What is it like to bike the Golden Triangle in SE Asia?

Biking the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia

Inbox me!
Share this post

Searching the Internet for Golden Triangle may bring up stories of opium production and of notorious drug lords. It however undercuts the fact that this region, marked by the mighty Mekong River separating three countries, is a popular choice with travelers. Especially northern Thailand. Abhijeet Deshpande shares an experience and few recommendations for biking the golden triangle of Southeast Asia.

How to start biking the Golden Triangle?

Given the relative ease to secure visas, ease of inland travel, and the strong airline connections from Bangkok, Thailand offers just the right window. Though you could fly to Chiang Rai, it’s northern most town, straddling the Triangle, many prefer to include Chiang Mai in their itinerary for its fair share of history and beautiful Buddhist temples.

What are the must visit places in Chiang Rai, North Thailand?
Thailand Temple Circuit

For one, its the Thai hub for Songkran festivities – a fun water festival. So, if you happen to be here in the month of April, get ready for some action! We took an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, then a 3-hours bus to Chiang Rai, and a songthaew (a pay-per-seat shared transport) for the last mile to our hostel.

What are the local transport options in SE Asia?
Songthaew in Thailand

The next morning we met our guides – Bee and his brothers Amon and Anek, donning their signature bright green tees. Bee is a former Buddhist monk, an ardent cycling fan, and heads their family business. While he and Amon, two experienced cycling guides, helped us get familiar with our front-suspension, 24-gears mountain bike and helmets, Anek took charge of the truck.

For most part of the next 4 days, the truck remained out of sight, but close enough for safety calls. Bee led the group, weaving through Chiang Rai’s traffic, and Amon trailed ensuring no one gets left behind.

How to plan a biking trip to Golden Triangle in SE Asia?
Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour, Thailand

What is it like to bike the Golden Triangle?

Cycling is both fun and challenging: slow travel, an active body and, if you are inexperienced bikers like us, will test you. A distance of 200-250 kms over 4 days may not sound much, but for the uneven terrain. That you have really nice bikes to pedal helps. Plus, the guidance of experienced cyclists who carry an infectious ability to crack up and keep the mood light is a deal clincher.

On our part though, we grossly underestimated the rigor involved. The first two nights, as we checked in to hostels, we could barely lift a leg. The mornings after, were worse – with the bike’s saddles waiting to harass our butts! At times, Bee and Amon had to prompt: ‘slow, but sure’ – a mantra to keep us pedaling. That you are out in the sun at 35 degree Celsius means burnt skin too. Always, always carry a sunblock. With that out the way, the breathtaking scenery, engaging activities, and stunning landmarks will keep you going.

What are the landscapes like when cycling in Golden Triangle, SE Asia?
Rice Paddies of Thailand

Why cycle your way through the Golden Triangle?

Landscapes on the biking trip to Golden Triangle

Northern Thailand is wild and cultivated, flat and mountainous, sports hanging bridges, and can turn from dry to rainy in minutes. In fact, its changing terrain and weather makes it an unbeatable treat. Biking the Golden Triangle means you are immersing into the local landscape. Be it cutting across rice fields, irrigation canals, waterfalls, pineapple cultivation, or scaling a mountain.

What are the landscapes like when cycling in Golden Triangle, SE Asia?
Mountainous Terrain of Thailand

Landmarks on the biking trip to Golden Triangle

The region is also an eclectic mix of rural and urban, familiar and the not-so, and traditional and the modern. Though we stopped at the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park (Lanna or Tai art), Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, Lamnamkok National Park, the largest “Happy Buddha” in Thailand, and the ruins of Wat Chedi Luang, and while each one is a marvel in its own right, there’s perhaps no better that portrays this aspect than the truly majestic Wat Rong Khun, popularly known as the White Temple in Chiang Rai.

What is a must visit temple in Thailand, SE Asia?
The White Temple of Thailand

From its first sights to observing the level of detailing, to the myriad of designs, the White Temple is a living legacy of our times. The absence of such an impressive edifice from the tourism map of this amazing country had us stunned.

Its highly talented architect, visual artist, and designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, has made herculean efforts to reflect the changing times. Besides the Buddhist and Hindu style statues and sculptures, the temple also has paintings depicting concepts of good and the evil through scenes of popular movies such as Star Wars or even political figures.

