I must admit I wasn’t aware that the Pearl of the Andaman is home to an active community of downhillers. Where’s their training ground? During my recent visit to the southern island, I got the answer to that question. And I was awed.
According to the location and direction provided by Chalermpon Tubkeaw, a core member of the DirtBoy Downhill Phuket team, the local riders’ regular track is located on Soi Phatthana Uthit 1, just 7.5 kilometres south of Phuket Town. The term “soi” normally refers to a lane in an urban area, but from the satellite view on Google Maps, I saw just a few small buildings in the area. Both sides of the lane were dominated by green patches of trees. Yes, rubber plantations. What a weird soi, I thought.
The real thing is even weirder. As the pickup carrying my friends and I entered the soi, we were stunned by what we saw. The 400-metre-or-so stretch of road before us was so steep. I would call it a mountain road rather than a soi. Then again, despite the misleading word, the fact remains that this road was taking us to the start point of a downhill track on the hilltop.
We soon reached our destination. Chalermpon, aka Ko Sit, and other riders were waiting for us near a massive wall ride.
“This track welcomes every rider,” said Ko Sit, “But we rarely have somebody from another part of the country travelling this far to ride with us”.
The start point, Ko Sit explained, is in the rubber plantation further uphill.
“From there you have to do a small jump and maintain the speed to clear the wall ride.”
Almost immediately after the end of the wooden wall ride, I saw two jumps (one of them a huge tabletop) waiting.
After that, the riders need to cross the road to the scenic lookout point called Phu Chomdaw where there is another tabletop, followed by a ramp that shoots them up in the air to land on the steep downslope, which sends them into another plot of rubber plantation where the other sections of the track are located. Many sets of banked turns, drops, a narrow and off-camber bridge and gap jumps of different sizes, from moderate to humongous, await along the length of the snaky trail.
Asked whether the land where the track was built belongs to one of the downhillers, Ko Sit shook his head. “The owner of the plantations – his name is Tavee Songmuang – occasionally does cross-country mountain biking but he was kind enough to let us build a downhill track on his land for nothing.
“We are so lucky,” Ko Sit beamed. “One great thing about this track is you don’t always have to ride all the way down to the finish point. You can stay on the hilltop section and enjoy the jumps and the wall ride. You can do as many runs as you want without the need for a shuttle vehicle.”
The friendly Phuket downhillers come to ride the track every weekend in the late afternoon. So pick the right time if you wish to join them. It’s wise to contact the local riders in advance.
GPS coordinates: 7˚50’00.45” N 98˚23’24.16” E Trail condition: Downhill single track with several intimidating man-made obstacles.
Distance: About a kilometre.
Getting there: The start point is located in Soi Phatthana Uthit 1 which splits westwards off Road 4023 (the road to Cape Panwa) about 900m further down the road from Ban Ao Nam Bo School.
Parking: There’s space for a few cars near the start point.
Food and drinks: No shop is available in the immediate vicinity. Bring your own water and snacks, and make sure you bring the rubbish back out.
What your family can enjoy while waiting: Watching you jump and crash, and taking in the view.
Local contact: You can get in touch with the downhillers via their Facebook page here.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post’s travel editor and a mountain bike freak.