Riding Distance: 200 km
Ride Time: Approx 4 hours round trip
Allow a total of 6-8 hours depending on stops
Skill: Basic experience is sufficient but I recommend doing shorter (mountainous) rides first. After all, this is the highest mountain in Thailand! Skilled riders on 500cc or larger bikes will find Nirvana in the long sweeping corners.
Motorbike: Ideally 300cc or more because of the steep and lengthy climb but it can easily be done solo on a 125cc scooter if you’re ok with a lack of power on the steeper sections. If you’re riding with a passenger, 300cc will make the highway sections and especially the steep climb much more comfortable and efficient than a smaller bike. Also, a 300cc motorbike will have larger fuel tank than a small scooter and the climb burns a lot of fuel so fill up before ascending the mountain The quality of the road surface is excellent on the main road ascending the mountain. The side roads to some of the waterfalls get rough but are easily avoided if your bike is designed for the road. If you want to see everything, a Scrambler, Supermoto, or Adventure bike would be perfect.
Overview: At an elevation of approx 2,600m, Doi Suthep is a tall mountain by Thai standards. Beyond the beautiful scenery, part of the attraction for Thai people is the opportunity to experience “cold” weather! The waterfalls, temperatures and flowers change with the seasons, making this a trip worth repeating. Most tours are focused on the 2 chedis near the top of the mountain. I suggest visiting this highly photographed spot first, ideally before the tour groups. Then explore the rest of the mountain. The ride begins and ends with a lengthy highway commute, but its worth it to experience the beautiful scenery and excellent riding experience found on the mountain. After my first visit to Doi Inthanon I couldn’t wait to return (I was back in less than a week). Next time I’m planning an overnight visit as its impossible to see everything in 1 day.
Preparation: Bring something warm to wear when you reach the top of the mountain (sweater/jumper). Wearing motorcycle gloves while riding affords protection for hands, but in this case it will also help keep your fingers warm. Unless the weather forecast is highly confident of all day sunshine, rain gear is advisable. Rain is more frequent at this elevation than it is in Chiang Mai. Lastly, I suggest an external battery for your phone so that you don’t run out of navigating juice at the end of the ride.
Coffee Stop: Kaomai Lanna Resort
This is an excellent coffee stop and breaks up the monotony of the highway commute to the mountain. The entrance is easy to miss so pay careful attention to your phone navigation. At the entry guard house, tell the guard you’re visiting the coffee shop. He’ll give you a (free) parking ticket, which you’ll hand back to him when you depart. Follow the driveway almost all the way to the back of the property (approx 150m) and park in the motorcycle parking area. Then its another 100m walk into the center of the property for the coffee shop.
Petrol Stop: PTT
Petrol is difficult to find on the mountain, and the climb uses a lot of fuel if you’re riding a bike of less than 300cc. I highly recommend that everybody fill their tank to the top here. This is the last major petrol station before you begin the climb and PTT petrol stations usually offer the most modern conveniences (including rest rooms). Look for the PTT logo on your left. Shortly after this stop you’ll make a right turn to begin climbing the mountain.
Scenic Stop: The 2 Chedis
Note that you’ll pay 2 entrance fees before arriving at the 2 Chedis. The first fee (300 baht) is just after you begin ascending the mountain. The second fee (40 baht) is to enter the area where the 2 Chedis are located.
The cafe in the parking lot of the 2 Chedis area serves the usual selection of drinks (including coffee) and some basic snack foods. Save some room for lunch on the way down the mountain.
Next you can either ride another 5km to the very peak of the mountain (accessed via a car park followed by a brief hike), or head back down the mountain. The peak isn’t spectacular but if you want to say you stood on top of the mountain, its an option.
Lunch Stop: Royal Project
Most people/tours miss this gem but it was one of my favorite stops on the mountain. Its not visible from the main road and I only discovered it by accident, while searching for a waterfall. The project was established by His Majesty the King (#9) in 1979 to teach the hill tribe people new farming techniques. The intent was to show dissuade them from growing opium by teaching them how to earn a living via modern agriculture.
Today you can enjoy the magnificent gardens and delicious organic food grown and prepared onsite.
After entering through the main gate, follow the road to the parking area and walk around the gardens. Then ride a little further down the road to the (signposted) restaurant.
Scenic Stop: Watchirathan Waterfall
There are more waterfalls than you could possibly see in 1 day trip, but this one is easily accessed on a motorbike.
The sign for the turnoff is visible from the main road and the parking area is less than 100m from the waterfall. You can easily get close to the water and see the waterfall from various angles. My friend Alex took the photos below.
These stops will be sufficient to ensure a fun day ride to Doi Inthanon but if you like to explore, there’s much more to discover. Don’t forget that the ride back is approx 1.5 hours and its safer to ride in daylight.