Khao Yai, Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

By Luis de Sousa Khao Yai National Park 09 July 2019

Just two hours away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city centre lies a peaceful natural reservoir; an idyllic escape for the urban cyclist right in the home of the wild Asian Elephant. Let bike travel specialists, SpiceRoads Cycling, take you on ‘The Big Mountain’.

It may require an early rise to avoid traffic but Khao Yai or ‘The Big Mountain’ is undoubtedly one of the locals preferred training choices when it comes to getting in some quality climbing. From the entry gate to the top, you are set to gain over 1,500 m over 37 km. Surely not as tough as most Pyrenean or Alpine climbs, but again; in none of those do you get the chance of an encounter with a five-tonne wild animal.

When approaching in our van over the flatlands of central Thailand Khao Yai can be seen from 30-40 km away. A green giant rising majestically over the morning tropical mist. It’s 8am when we park in the resort a few hundred meters down from the Khao Yai National Park gate where we assemble our bikes and drink some espressos. It’s the beginning of the rainy season but we get away with just a cloudy sky, the perfect conditions to tackle a long climb in this part of the world.

The road stretches into the jungle in a way that it doesn’t feel like we are climbing …

Before crossing the gate, paying up a fee of THB 60 for locals and THB 400 for foreigners, we decide to take a left turn and spin our legs for 10 km to warm up, as once inside the park it will be climbing from the gun with the first km at 6%. After this kicker, a succession of long uphill drags follow. The road stretches into the jungle in a way that it doesn’t feel like we are climbing, even though for a few hundred meters our computers are displaying a constant 7-8% gradient. Humidity starts to fill our lungs as we penetrate the thick green walls of Khao Yai. The sun gets out for a brief moment but it doesn’t make much of a difference, we are climbing our way deeper into the heart of the jungle and it feels like we are being swallowed by giant waves of fresh tropical foliage.

At this point, we hear nothing but our own deep breathing and the odd chant of local birds. The road turns a bit rugged at times and every now and then it’s dotted with elephant faeces. No sight of these giants though, we just see groups of cheeky monkeys resting in the hairpin ends, not even bothered at our unfamiliar presence.

One hour into the ride and we have gained over 750 m. From here, the climb flattens considerably with a couple of rollercoaster-like dips that allow us a slight respite. At 28 km we find the guard’s hut where we top up our bidons, and then take a right-hander that gets us into the real test of the day, Khao Keaw, a 5.6 km climb at an average of 8%.

We realise now we are in for a twenty-something minute sufferfest.

If until this point we barely had a reference that gives us the impression of climbing, that’s about to change now. ‘The Green Mountain’ welcomes us with double-digit gradients, beautiful hairpins and open sections where we can have visual confirmation of what our legs were already feeling, we are climbing high. The disappearing vegetation by the road gifts us with the finest views but also leaves us exposed to the fierce sun, that makes it even harder to find a comfortable tempo. We realise now we are in for a twenty-something minute sufferfest.

The gradient is never constant. In some sections, we must sit down to prevent the rear wheel from skidding in the humid tarmac. Our group is now in bits, all over the place. It’s a survival ride to the top, most of the time on the biggest cog. I have today a 34×28 that suffices, but in some sections I wouldn’t mind a 30 or a 32 at the back.

“If you reach the last part of Khao Keaw full gas you are going to set your new heart rate PB”

This climb has a cruel final act. Just as we think we are at the top we negotiate the last right turn only to find a never-ending wall that maxes at 18%, 400 eternal meters. I always remember what a local rider told me the first time I came to this climb: “If you reach the last part of Khao Keaw full gas you are going to set your new heart rate PB”. He was rightfully true.

About SpiceRoads Cycling

Since 1995 we’ve been sharing our passion for traveling by bicycle. Curating extraordinary cycle adventures in over 30 countries that give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with remarkable cultures, characters and landscapes in a way that no ordinary tour could.

We offer rides all over the world, on every type of terrain, for all ages and experience. From classic tours to epic cross country voyages, SpiceRoads Cycling adventures are for anyone who believes what we always have…

That nothing good ever happened inside a comfort zone. That immersing yourself in different cultures teaches you things you would never learn in a textbook. That you get out of life precisely what you put in. And that traveling isn’t just about seeing the world, it’s about changing how you see it.

Total distance: 77.47 km
Max elevation: 1244 m
Total climbing: 1832 m
Total time: 04:36:40