Mae Sot to Kanchanaburi: A Bike Touring Route
It’s not the most exciting of rides, but it has its moments and it’s definitely off the beaten track – an attribute that’s not always easy to find in Thailand.
Our favourite experiences including cycling in the peaceful park in Kamphaeng Phet and discovering local waterfalls.
Duration: 6 days riding. An extra day in Kamphaeng Phet is nice.
Terrain: After you reach Tak, it’s flat roads ahead.
Accommodation: Guesthouses and hotels but one or two stretches where you may have to rely on temples or police stations.
Highlights: Kamphaeng Phet and waterfalls south of Chum Ta Bong.
Lowlights: Flat and sometimes boring scenery.
Tips: Come prepared with your best Thai or hand gestures for ‘can I put my tent here?’ when accommodation options run out.
Section 1 – Mae Sot to Tak (87km)
Most of the day’s work comes early, so you can get the hard parts done before the sun rises too high. The first 18km go mostly uphill, sometimes at a steep grade, until you get to a popular roadside shrine. From there, the road turns steeply downhill for a while and then bobs gently up and down until a village appears at the 38km mark. There are a few restaurants and coffee stands just after the police check.
The road climbs again after the village for about 10km to a rest stop, where there are more coffee stands and very clean bathrooms. You can even have a cold shower for the bargain basement price of 3 Baht! Now you’re nearly at the peak. It’s just another 5km to the peak and a huge Hilltribe Market selling all kinds of fruit, vegetables and snacks. There’s another rest stop another 2km further on, around 54km into the day, as well as a homestay and accomodation that’s part of the King Taksin National Park.
From the entrance to the King Taksin park it’s all downhill to Tak. You can fly through the last 30km or so. We stayed at the Suansin Garden Resort Hotel, just off Route 1. Well kept and modern air con rooms are 350 Baht, with cable TV, free coffee and toast in the morning plus a weak but free wifi connection.
Section 2 – Tak to Kamphaeng Phet (70km)
We left Tak expecting to follow a small riverside road all the way to Kamphaeng Phet. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the road and decided it was the fictitious creation of some imaginative cartographer. In 2012, a couple cyclists wrote to tell us that it does exist!
We came from the other direction and found the road. From Kamphaeng Phet, we just followed the river on the small road and 20 km before Tak, we turned right to take the road 104. -Laetitia and Sebastien
Don’t bother trying to find it if it appears on your map too. Instead, briefly take Route 1 heading north until you reach a T-junction, where a right turn puts you on Route 104 bound for Kamphaeng Phet.
Although reasonably busy, this road has a shoulder, is immaculately paved and tree-lined so it’s a pleasant enough ride. As you approach Wang Chao, a left turn opposite an Esso service station should take you to the smaller route 1079, which leads all the way into Kamphaeng Phet. Once again our map fell short of expectations and we didn’t manage to find this road either. Instead we crossed over the Ping River and rejoined the busy Route 1 for the last 35km into the city.
You cross over the Ping River a second time to enter Kamphaeng Phet. They don’t see many tourists here and there’s a limited choice of cheap accommodation. The best known place in town is the Three J Guesthouse (79 Rachavitee Road, Tel: 055 713129 or 055 720384 or 081 8874189). Several bungalows are set around a pleasant garden. At first glance the basic rooms seem a touch overpriced (250 Baht with shared bathroom, 300 Baht ensuite) but the friendly owner and nice surroundings justify the cost. There’s a safe place for the bikes and all-you-can-eat internet for 20 Baht a day.
The nearby Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is worth seeing (entrance 100 Baht, bike fee 10 Baht). Its woodland setting makes for scenic and peaceful cycling. From late afternoon onwards, the night market starts bustling and this is definitely the place to get supper. There are at least 50 different food stalls, including a few serving up icy fruit shakes for just pennies a glass.
Section 3 – Kampheng Phet to Chum Ta Bong (130km)
Today’s ride is mostly along quiet back roads but to get there you’ll have do about 13km from the Three J Guesthouse with traffic flying by. No matter where you are today, there’s always plenty of food around. Hotels are harder to find. More about that later.
To get started, return to Route 1 and head south until you reach Route 1117. It’s well marked as the turnoff towards Khlong Lan National Park. Right at the start of the road, there are several food stalls selling all kinds of snacks. There’s a shoulder all the way and the terrain is pretty flat. The first town of any size is A. Khlong Lan and there is a resort hotel here with individual chalets, just at southern end of the town. There are also women selling iced coffees, som tam salad and grilled meats in the market. It’s a good place to pick up a picnic lunch.
A few kilometers further on is a second town, Ban Khlong Lan. Now you’re about 50km into your day and there’s a second resort here but after this we saw nothing. We heard rumours of a homestay around the 90km mark but didn’t actually find it ourselves. Only you can make the call. Take a short day or push on with the possibility of needing to ask at a temple or police station for a place to sleep.
If you decide to push on, it’s a left hand turn onto Route 1072 towards Pang Sila Thong. After you cross a small river, a sign pointing to a side road on the right advertises a short cut to Mae Wong but use this option with caution in the rainy season. We were told it was impassable because of chest-deep flooding in October. We also notice that there’s a Mae Wong National Park nearby and perhaps this road is a shortcut to the park and not the town? Ask around in any case.
