An Interview With Damian: Why Chiang Mai?

Cycle tour in Burma with blind cyclists

Damian Mulligan runs the new SpiceRoads’ office in Chiang Mai so we thought we would catch up with him and find out a little bit more about him and his views on Asia, Chiang Mai and of course cycle tours in Chiang Mai.

Damian on a cycle tour
Damian on a cycle tour

How did you end up in Chiang Mai?

I first came to Thailand for a break  after living in the UK for a few years, where I was working too hard  and hating the horrible weather. I landed in Bangkok and immediately felt better. I spent a few months travelling around Laos, Burma, Cambodia and Malaysia but found nowhere I liked as much as Thailand. I then returned to Australia to catch up with my family and friends, but after a couple of weeks I was already bored so was very fortunate to land a job as a tour leader and was able to travel, live and learn about this place that teaches me something new everyday. I finished my contract as a tour leader and went freelance and started getting into leading more adventurous trips. I really enjoyed the bike trips and saw Asia like never before when touring on a bike. I had some friends who were already living in Chiang Mai and raving about this great place to live, where the people are welcoming, the food is great and the outdoor fun is endless so i came up to give it a bit of exploration and find that there was so much to do and some much to discover. So that’s what I did and I am still doing it some 10 years later.


What do you like most about Chiang  Mai?

What’s not to like? Climate, food,  people, fresh air, history, diversity, freedom to explore, mystery,  opportunity, my life, my wife, my bikes, my dog, the mountains, the rivers, the forests and jungles, the best single track ever… What was the first SpiceRoads trip you went on?The first SpiceRoads trip I lead was one of the original and best. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) to Bangkok by bicycle. Three completely different and amazing countries.


What is the toughest trip you have ever done in Asia?

While I have been on many tough bike rides the toughest trip I have done was actually 14 hours sitting on a wooden seat on a crawling, shuddering train from Kampot to Phnom Penh in Southern Cambodia with no room to move, a grandma burning rubber squid over charcoal in the corner, drunken ex Khmer Rouge policemen gambling and threatening each other with rusty pistols, a dodgy stomach and a concrete block in front of the locomotive in case we upset any land-mines. Memorable birthday. Think I should have stuck to the bicycle.


What is you most memorable cycle trip you have ever done in Asia?

I will never forget my first trip through Northern Burma with SpiceRoads. An amazing group of fearless Norwegians. When I say fearless I mean half of them were legally blind and some were also deaf . They each had an amazing guide each
with whom they paired up on tandem bikes and rode the hills, the pot-holed dirt roads and the gravel tracks of rural Myanmar. So with that sense of awe and the amazing rawness of the happenings on the side of the road it will be hard to top.


What is the most stunning trip you have ever done in Asia (not necessarily SpiceRoads)?

Hard to top the trip I just mentioned, but if you like some amazing natural beauty then its hard to beat the enormous limestone karst formations that stick out of the green earth in the middle of Laos.  They are a great reward after a long day of climbing and avoiding on-coming trucks on the one lane highway. But then again, following a single track through a bamboo forest and bursting into a village of hill-tribe folks that have never seen a white ghost on a shiny two-wheeled buffalo is stunning as well, maybe more for them than me?
Are there any places in Asia you have never cycled that you still want to go to?

Don’t get me started!!!!!


Any tips for someone who is thinking about a cycling holiday for the first time?

Get a little bit of training in. Know that you will be seeing a place in a special way that no other form of transport can provide. Practise a bit of photography and be ready to stop and get the camera out. Read some good books about where you are going. Realise that your first cycling holiday will almost certainly not be your last and you may never take another non-cycling holiday again. Understand that when people say you are crazy for wanting to do something like this that it is their best attempt at admiration.


What advise would you give anyone visiting Chiang Mai?

Allow more time than you read in the outdated guide books or were told by the travel agent who has never been anywhere. There is so much to do here and so many people reflect that they wished that they had more time and that they will have to come back to get it all done – which a lot of them do. Also be prepared to encounter a place and a way that does not exist in the rest of Thailand. You have to visit to know what I mean. Oh – and of course you should try out a
bike tour around Chiang Mai.

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