If there’s a ride that has attained the status of a ‘classic’ amongst Chiang Mai’s local cycling community that’s probably the Samoeng loop.
Interestingly, there are actually two rides within one, as this famous road cycling route can be done in two opposite directions resulting in two very different ride profiles.
Our favorite Samoeng loop ride is the one that takes off from the city center towards the north, hence tackling the loop counter-clockwise. Some might say that this is the toughest variant but we like to think it is the one that offers the most epic cycling and scenic views.
An early start is advised to avoid traffic on the first 10 km along canal road (road 121), which is as fast and dead flat as the following 10 over windy local picturesque roads that lead well past the village of Mae Rim. All in all, a perfect and safe warm up section before getting into the real hills.
After cycling these initial 22 km, the sight of Mae Sa waterfall on the road 1096 announces that the climbing is about to start, and be warned there won’t be any more flat bits over the next 50km, it’s all up and down. The first proper climb is Mae Sa, almost 3 km at 6% with ramps up to 13%, very much short and sharp as the ‘hellingen’ in european classics, although it’s flanked by a thick and lush tropical jungle that reminds you how far you are from the old continent.
The gradient eases briefly as the road edges the Mae Sa elephant camp, if you look closely to your left through the dense vegetation you will spot these majestic creatures taking a morning bath, that’s what we call exotic cycling! Without any further respite, the next climb takes us from Mae Sa to Pong Yaeng gaining another 230 meters over 4.2 km. Nothing really extreme but again, prepare your legs for short stretches that kick up to 15% sharply.
Once in Pong Yaeng village the same 1096 road spreads over an undulating and scenic valley dotted with Buddhist temples and strawberry plantations. If you were to take the deviation on the right, you will end up climbing to Mon Jam from the toughest (and ridiculously steep) side. There are a handful of good cafes and it’s also a good idea to stop at least to refill the bidons, since there won’t be any shops in the next few climbs.
Cycling up to this village there might be some light traffic, mostly farmer pickup trucks and tourist vans, but the road shoulders are big enough and local drivers are used to the flocks of cyclists in this popular route so they tend to be respectful on the road. After Pong Yaeng the road climbs again into the jungle with virtually no traffic, here starts the first serious climb of the day: 5.3 km at 7% over beautiful sneaky hairpins and through thick pine forests.
Avg 24 km/h
The Samoeng view point stands at over 1100 meters above sea level and it’s the highest point of this cycling route with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. At this height the temperatures are pleasant all year round, so it’s always a good spot to bask in the sun while enjoying some seasonal fruits from the local vendors (lychee season in May is specially good).
Having recovered from the effort it’s time to enjoy the next descent, almost 7 km of panoramic twisty roads with wide open views and gentle gradients. If you know the bends like the locals there’s no need to pedal nor to touch the brakes, pure bliss.
A police box stands at the intersection of roads 1096 and 1269, we take a left turn on the latter to climb again. The funniest thing about the Samoeng loop is that it doesn’t actually pass by its namesake village. Samoeng town itself it’s actually further down the road to the right.
A brief, 1.5 km, but never easy climb (7% average) is the prelude of the fastest descent of the day, with some very steep sections that can get you up to 70+ kmph without even pedalling, so take extreme caution here and save your last bullets for the last climb of the loop.
You’ve reached the most challenging climb on this ride known as the 7 hairpins, 2.3 km at 12% average maxing out at 17%. It will take you around 15 minutes at 4 W/kg but it will seem to go on forever. This is why we recommend packing at least a 30T rear cog coupled even with a compact 34 chainring, believe us, you won’t be spinning like Froomey.
Upon reaching the KOM it’s all pretty much downhill across jungle roads all the way to Hang Dong and Chiang Mai with a few very short uphill sections. Just 4 km after the top we normally stop for a second coffee (or anything to overcome a hunger flat) at a nice little cafe named Tachang Hill. The views are great, so is the coffee and the people.
The road surface is generally in top condition along the route, but as a general rule we recommend to take it very, VERY easy on the descents if it’s your first time riding here. Cycling can be pretty safe in Thailand provided that you are used to the local road users’ behaviour and are familiar with the bends, gradients and other conditions.
The weather can be slightly unpredictable from May to September, but storms tend to happen in the afternoon so, again, an early start is recommended. The best time to cycle this route is between October and February.