What is a must see temple in Golden Triangle Circuit, SE Asia?
Sculpting of White Temple, Thailand

Other activities when biking to Golden Triangle

Besides biking on mountainous or flat roads, hiking in the forest, there are more activities that this experience brings forth. For instance, walk in to Karen Hill Tribe and Lahu Hill Tribe villages to say hello, ride elephants wading in a river, and visit rice-flour or paper mills operated by local organizations.

What are the things to do in Golden Triangle, SE Asia?
Handmade Paper, Thailand

What is the Golden Triangle of SE Asia like?

From the landmark gate that welcomes you, the House of Opium (a museum), the huge Buddha statue mounted on a treasure ship, the ornate elephant monument, to the mighty Mekong River, it all makes for a perfect backdrop to the Golden Triangle.

What is the Golden Triangle like in SE Asia?
Buddhist Golden Triangle, Thailand

Laos is just east of the river – in sight and a short, visa-free, ride away. The longtail propeller boat probably thinks of itself as a dirt bike – it is airborne half the time, forcing passengers to hold on to dear life. It is worth every bump.

Visitors are rewarded with a close up of this Laotian Special Economic Zone in the town of Done Xao. It is leveraged by Chinese manufacturers and casinos, with an array of retail outlets selling everything relatively cheaper, including snake whiskeys!

What are the unique foods and drinks of SE Asia?
Snake Whiskey at Golden Triangle, Laos

What are the food and stay options in the Golden Triangle circuit of SE Asia?

Peculiar Southeast Asian Food

From the exotic to the routine, from freshly cut fruits to deep fried fritters and spicy meats and vegetables, the food in Golden Triangle region is anything but bland. Depending on your palette, it is as likely to evoke a range of feelings. Khao Soi, with eggs, coconut mixed with chili curry and soya sauce, is undoubtedly the most popular fried noodle dish.

What are the unique foods and drinks of SE Asia?
Peculiar Menu, Thailand

While on the bikes, Anek’s food and safety truck would appear magically during pit stops. He kept the group hydrated and refreshed with bananas, melons, pineapples, crispies, water, and more. And just as magically, he would disappear too. The brothers had their roles defined and each performed it to perfection. Then, at certain places, you are also likely to see crispy fried worms.

Accommodation in Golden Triangle

En route, we experienced a variety of stay options arranged by Bee and his brothers. From a basic guest house on the banks of Mae Kok River, to cottages and resort-styles in the walled and moated ancient city of Chiang Saen, the base for Golden Triangle. Besides, the two towns of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai both offer safe and clean hostels, guest houses or hotels for practically every budget. Both also offer a thriving night life.

What are the markets like in Thailand, SE Asia?
Night Bazaar in Chiang Rai, Thailand

How and where does the biking tour end?

Thai-Myanmar Border Markets

From the serenity of green rice paddies and scenic waterfalls, we rode into the chaotic markets of Mae Sai, the concluding point. Coffee, wines, fruits, nuts and spices dominated the buzz. From where we were, people drove in cars, rode on bicycles, or even walked on both sides of the congested international border.

What are the markets like in SE Asia?
Mae Sai Market at Golden Triangle, Thailand

Anek was waiting to mount the bikes on top of his truck and, after four days of shadowing the group, was happy to switch into a faster gear, all the way back to Chiang Rai.

The Victory Ritual

Chiangrai Bicycle Tour Company has a ritual that bikers need to perform at the end of this expedition in Mae Sai: lift off their bikes – never a dull moment with the brothers!

Why you must take a biking tour to Golden Triangle in SE Asia?
Victory Ritual, Thai-Myanmar Border, Golden Triangle

Visiting Thailand is almost a given for every traveler and justifiably so – for all that this Land of Smiles offers. Yet, compared to the number of visitors to its beaches, perhaps a lesser number explore the endearing north.

Have you biked to the Golden Triangle? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you.

Support Scale Indigo. Make a Donation.

Pin this for later

How to plan a cycling trip to Golden Triangle?
Abhijeet Deshpande
Abhijeet Deshpande

Abhijeet Deshpande is an accidental nomad. Over time, the frequency and length of his travel has steadily risen. To keep up, his choices have been changing too—from planned holidays to spontaneous ones, from fixed schedules to flexible ones, and from working full-time assignments to freelancing.

Disclaimers: (1) Maps, wherever used on this site, serve a representational purpose only. Scale Indigo does not endorse or accept the boundaries shown, names, or designations used by map providers. (2) This story/article is based on the personal experiences and / or opinions of the author. Scale Indigo is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity and it does not assume any responsibility or liability arising out of use of any information provided herein.

Share this post
Inbox me!