Beatific buggying and Xtreme adventures in the hinterlands of Chiang Mai
Nestled among rolling vistas of rice fields, facing a panorama of mountains clothed in thick jungle, is the small hamlet known as Baanpong. Travelling from Chiang Mai city to Sankampaeng you’d drive right past it without knowing, but if you were fortunate to take the right turn and follow the meandering road to the district of Mae On Tai, you’d find one of the most picturesque spots on the fringes of Chiang Mai.
How best to explore this scenic maze of village streets, and jungle trails forged by farmers and local foragers? Take a guided tour of course in a 660cc all-terrain, seemingly invincible, no-nonsense buggy.
Before setting off on this memorable trip through a Thailand that time forgot, you’ll have the option to choose from easy, intermediate, and difficult routes. According to the operators of Baanpong Adventure the easy option has so far been mainly the choice of explorers less adept at climbing mountains than they are at taking selfies at the nearby Huai Lan reservoir. The reservoir, as well as local fish farms, are all part of the Royal Project. This is one of the reasons for the many attractive interlocked brick streets in the area. We might also add that after years of wear and tear a buggy might be the best way to navigate them.
All the routes will pass the lake at some point, with the intermediate route featuring some sand dunes and a couple of steep hills that at first you might not be convinced can so easily be ascended by your faithful buggy. If you can drive, you can complete these trails. A guide will be with you at all times, and if you enquire about a bespoke journey your request will most likely be met in the positive. If the dunes and country roads, or watching fishermen wade out into the lake at sunset, don’t float your boat, the more difficult level will prove to be a challenge. Once you are off the main street you likely won’t see anyone except perhaps a roaming cow herder, and his herd, or a wandering water buffalo.
You should be aware that to complete the hard trails you’ll need to be fairly confident behind the wheel and be reasonably fit. The trails at times are barely wider than the buggy, encompassed by uncompromising forest. You’ll drive through streams, up steep embankments, through tunnels of bamboo that have intersected over the path that give you the feeling of entering a funnel-web spider’s killing ground. In spite of the buggies being able to drive over just about any small obstacle, there is every possibility on some of the harder hills you could find yourself stuck if you haven’t applied the right amount of acceleration. This is when teamwork is required to weigh down one part of the buggy so it can get enough traction to egress the dust. Just don’t stand directly behind the tyre! It’s all part of the experience, but it’s certainly no Sunday drive.
As Xtreme sports go in Chiang Mai, Baanpong Adventure takes up the mantle of actually providing you with veritable thrills if you so choose to take that route, literally. No other buggy experience in the city matches the off-road pandemonium you’ll experience on this adventure. The operators spent months making the trails accessible, as over time and following the rains each trail becomes overgrown. To some extent you will also be forging your own trail if you take the harder route, which makes the experience less of a formulaic adventure than you might find around Chiang Mai. This shot of adrenalin is a much needed frisson of freedom after being ushered around touristic areas likes kids on a school trip. The experience is as invigorating as riding a vehicle in Chiang Mai can get, if of course we ignore the fact city streets can be fairly hair-raising at times. The jungle is safe, but much more exhilarating.
Other options are to drive as far as possible up the nearby mountain, but when the trail ends it’s another 30 minutes’ walk to the lookout spot. Another diversion is taking your buggy to the nearby Mae On Cave. But if you point your finger in a certain direction, or tell the operators what you want to see, they will tell try and accommodate you.
Guests of Baanpong Lodge not only receive a 30 percent discount, but can also request night rides. The buggies are all equipped with very powerful lights, but going into the jungle at night is not for the fainthearted. You could also just drive around the lake, stop for a beer, and look at the stars.
The buggies belong to the lodge, but the adventure is available to anyone, guest or not. All riders are supplied with:
- Crash helmets
- Masks and goggles (It can get very dusty, especially if you are behind the pack. As there is a guide, that’s likely where you’ll be). As you may get dusty in the sand dunes and the jungle, showers are available at the lodge. Bring a change of clothes. You might also get wet, depending on how deep the streams are.
- It’s advisable not to take too much with you, and make sure what’s in your pocket is secured as phones, wallets, etc, can fall out during some of the bumpier parts of the ride and on the steep descents.
At the moment the operators are looking to create longer day tours across swathes of countryside. Riders will stay one night at a resort and then return to Baanpong Lodge the next day.
Nearby, and accessible by buggy, are also hot springs, a second reservoir farther away, and the mountain top. From there Chiang Mai can been seen end-to-end, with the Doi Suthep mountain range lying in the distance as a reflection of the mountain you’ll be standing on.
Baanpong Lodge itself is an oasis among the verdant surrounding jungle. The two floored (bedroom on top) bungalows have to be the best priced accommodation available anywhere in Chiang Mai. There’s always a convivial atmosphere around the pool and at the bar, so after spin out in the jungle or at the lake you’ll have a homely place to return to.
Price: 1950 baht per hour per buggy (30 percent discount for Baanpong Lodge guests)
The buggies can seat two people
Baanpong Adventure: 082 048 7929
For Baanpong Lodge room price and availability call Nim: +66 (0)53 036105 / 66 (0)87 5095019