13th February 2014. The Samoeng Forest Loop is a route approximately 100kms in length with a total elevation of about 1500m. It winds its way through and around the mountains to the northwest and west of the city and can be attempted either in a clockwise or anti clockwise direction. It is popular with both cyclists and motorcyclists in Chiang Mai.
I rode this route on the 13th February, accompanied by Michael and Elizabeth a brother and sister from the USA and Robert who lives in Hong Kong. The support was provided by ‘SpiceRoads’ and our guide was Mr Sert.
On this occasion, we followed the route anti-clockwise, starting at the Sainamphung Orchid centre just south of the Mae Sa road (1096). As well as the plants, the Sainamphung Orchid Centre houses a restaurant and a small vintage car collection. This area of the route is home to a number of tourist activities (crocodile, monkey and snake shows, Tiger Kingdom, ATVs, bungee jumping and a shooting range).
The route starts out flat for about 4km before a gradual and continuous climb up from Mae Sa Waterfall to Pong Yaeng, passing a couple of elephant farms where you can see elephants at work and at play. You can even see elephants playing soccer and painting at the Mae Sa Elephant Camp. Next you will pass the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, named in honour of the Thai Queen and Thailand’s first botanical garden.
After Pong Yaeng the road is fairly flat for the next 4km and then comes a 5km climb to the top of the route and a viewpoint over the Samoeng Forest. Here, whilst awaiting the other riders, I met up with five local cyclists who were all training for the upcoming “Race up Doi Inthanon”. Later in the day we passed each other going in opposite directions on the south west of the route, they were travelling clockwise.
What goes up, must come down and a long fast down hill into Samoeng was interrupted by a front tyre blow out. Fortunately I was stationary at the Samoeng Police Box (road 1069 j/w road 1269) waiting for the rest of the group to catch up when the front inner tube exploded. To make matters worse, when I changed the front tube, the front tyre then developed a split and the new inner tube herniated out and that too punctured. Fortunately my guides and support vehicle had a spare front wheel and so I was able to continue down the hill past the strawberry farms into Samoeng where we stopped for lunch.
What goes down, must come up. After lunch the ride continued with a return up the hill to the police box and then further up the hill to the Huai Pa Lao watershed management centre and the top of the second biggest climb of the day. There then follows a fast, curving decent with some hairpin bends for about 6km passing Wat Thong Siri in Ban Pong. The final climb of the day is just over two and a half kilometres in length, but is the toughest of the entire route. Known locally as the Seven Spires, this section of the route has seven hairpin bends and averages out at about 12%, with some of the hair pins topping out at 20%.
From this, the top of the day’s last climb, it is approximately 30kms back to Chiang Mai city. Nearly all of these final kilometres are downhill, by way of a number of small rural villages and passing some upmarket resort hotels and coffee restaurants. There is the possibility of seeing streams of orange clad Buddhist monks or even working elephants walking along this section of the route.
We didn’t complete the loop, opting to stop at the Chiang Mai Night Safari, where I got yet another puncture (this time in my rear wheel) and having used my only spare inner tube earlier in the day, I was grateful to borrow another spare wheel from the support vehicle.
The loop can be completed by either following road 1269 to the canal road (121) and heading north for about 30km to Mae Rim and the start of the 1069, or by following a lesser known route past Royal Flora (Ratchaphruek Park) and Doi Kham emerging at Chiang Mai University thereby eliminating some of the busy canal road.