In 2017, I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and decided to test myself. I wanted to see if I could ride across Southeast Asia, alone, by bicycle. I opened myself up to the kindness of strangers and had the journey of a lifetime. Here you will find a scrap book of sorts of what happened once I got the wheels rolling.
The preparation for doing this ride was not casual. I had to develop my strength to be able to ride in high temperatures with extremely high humidity. This was several months of riding in the mountains around Chiang Mai to the point that I could start ticking off back to back century rides. Once I got to a high level of fitness, I began figuring out my minimalist gear and research of the extended geography.
Open Cycles U.P. (Unbeaten Path)
Component Group: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Gear Ratio: Front 50/34, Rear 11/28 (This needed to expand for the Mae Hong Son Loop)
Saddle: Fizik Arione
Bags: Ortlieb & Apidura
Minimalism was everything. Dragging even the smallest unnecessary items up 20% grades in tropical heat was not even a choice. I had everything I needed and nothing I didn't. This was the beginning of what was deep sensations of freedom. The next part was to conduct a test.
The Mae Hong Son Loop is named after a mountainous region of Northern Thailand. Mae Hong Son is also the name of the principle town in this part of the country. It’s very remote. Most people live a subsistence life style. There is mainly generator electricity only. English speaking is very uncommon, but if you are equipped with a smile, you can get almost anything you need in Thailand.
They say history repeats it’s self. Way back in the late 90’s, I did a similar route that started in Bangkok, headed north and into Northern Laos, then South to Vientiane and back to Bangkok. That ride was extraordinary. I had met up with some different travelers at times and would share some of the routes together. This time, I had profound deja vu moments of riding different old roads, or seeing something familiar. I don’t think this will be my last investment of time into the region.
Hats off to Alee of cyclingabout.com for his great write-up about the MHS Loop. He gives a great example of how to do the route and some things to be prepared for. Most important of which was gearing. I purchased a derailleur hanger extension to accommodate a bigger rear cassette for much lower gearing. I am so glad I made that choice. The roads are new and clean and amazingly steep.
Although I was using this trip as prep for a longer journey, this ride was extraordinary. Hours would go by on the road without seeing or hearing anyone. There were days that would be 40 miles long that would take 6 hours to do because of the seemingly endless climbs.
I arrived in Mae Hong Son just before an traditional time where the citizens have a parade that goes to the temple. Thailand is a deeply Buddhist country and it is this sense of spiritual belief that makes it one of the most fascinating countries to explore. The food is good everywhere you go, particularly veggie.
From: July 25th, 2017
This time tomorrow, I'm going to head out on what is roughly a trans-Southeast Asia cycle journey. The route from #chiangmai #thailand through #cambodia to #saigon #vietnam is roughly 1,785 km. I have broken this up into 15 riding days that I am going to refer to as stages. This journey will certainly not happen in 15 days as there will be rest days, extended visits to #angkorwat #phnompenh and #hochiminhcity aka #saigon I have arranged to leave my bags in storage in Chiang Mai so I will be heading back there at some point. I'm a bit anxious about this journey because of it's size and so many questions about what is out there and what I'll encounter. But, if there is something I learned (again) on the #maehongsonloop is that fear only lives in the mind. Once you get out there and start doing it, you can take on anything.
Tomorrow, stage 1. Chiang Mai to Lampang 115 km with two mountain passes.