Nearly two months in Chaing Mai, northern Thailand, wouldn’t be many peoples first choice of a winter training venue. It may seem a little distant from the UK. But the logistics, climate, costs and training facilities make it a very attractive proposition. Pound for pound it is cheaper than most European and Mediterranean training venues. It sits in the mountainous region midway between the Myanmar border and Bangkok. Well away from the flesh pots and sizzling beaches of the southern coastlines. Agriculture and dense jungle dominate this cultural oasis that was once the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam. It has grown into a bustling Asian city, small enough to bike round but big enough to provide all the modern services and facilities you would expect.
Authentic Thai food is an absolute delight and ridiculously cheap. Street food is an experience not to be missed. The vegetarian / vegan scenes are thriving and reportedly one of the best in Asia. Eating out every day never cost me more than £5.
The ideal time to visit would be November to early March. The autumn rains subside and glorious sunshine greets every day as temperatures rise into the low 30’s come January. Visiting anytime after mid March is a gamble. The local farmers burn the stubble and air quality decreases dramatically. That coupled with temperatures just below 40 makes it a less attractive proposition. Summer is very hot.
Getting there is cheaper than you think. I used Thai airways for the journey. Heathrow – Bangkok – Chiang Mai. Deals are available from £525 return with a 30kg baggage allowance included. More than enough for a bike and training kit. 7kg hand baggage is ample for everything else. Local markets provide everything you may need at well below UK prices. Some basic internet research reveals dozens of long term accommodation rentals costing from around £125 per month. The longer you rent the cheaper it is. Utilities are additional, but these don’t add more than £20 per month.
I found the north west area of the city an ideal location for all the sporting facilities, shopping, entertainment and easy commuting. A 15 minute bike ride to the north brings you to the 700 stadium. A dated Olympic standard facility originally built for the south east Asian games, it provides a 50m pool for a little over £1 a day, 8 lane running track, gym, and velodrome are all available and payable individually. Within the city Chiang Mai university has a running track which I used most weeks free of charge. A weekly one hour full body Thai massage for less than £5 is a treat. Albeit a painful one, and is highly recommended.
The city has plenty of bike shops and rental outlets for on and off road. Popular makes and spares are available however the more exotic are harder to source. You will have no problems with repairs and servicing should the need arise.
Scanning the internet you will find some very useful groups. A riding group made up of ex-pats are happy to take you out and about. The mountain roads are equal to anything Mallorca & the Mediterranean has to offer. They cycle almost every day, and have their own itinerary. Routes differ from a 70km social ride up to 200km including some very testing hills. It’s a cyclists paradise. With maps and a Garmin you can do your own thing.
A running group on Facebook has track and training sessions and lot of local information about races and upcoming events. Although be prepared for a pre-sunrise start, anywhere between 5-6am, as the organisers will want most of the race complete before the days sunshine arrives.
For those who can find the time Chiang Mai is an outstanding training venue. Made even more attractive when you look at the costs involved for a 7 week stay.
Return flight. £525
Accommodation £290 (145 per month)
Living costs. £300
Written by Michael Fishwick of MVH Triathlon Club