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Bikepacking Northern Thailand: What to Expect and Where to Ride

We spoke with Be of Buffalo Bag and Nu from Triple Cats Cycle, about the emerging bikepacking scene in Thailand and got some advice on routes, best times to go, and more. Clip-in.

Bikepacking Northern Thailand: What to Expect and Where to Ride

Thailand needs very little introduction. It is easily one of the most beautiful countries in the world, offering every sight, sound, and taste imaginable. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to venture through various parts of the country for work and leisure. Every time I'm there, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to travel its wide range of terrain by bike. Whether up north trekking the jungles or down south hopping the islands, Thailand seems to have every ingredient for the bike adventure of a lifetime. However, to the uninitiated, it can also feel intimidating: the bustling, steamy cities with endless, intense traffic, the extreme seasonal weather patterns, and diverse geography are all topics that need exploring when considering it as a cycling destination. So, when I met Be and Nu and had the chance to talk to them about what bikepacking in Thailand really means, I was over the moon.

Be runs Buffalo Bag, an excellent Bangkok-based bag manufacturing company. Buffalo Bag specializes in handlebar bags with a whopping 30L version that could fit my entire setup. Nu runs Triple Cats bike shop in Chiang Mai, and is undoubtedly the person you want to talk to if you plan to hit some dirt in the area. Together, they are the cornerstone of the Thai bikepacking scene.

How is the adventure biking scene in Thailand?

As we all know, the bike boom is real. Adventure cycling and bikepacking in Thailand have been growing in popularity since Covid-19. Many people in Thailand are changing from traditional bike touring to bikepacking, which is lighter, faster, more efficient, and—yes—more fun.

People have also started to pay more attention to the use of bicycles for travel. Until recently, we used to see mainly large packs of road cyclists but now there is more variety: roadies, gravellers, newbies, old, young, whatever. We love it!

There are two great Facebook pages here and here for anyone looking to find people and organize rides.

What is the best part of the country to plan a tour and when?

Northern Thailand is the best choice for bikepacking. We have a lot of back roads into the jungles to find any adventure. The rainy season extends between August and October when the weather is cool and the scenery is green.

If you don't like wet conditions, come in the winter, between November and February when the temperature is perfect. You can expect anything between a hot, humid 25-33°C during the day, and 10-25°C at night. I bring fast-dry clothing when riding and dress like I'm going to the beach.

What sort of terrain can people expect?

You can find every terrain imaginable in Thailand. Everything from dirt roads, gravel, singletrack, steep paths, uphill, downhill—you name it, Thailand has them all. The biggest challenge for most people new to cycling in Northern Thailand is the steep hills! In the jungle, there are many 25-35° unpaved climbs. You can expect to be out of the saddle and pushing your bike—a lot. Don't worry, it'll keep you in shape for the rest of the ride.

Any bike requirements you would suggest?

Well, as we all know bikes are a personal preference and we don't want to poke the bear ;) However, we would suggest a minimum tire size of 2.3” and up. 29er is ideal as it always helps to roll through and over anything—mud, roots, rocks. And in the rainy season, which we call Ru do Fon, the mud can get pretty serious.

Any special considerations people should know about?

Mobile phone service can be pretty spotty in the jungle. For us, this is a good thing: bikepacking should be one of those times that you actually put away Instagram and enjoy yourself. However, you probably want to consider using a Spot or Garmin InReach GPS device and service—something that can broadcast your location to loved ones. Always be safe. The local people are always helpful and are always willing to help if anything goes wrong.

Also, in Northern Thailand, we have mosquitos. You. Want. To. Bring. Bug. Spray. And anything else that you may need to prevent the bugs from getting you while you sleep.

Can cyclists camp easily while bikepacking?

You can wild camp in most parts of Northern Thailand. If anyone asks what you are doing, simply be polite and say “Sawa-D” and you'll be fine. Bear in mind wild camping in some areas of Thai Jungles is illegal, but you can do wild camping around the local villages quite easily.

There are also National Parks, like Huai Nam Dang National Park, that are perfect for viewing fog in the morning. The National Parks also have camping spots, but you will need to speak to the camp rangers about that.

A great place to stop on the route (see below) is a local hippie village called Pai. It is full of cool little hostels and bars with live music by local and foreign bands. I call it “Hippie Land”.

What about eating?

You won't have any problem eating on the road in Thailand. There may not be huge supermarkets but there will be local restaurants with some of the best Thai food in the world. You can eat everything from our National dish called Phad Kra Phera, to a dark soy noodle dish called Pad See Ew. There is no bad food in Thailand.

Also along the way you can eat almost any fresh fruit you can imagine. Pineapples, watermelon, mango, longan, cape gooseberry... I can go on and on and on...

What is your ideal itinerary for a new bikepacker to Thailand?

Our favorite trip is a 120km loop, just north of Chiang Mai, that goes towards the Burmese border and turns back south. From city to the jungle, all the way up to rocky mountains, down to the foggy jungle, and back to the city. Oh yeah, it's a Utopia baby! 120km might sound like a short trip but we do suggest you plan at least a few days for the ride. You may want to be in shape as it is a 4000m elevation gain! Also, just be cool and go slow.

Tell us more about Buffalo Bag... how did you start?

I'm addicted to being outside. I love trekking, biking, scuba diving, whatever. The first bag I made was for fun—something that would let me ditch my panniers. The first bag was called the Big Buffalo, a saddlebag inspired by Carradice in the UK. I loved what was happening in the world of bag-making and I wanted to see if I could make something similar.

I didn't plan for Buffalo Bags to be a business, but with the pandemic and the bike boom, it just happened. People started messaging me and my friends from all over the world and asking how they could get one of my bags. It was unbelievable.

Where and how are your bags made?

All of our bags are hand-crafted in Bangkok. Everything is done in-house, from designing, to cutting, and sewing. I was lucky to build up a team of expert bag makers in the city. They didn't know much about bike bags at the time, but we all do now ;)

What makes Buffalo Bags special?

So often, we only really notice things when they don't work. I work hard at making Buffalo Bags unnoticeable in this regard. We use three types of material that can stand up to the elements of any serious bikepacking trip. And you won't need to tighten and retighten your straps every 50kms. If I did my job correctly, you will hardly notice the bag during your ride.

How can I get a Buffalo Bag?

You can get the bags from our online store or just come say hi—I'm on a very trendy app called Instagram.

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