Keeping on Route 1072, the road turns south, with the route to Pang Sila Thong diverting off to the east. There’s a large shop at this junction if you need supplies. From here it’s about 30km to Mae Wong. The road number changes to Route 3504. There’s a large market roughly halfway. The police in Mae Wong told us there was a homestay near the market but we didn’t see it. Stop at the market for a cold drink and ask the locals.
If you carry on, there’s no formal accommodation for at least another 50-60km. The police in Chum Ta Bong are very friendly though and had no problem with us setting up our tent in their outdoor meeting room. The main police station is about 500 meters west of the town’s only roundabout.
Cyclists Laetitia and Sebastien also added this information for this section:
There is a secondary road from Lak to Chum Da bong. It is right after the Esso station in Lak at your right. If you use this one you will cross the center of Lak with many shops (that is about 5 km after the police station on road 3438). There is also a homestay about 2.5 km north of Mae Wong. It is 200 baht for a rustic bamboo hut. To find it, ask for Mr Powit (approximate spelling) or for the homestay. Coming from Mae Wong, you have to turn on your left a couple hundred meters before your reach the shops that are on the right hand side of the road. It’s the only path that goes at a 45° angle.
Section 4 – Chum Ta Bong to Ban Rai (90km)
From Chum Ta Bong, head out on Route 3504 to Lan Sak, about 25km away. At Lan Sak, take a left turn and keep an eye out for Route 3282 on your right. This is where things really get scenic as you travel down a tree-lined road with limestone mountains not far away. A few small hills appear towards the end of the day but mostly it’s easy going and traffic is very light.
When your bike computer registers just over 50km, there’s a village with a side road off to the right that leads to two waterfalls. This is a great lunch stop. Grab something from the local shops and head off for a swim. The closest waterfall is only 4km away and there are pineapple groves on the way – interesting if you haven’t seen pineapples growing before. Pineapples are just about all you’ll see in the fields for the rest of the day!
Back on the main road, only 3km further on from the waterfall turnoff is a homestay but it seemed to be closed when we passed by. There’s a pricey resort hotel another few kilometers ahead. They quoted us 950 Baht for a room. Happily, Ban Rai has cheaper options.
We went for the first guesthouse on the right, just before you reach the town centre. It’s quite new and has fan rooms for 280 Baht and aircon for 380 Baht. There are at least two other choices. One hotel is a few hundred meters to the left of the first major intersection with Route 3011. For the second, go straight through the first intersection, through the downtown area and turn left at the second crossroads. A few hundred meters on you’ll see the large gate to a wat directly in front. The guesthouse is to the right. There’s also a swish looking spa resort somewhere in the area. We didn’t see it but posters around Ban Rai showed a beautiful pool and plush rooms.
Section 5 – Ban Rai to Nong Prue (90km)
Start the journey to Dan Chang with a shortcut to Route 333. To find the back road, go straight at the main intersection with Route 3011. Go through the downtown, left at the second intersection and follow the road around a large wat. Soon afterwards the road curves right but you keep going straight. At the next T-junction bear right, over a bridge and straight one last time at a third crossroads. Very shortly after the third intersection you’ll see Route 333 in front of you. Turn right towards Dan Chang.
Dan Chang is about 37km into the day. It’s a simple farming town and its roots are clearly displayed by the tractor dealership that’s far bigger than the Toyota car lot next door! There’s not much to keep you in Dan Chang but it’s a good place for lunch and you could visit the lake formed by the Kraslao Dam. There are a few resorts in the area.
Otherwise, it’s 4km down the road to the junction with Route 3086, where you turn right for Nong Prue. The traffic lightens up compared with busy Route 333 but the scenery is much the same: plenty of farms and not much else. As always, there are a few villages and many places to grab a snack or cold drink. There’s one stiff climb before you reach Nong Prue but it’s not long and there’s a good descent to look forward to.
You’ll have about 87km under you when the turnoff for Nong Prue appears, just 2km off the main road. It’s smaller than Dan Chang and the locals don’t see many tourists so they’ll be surprised when you roll up. The only accommodation in town is Phasuk Bungalows, just behind the market. Unfortunately the bungalows aren’t nearly as quaint as the name suggests. The rooms are clean but in need of renovation and for 250 Baht we normally expect a bit more. On the other hand, short of cycling another 30km or so towards Kanchanaburi, there’s no other choice.
Note: you can also head to Ayutthaya from Ban Rai, as these cyclists did:
We went from Ayuthaya to Ban Rai. That is a good alternative with many secondary roads, shops and places to eat along the way. Also a few wats to visit along the way. -Laetitia and Sebastien
Section 6 – Nong Prue to Kanchanaburi (75km)
Return to the main road and turn right for Kanchanaburi. There’s a reasonably sized town about 10km into the day, where you can get breakfast if none of the options in Nong Prue take your fancy. Just over 30km into the day is Bo Phloi, which has a selection of shops, fast food stalls and coffee stands.
It’s another 35km to the edges of Kanchanaburi. The traffic is steady the whole way along but things really get busy in the last few kilometers. Follow the signs for the Bridge on the River Kwai to find the start of the main tourist district.
We enjoyed the V.N. Guesthouse, where riverside fan rooms with bathroom go for 250 Baht. Free wireless internet is included, although the connection wasn’t always reliable. To leave Kanchanaburi for Bangkok, you can take the train but the only one that carries bicycles leaves in the afternoon and doesn’t reach the capital until 5:30pm. You might be better off taking a bus. They leave every 20 minutes, all day long.