It’s a familiar dilemma; you’re trying out this whole Southeast Asia, motorbike experience, and while you’re pretty comfy on the bike, you’re scared to venture too far, much less brave the windy, treacherous roads that lead to Pai. Fear no more. Here’s a list of our favourite Chiang Mai getaways that are all easily accessible to someone who’s relatively new on two wheels. So slap on some sunscreen and go – just don’t forget that helmet!
Huay Tong Tao
This majestic artificial lake is an easy 30-minute drive from the old city on a pristine – as far as Thailand goes – highway. There’s no better way to spend the day than taking a group to one of the lakeside bamboo huts, ordering a couple of beers, going for a quick dip in the lake and feasting on some northern Thai classics. On a clear day, Huay Tong Tao promises majestic sunsets and the highway at night is both well-lit and relatively safe.
The easiest way to get there is to head west on Huay Kaew Road (where Central is located) and make a right to head north on the 121. Stay on the 121 and you’ll see a left turn indicating the turn off for Huay Tong Tao Lake. Entrance fee to the national park is 20 baht per person.
San Kamphaeng hot springs
An hour away by bike, reward your sore motorbike behind with a dip in the traditional, healing waters of San Kamphaeng. A popular outing with Thais on the weekend, you’ll have the option of dipping your feet and legs in the public pools, renting out a private group bath for 500 baht (can easily fit 10 of your closest friends, or more), or even renting out a bedroom with an attached private couple’s bathtub. Don’t forget to purchase eggs for the non-bathing pools (20 baht for 10), which you can then proceed to cook and munch on pre- or post-bath.
To make your way to San Kamphaeng, get on the Superhighway (Highway 11) in the direction of Lamphun. The easiest way to do so is to take Chang Puak road north and make a right when you hit the Superhighway. Once you’re on the Superhighway, keep heading south and then angle left when you see the turn off for the 1006. You’ll also see signs signalling the turn off for the 1006 that read “San Kamphaeng”. After you take a left onto the 1006, keep going straight, and eventually the 1006 will turn into the 1317. Stay on the 1317, and you’ll see another sign asking you to make a left turn into the San Kamphaeng hot springs. If you’re feeling confident on the bike, make a stop at Muang On Cave, just a kilometre south of the hot springs on the 1317, to explore an impressive cave temple there.
Mae Ngat Dam
A little bit farther than San Kampheng or Huay Tong Tao, but definitely worth the drive, is Mae Ngat Dam, a beautiful, sprawling reservoir in Sri Lanna National Park. Families have built small, floating guesthouses with basic amenities here and they serve up delicious food to the Thais and expats who show up on weekends. The serene views, accompanied by some lazy fishing or games of cards, would make for an idyllic weekend away — were it not for the blasting karaoke that shakes the lake at night. Still, Mae Ngat remains a chill, promising destination.
The most scenic way to arrive at Mae Ngat is to go north on the 1001. To get to the 1001, take Chang Puak road north, make a right onto the Superhighway, until you reach the first stoplight. Make a left at the stoplight, following signs for Maejo University and the 1001. You’ll pass lush farmlands while on the 1001, and eventually, the road starts going uphill. At Km 79 is an intersection to the park entrance. The last 10 minutes between the intersection and the park entrance are quite windy and steep, but there’s not much traffic so you can take your time with all the turns.