You’ve been in the bright lights of Bangkok, partied until day break on the islands and finished up by pondering existence at the temples in Chiang Mai. You thought your trip to Thailand was complete. Not so fast, my friend. There’s a “MUST DO” that you’ve missed. You need to get into the Thai countryside to round out your trip. There’s no better way to take it in than on the back of a motorbike. Starting and ending in Chiang Mai, the Mae Hong Son Loop is an epic motorbike trip that takes you through some of northern Thailand’s most beautiful landscapes and is a great way to experience some small town Thai life away from major tourist destinations.
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a 4 day (minimum recommendation), 600-700KM route taking you through the Thai countryside, up and over the highlands of the Thailand’s scenic Mae Hong Son Province. The route can be taken from Chiang Mai in either direction. The most challenging section is that between the Mae Hong Son & Pai which is the first stretch if you’re traveling counterclockwise Thus, making it last on the clockwise option. If you need a few days to get the feel of the bike, clockwise is recommended.
Rentals, Roads, & Routes
There are plenty of places to rent a bike from Chiang Mai. We rented through Mr Mechanic. Our bike did experience some minor problems on the trip. However, just about any mechanic in Thailand can fix a Honda bike and you’re never too far away from one.
The roads are in pretty good condition, but there are many, many turns…1,864 some say. The good news is the roads aren’t too busy with traffic. It’s a great trip and we think it’s MUST DO on a visit to Northern Thailand.
We opted for the clockwise route. Our itinerary looked like this:
Chiang Mai>Doi Inthanon National Park>Mae Sariang>Mae Hong Son>Pai>Chaing MaiThe route can be taken either direction. The most challenging section is that between the Mae Hong Son & Pai. If you need a few days to get the feel of the bike, clockwise is recommended. Here’s what our trip played out heading clockwise:
Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop
Day 1 Chaing Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park (Approx 100km)
Leaving Chiang Mai, headed southwest on Route 108, our first leg of the trip was to get us to Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and great place to take in a sunrise. At the top of the mountain are some immaculately kept garden grounds with 2 giant chedis dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand on their 60th birthdays. If you do head up at sunrise, give yourself plenty of time to get up there so you’re not racing the sun. You’re 100cc scooter will find the steep grade to the top challenging. Also, dress accordingly. You’re not on Koh Phi Phi any more. You’re in the mountains and it can get cold. Plan for that.
There are a few places to stay at the bottom of the mountain inside the park just after you enter the the park. We stayed at a place called Little Home. A clean, comfortable place offering small bungalows with a restaurant on the premises is right on the main highway up to the peak, making it perfect for a one night stay. Go to bed early and get up early because it’ll take you about an hour to reach the top.
Day 2 Doi Inthanon to Mae Sariang (approx. 185km)
After the Doi Inthanon sunrise, we headed back down the mountain on Route 108 and made for Mae Sairang. This stretch of the loop is rather scenic and is for most of the 185 KMs from the top of the mountain to the quiet riverside town. Mae Sariang has nice river front area with a few bars and accommodations. This is also a spot where you can organize trekking trips in the surrounding hills to check out some of the ethnic tribes that inhabit the area.
We opted for a drink and dinner on the river and back to our hotel, Mit Aree (which is a few KM away from the river and I am pretty sure is an old hospital converted into a hotel). It’s not the most posh place in town, but it’s cheap and right next to a massage parlor also called Mit Aree. We finished our night with a 200 Baht massage then off to bed.
Day 3 Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son (approx 165km)
Full disclosure, I woke the next morning with a pretty legit case of food poisoning. I took some medicine, forced some food & water into my system and we hit the road headed for our next stop, the namesake of the loop, Mae Hong Son. It’s 165KM ride between the two towns along Route 108 and the scenery is pretty awesome. This will be a great chance to test your skills as a rider on curvy mountain roads. Leave early and give yourself plenty of time for this section and much of it is uphill, curvy and therefore a bit slow going.
