The Mae Hong Son Loop
Northern Thailand’s allure has always been its peaceful towns and elephant parks, but what often goes unnoticed is a two-wheel adventure known as the Mae Hong Son Loop that runs through some of the most remote areas in the country.
Southeast Asia is full of motorbike adventures, which can make it hard to choose where to spend your time. Compared to the epic rides in northern Vietnam and southern Laos; the Mae Hong Son Loop may not quite live up to the hype.
However, with perfectly paved roads and remote countryside; it is definitely Thailand’s best motorbike adventure, and; in my opinion; well worth a try.
The Mae Hong Son Loop
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a 600km / 373mi motorbike adventure through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of northern Thailand. The trip can take anywhere from four days to a week; depending on your schedule and where you choose to spend some extra time.
The loop passes through four primary locations that include the towns of Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, and Pai; as well the city of Chiang Mai; where this whole motorbike adventure kicks off.
The City Of Chiang Mai
Often referred to as Thailand’s cultural capital; the city of Chiang Mai is a bustling metropolis set deep in the hills of the North. With a population of nearly one million, it is a place where anything can be found.
The City Of Chiang Mai
Including a plethora of motorbike rental shops offering a wide range of bikes that are ideal for the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Renting A Motorbike
When it comes to finding the perfect bike, there are a few important factors to consider. The first being whether you want an automatic, semi-automatic, or full manual motorbike. For the Mae Hong Son Loop, with all it’s hills and tight turns; I highly recommend getting at least a semi-automatic. This will ensure that you won’t get stuck crawling the many steep grades at the pace of a turtle.
The two best rental shops in town are Mango Bikes and Cat Motors. They offer automatics and semi-automatics for ฿200 or $6, and manual sport bikes starting at ฿600 or $18 per day, with room to bargain when renting for longer periods.
Beginner Tips: Many of the shops in Chiang Mai will not rent a bike to a beginner. If that is you, I would recommend saying you’ve ridden before and taking the bike back to your hostel for a lesson from the staff there.
International Driver’s License Required?
If you don’t have an international drivers license with the motorbike stamp, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I got stopped three times on the loop and expected to pay a hefty fine. But they just looked at my normal license and gave me a high-five, before sending me on my way. Just remember to wear a helmet and use your turn signals. And try not to look guilty. 😎
Day 1 – Chiang Mai To Mae Sariang
The first day of the Mae Hong Son Loop begins by navigating your way out of the hectic chaos that is Chiang Mai. Once you’ve made it out alive, you’ll continue southbound on highway 108.
The asphalt roads are in great shape, but you will have to battle with sand pelting semi-trucks driving at breakneck speeds. That is until you reach the town of Hot.
Hot! Hot! Hot!
Upon arriving, you will have to pay close attention as the highway takes a right at the roundabout near the edge of town.
This is where the loop finally starts to show signs of hope as you cruise through the countryside of northern Thailand.
The Thai Countryside
After a few more hours of the same scenery, you will close in on the town that will mark the end of day one; Mae Sariang.
The Town Of Mae Sariang
I recommend a staying at a place named Maeloegy Guest House. They have large private rooms with some of the lowest prices in town. The owner is super friendly and will make you a free breakfast whenever you want to take off in the morning.
Day 2 – Mae Sariang To Mae Hong Son
Day two is a ride almost as long as the first, but this time the roads and landscapes are significantly improved. The dusty, crowded highways give way to car-less curvy roads that wind through the trees.
The Road To Mae Hong Son
Pha Bong Viewpoint
From the Pha Bong Viewpoint, the road starts winding down through a valley until it reaches the second civilized stop on the journey; Mae Hong Son.
Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son From Above
Wat Chong Klan Temple
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu
There are many places to stay in town and near the lake, but they come at a high price. I managed to find a reasonable private room at a place named P.L.P Guesthouse. The rooms there are clean and spacious as well as secluded from the noise of the main road.
Day 3 – Mae Hong Son To Pai
Day three of the Mae Hong Son Loop is probably my favorite and; in my opinion; the most adventurous portion of the loop. The road from Mae Hong Son to Pai is gorgeous and has a few detours that can add some extra fun to your trip.
Misty Morning Roads
The first detour is a Chinese village located on the border named Ban Rak Thai. The locals there are direct descendants of Kuo Min Tang resistance fighters that fled China after the communist takeover in the 1940’s.
Also known as Mae Aw; this quint little village surrounding Mae Sa-nga lake stokes its economy from the selling of tea and, of course, tourism.
Ban Rak Thai Village
After a quick stop off to taste some tea and take some photos; another fun thing to do is to head even further North towards the border of Myanmar.
The Border To Burma
This makeshift shack is all that stands between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Republic of Myanmar. There are no guards and practically no adults anywhere to be found. The only signs of life in the hamlet of Kong Mung Mong are a school with unruly children running about and a few pagodas.
Kong Mung Mong
It was very bizarre. I felt like at any moment a government jeep was going to roll up and arrest me for coming to the country illegally.
Once you’ve had your fill of tea crazed border hopping, head back South towards the main highway. On your way make sure to stop off at the Pha Suea Waterfall.
Pha Suea Waterfall
Highway 1095 from the Ban Rak Thai turnoff, to the next adventure destination on the Mae Hong Son Loop, weaves through high mountain passes that are full of hairpin turns and frigid temperatures.
Chilly Mountain Curves
After riding East for about an hour through the rolling turns and pine trees; you will arrive at the final adventure of day three; the Lod Caves.
The Lod Caves
The Lod Caves, also known as “The Spirit Caves”; are a vast system of limestone caverns that happen to be some of the largest in Thailand. You can spend a few hours discovering the massive stalactites and stalagmites in the dark.
The Mae Lang River runs through the caves on which you can hire a bamboo raft to float you by candlelight into any of the three caverns. It’s not possible to explore the caves on your own, so you will have to hire a guide for ฿150 or $4.50.
The Lod Caves
The road leaving the Lod Caves quickly flattens out as you ride into a lush valley of rice paddies and farmhouses. Before you know it you will be back to civilization in my favorite town on the loop; Pai.
The Town Of Pai
Surrounded by green rolling hills and split in two by a river bearing the same name; Pai has long been a haven for hippies and digital nomads alike.
This is where a four-day trip can turn into a week as most travelers quickly fall in love with this natural oasis in North Thailand. Check out my recent post on five fun things to do in Pai, Thailand.
The Town Of Pai
You won’t be hard-pressed to find a place to stay in town. A quick search on Hostelworld or Booking.com will show you just how many options there are. However, if you’re looking for that special Pai experience, then you are going to have to look to the East.
I stayed at the Pai Country Huts; which used to be only ฿200 or $6 per night for a private bungalow near the river. It now runs ฿350 or $10.60, which is still a pretty cheap room considering what you get.
Pai Country Huts
Day 4 – Pai To Chiang Mai
Day four, and the final stretch of the Mae Hong Son Loop; will test your skills on a motorbike, as well as your resistance to motion sickness. With 762 curves winding down through the mountains from Pai.
The Road From Pai To Chiang Mai
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a great way to see the beautiful and remote countryside in northern Thailand. While it isn’t a blast the entire time; there are certainly parts of the trip that are breathtaking.
If you have some time in the North and are looking for something to get your motor running (literally). Then give the Mae Hong Son Loop a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.