Find The Best Cheap Bicycle On Vacation?Go To Chiang Mai.

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paul_the_seeker/Flickr

Where to Ride

Chiang Mai—Thailand’s second largest city (pop. 398,000), nicknamed the Rose of the North—claims the title of Thailand’s cycling capital.

The 90-mile scenic mountain ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, another cycling hub, is a classic route where elephant sightings are common. Thailand’s highest point, Doi Inthanon (8,415 ft.), is a good day trip from Chiang Mai, but at three times the length of Alpe d’Huez, it’s a bucket list thigh-burner.

The most popular ride in Chiang Mai is from the city limits, up seven miles and more than 4,000 feet, to the sacred temple of Doi Suthep. On any day of the week you can spot dozens of kit-clad cyclists climbing the switchbacks or cruising down, leaving scooters and tour buses in their wake.

     RELATED: 7 Places to Ride Before You Die

Where to Refuel

 

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Mike Deerkoski/Flickr

Where to Refuel

“High carb, low prices,” is how Tim Hines describes the food at Imm Aim Vegetarian and Bike Café, his favorite watering hole in Chiang Mai. A heaping plate of Pad Thai at this outdoor café costs only $2.28; the owner is likely to comp you a glass of homemade kombucha; and there are plenty of bike racks.

In the countryside, refuel at the countless cash-only roadside stands selling sticky rice, passionfruit smoothies, and other local delicacies costing a fraction of the price of a ClifBar.

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Where to Crash

 

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pittaya/Flickr

Where to Crash

Unless you come during Chinese New Year (January -February), there’s no need to reserve in advance. Chiang Mai is full of bike-friendly accommodations. Hines spent his month at Hotel Banilah (above), a beloved budget hotel where rooms start at $10 USD per night and include a free beach cruiser rental. Some rooms even come with private, covered balconies where it’s easy to store and work on your bike.

     RELATED: 5 of the World’s Coolest Bike Hotels

However, since Thailand is so cheap, you could feasibly stay at a five-star property like Akyra Manor ($180 to $518 per night). This hip new hotel hands out complimentary cycling maps and offers secure bike storage in its parking garage.

Where to Fix a Flat

 

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Photograph courtesy of Velocity

Where to Fix a Flat

Chiang Mai has nearly a dozen well-stocked bike shops, including Cherry Bike, expat David Gouldthorp’s go-to.

“It’s a jam-packed Mom (I don’t think there’s a Pop) shop where anything they don’t carry in stock, they’ll order on next-day delivery,” Gouldthorp says.

Hines spent his time and money at Velocity, one of the premier fit studios in Asia. The shop carries brands like Specialized, Cervélo, Pinarello, BMC, GT, Cannondale, and Colnago. “Most of our staff speak English,” says Velocity owner Kwanchi Nualchancy.

In the near future, expect to see old phone booths repurposed as DIY bike-repair stops throughout the country—a new project from the Telephone Organization of Thailand.

Where to Fix Your Body

 

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KthyPryn/Flickr

Where to Fix Your Body

There’s no better way to relieve tight muscles than massage therapy. So traveling to Thailand and not getting a daily massage, which can cost as little as $5 per hour, should be a felony.

     RELATED: How to Get A Cycling-Specific Massage

Speaking of crimes, Hines discovered that former inmates are some of the best masseurs in Chiang Mai. Several local organizations train female prisoners the art of stretching and assisted yoga so they have a marketable skill upon release. In Chiang Mai, it’s impossible to walk 50 feet without passing a massage studio—or in public parks, a massage tent.

Teach yourself three essential yoga positions for staying flexible and strong in the saddle:

When to Go

 

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours

When to Go

“While Thailand is warm year round, the best riding is during winter, from November to February, and the rainy season, June to October,” says Tom Sheehan, an American cycling guide who winters in Northern Thailand. “March through May is too hot.”

Carissa Klarich, a former Backroads guide who cycled in Thailand with 160 of the company’s other guides on a group trip, recommends staying at least two weeks to get the most from your trip. Factor in a few days for getting over jet lag.

Who to Go With

 

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Intrepid Travel

Who to Go With

Chiang Mai is a good destination for DIY travelers, but when it comes to other regions, it’s best to go with a group.

In response to recent demand, Intrepid Travel just launched its first Thailand cycling tour, Cycle Southern Thailand. The nine-day itinerary starts in Bangkok and stops in the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest before ending on the island beaches of Krabi.

     RELATED: How to Plan a Family-Friendly Bike Vacation

For mountain- and road-specific tours, go with SpiceRoads, an expat-owned, Bangkok-based tour operator and a leader in guided cycling tours in Southeast Asia.

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