About 15-20KM outside Mae Hong Son you’re going to pass a cafe that appears out of the blue and looks totally awesome. It is totally awesome. It’s a bit close to the end of the ride to really “break up the trip”. However, it’s got great views looking down in the valley below and the coffee isn’t half bad.
Arriving into Mae Hong Son, you’ll find everything you need. Like…maybe you dumped your bike and cracked your rear tail light. This is a great place to pick up a bike part. Not saying that happened….but maybe it did. Mae Hong Son has an adorable little lake with a temple near by. There’s a temple at the top of the hill that has some fantastic views of the city and the surrounding hillsides.
In the evening, the temples light up and there’s a cool night market with all the Thai street food favorites, art and souvenirs for sale. For lodging, we saw a sign on the side of the road for a new guest house and just crashed there. The internet has plenty of options for accommodation in town. If you want to book lodging in advance, check out booking.com.
Day 4 Mae Hong Son to Pai (approx 110km)
Mae Hong Son to Pai is short in terms of kilometers but will more than likely take you just as long as any of your other rides because of the terrain. While the roads remain in great shape, you’ll encounter substantial elevation change and curves along this route. You’ll probably also want to stop and take a million pictures as well. This is probably as scenic as any stretch of road you’ll encounter on the loop. Give yourself plenty of time. We underestimated a bit and wound up doing the last 20 Ks in the dark. Don’t be like us. Leave early and arrive early because Pai has much more to most travelers than other stops on the loop.
Pai (correctly pronounced “Bye”) is little mountain retreat town that’s been attracting backpacker for years with sublime landscapes and chilled out vibe. A quick stroll around the town’s center and you’ll quickly feel the hippy atmosphere that Pai is know for. It feels like a southern Thai beach town, but without the beach. It’s a stellar spot to spend a few days checking out temples in the outskirts of town or just full out chillin’ at one the stellar eateries or bars. The town center comes to life in the evening with nightmarket type feel.
Bars and hostels here are provide a great party vibe. There are heaps of places to stay from hostels & huts along the river, to chilled out mountain retreats. We stayed a little guest house just outside of town called Cupcake House, named after the owner’s daughter whose English name is Cupcake.
If you’re visiting in winter, make sure you’ve packed according to the season. You’re high up in the mountain here and when the sun goes down it can get down right chilly.
Day 5 (…or 6 if you liked Pai as much as we did) (approx 150km)
The last 140-150 KM leg of the journey takes you from Pai back to Chiang Mai. All the days of riding thus far have been leading up to this stretch of road. By far the busiest stretch of road on the loop and it’s curves and corners will put your skills to the test. Coming out of Pai you’ll be encountering heaps of great scenery. Be sure to stop at Pai Canyon if you didn’t make a day trip to it during your stay in Pai. It’s just about 8km outside of Pai and well worth a stop. You can hike around a little but, but nothing that’s going to change your life. We also stopped at the World War II Memorial Bridge for a look.
The rest of the way back is twists and turns and pure riding pleasure. If you’re still keen on riding and haven’t visited Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, you can save yourself some money by taking your already rented bike up the mountain for a visit Wat Phra That for some panoramic views of Chiang Mai.
You’re Done! Now What?
Once back Chiang Mai, return your bike and all the amenities of Thailand are at your fingertips.
You’ve now rounded out your Thai travel experience with an epic motorbike loop! This is an absolute MUST recommendation by Travelin’ Stiles
From Chaing Mai you’re able to travel to just about anywhere in the region. We flew from Chiang Mai to Yangon and continued our adventures in Myanmar. Great flights are available on Momondo.com.
For an awesome and thorough guide to traveling Thailand, check out Big 5 Guide to Thailand!
###Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. What that means is, when you click on a link and make a booking or purchase from the link on our site, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s a great way to get great deals and help support Travelin’ Stiles future travel expeditions and adventures. Please rest assured that we wouldn’t suggest or endorse anything we don’t use or think will add value to your travel.###