The remote village of Mae Kampong (แม่กำปอง in Thai), at over 1,100 meters of altitude, is nestled in a deep valley between two steep ridges in the highlands of Mae On district, 60 km East from Chiang Mai.
The ride to this village has all that Northern Thailand can offer. Flat snaking roads among green paddy fields. Brutal 20%+ hairpins. Old rustic Thai farmhouses hidden among mango trees, tea and coffee plantations. Scenic waterfalls, creeks, and golden Buddhist temples as well.
It’s possible to start cycling from Chiang Mai city center but we prefer to avoid the busy roads and start from the nearby town of San Kamphaeng, famous for its renowned hot springs. From there, we roll the first few km along the flat and quiet countryside road 6021 flanked by shiny rice fields that reflect the blue sky.
After this short warm up we keep cycling along the road 4062, that begins to undulate as we approach the hot springs, while the towering silhouettes of the distant hills seem to get closer to us with every pedal stroke.
25 km into the ride comes the first montainuous difficulty, a 1.6 km almost straight drag at 10% that has been used at the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai’s stage 1 to make an early selection within the pack.
This first climb is followed by a gentle descent into an isolated plateau. The rural landscape has very few buildings in sight, let alone any 7-Eleven. There is a small local specialty coffee shop though, on the left hand side of the road almost at the end of the downhill. It’s time to refill bidons and grab a bite as well.
After the stop, we continue cycling on the same road and take a right turn into 4074 road. We are 30 km into the ride and from here is all pretty much up until the Village of Mae Kampong. The first 5 km are a gentle uphill at 4% almost entirely shaded by fruit trees. The road is extremely scenic and really quiet on the weekdays.
Then, out of the blue, we find a wall of 700 meters at 15% average, maxing out at over 20%. Luckily, the whole stretch is completely shaded but it will surely take you well over 5 minutes to climb it!
Avg 20 km/h
We’ll get 500 meters of respite before tackling the last part of the climb to Mae Kampong village, 2.5 km at 7% but with a stepped profile and quite a few double-digit ramps expect some suffering until the end.
The picturesque town’s ancient wood houses line along both sides of the road and the creek, flanking steep streets and narrow hairpins. If we take our eyes off the stem for a second and manage to look back over our shoulders, the views of the valley are outstanding.
Gravity feels double on the last 25% ramp. Right after it, we’ll be overlooking the roofs of the entire village, nestled among a thick green mass of trees. A few meters ahead there’s the entrance to the beautiful Mae Kampong waterfall.
For the true mountain goats, there’s an ultimate cycling challenge on the 3 km past the waterfall, at a whopping average of 14% up to the Kew Fin viewpoint, at 1500 meters. But even for the fittest cyclist, we do not recommend riding here unless you’ve got disk brakes for the descent. The road is extremely steep at times and the surface quite rough and bumpy.
Having enjoyed the view and the sights of the ancient village streets, it’s time for a fast descent on the same 4074 road. The surface is generally good but you must remain concentrated going into the many turns and hairpins at fast speed.
Half-way through the downhill we love to stop at Sounchan coffee to enjoy a well-deserved meal at its pleasant shaded terrace. After all, the remainder of the ride requires little pedalling, the bulk of the work has been done!
We wouldn't recommend this ride on the weekends or public holiday periods due to the popularity of this remote village among local Thai tourists. There is only one narrow road leading to Mae Kampong, the 4074, and it is not pleasant to ride behind a caravan of pickup trucks and vans.
On the flip side, the roads over the Eastern mountains of Chiang Mai tend to be generally less crowded compared to the Suthep and Samoeng area. The local inhabitants are always surprised and pleased to see cyclists and they’re always happy to chat with us.