. 5% of their profit goes to community development projects.
Overstand: fantastic brunch spot, with good vegetarian options. Located in a side halley just off the main road in the Old Town, it has a buzzy vibe, especially over the weekend. Not the cheapest, but definitely worth it.
My Secret Cafe: we simply loved this place! It has a nice sitting area outside, nice drinks, nice food, amazing service! It sits in a quiet lane off the main road, in the Old Town, and it is the perfect environment to sit on your computer getting work done.
4.FOOD ON THE SHOESTRING
Huan Chao Bua Tip: nice smoothies, reasonable prices, glorious pork ribs soup which is their signature dish and what they are famous for.
Sunnee Juice Cafe: Cheap, fresh juices made to order and a thai menu. Very unpretentious, both for setting and menu choices, but the food is simply fresh and delicious.
Huen Phen: traditional Norther Thailand cuisine. Khao Soi, the most famous regional dish, is really good.
Eat Pad Thai: known to be the best pad thai in Chiang Mai, this place has simple decor and attracts mostly locals.
Mong Cycles: owned by the American Stew, this lovely shop sells touring bikes and second hand parts, so you can replace anything on your bike at a lower cost. It has a professional and knowledgeable team which will service and fix any issue on your bike at very reasonable prices. Best for repairs and secon hand bike parts.
Chaithawat Bycicle Shop: located in the Old Town, and owned by a nice Thai local. Other than selling bikes, it has a decent stock of Ortlieb Panniers. Best for random bike accessories and bike panniers.
Triple Cats Cycle: Nu, the extremely knowledgeable Thai owner of this amazing bike shop, is probably the best in Chiang Mai for maintenance and sorting out your cycle touring bike and bespoke wheels.
6.OUTDOOR & CAMPING STORES
Unfortunately the city doesn’t have a triving camping/outdoor scene and we found only a decent store at the Chiang Mai Archery centre. They sell MSR tents, Thermarest mattresses, Fjallaraven, Leathermans, a few sleeping bags and good camping stoves. The store doesn’t seem to have a name but here’s the location.
At the Central Festival shopping centre, you’ll find a North Face shop, a Keen shoes shop, and Sports World – with cheaper outdoor gear and clothing.
In Chiang Mai, there is also a Decathlon.