Mae Hong Son Loop by bike

Extended Mae Hong Son Loop (Thailand). 1400 km by bike: detailed description and tips

One of the main attractions in the Northern Thailand is a motorcycling Mae Hong Son Loop. The road runs through the main towns of the province Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang and Pai, and usually starts from Chiang Mai. This city has an international airport as well as many companies renting out motorbikes and motorcycles. The 600 km path with 1864 curves brings about a lot of adventures. Mae Hong Son attracts tourists not only for sightseeing: for experienced drivers this is the opportunity to drive on the mountain roads.

We (as always) expanded the loop from 600 km to 1400 km. Today we tell about our route, the places we visited on the way, and share some nuances of driving. As we add content about our trip to Thailand, this story will be updated with hyperlinks to a particular location (point of interest).

Renting a motorbike.

For our adventures we chose Honda PCX (150 cc.).
Honda PCX 150

We took this more expensive model because of its power: we were two on one motorbike. For the long ride, we got some comfort provided by a large seat. Under the seat, we could place some of our luggage, and the seat length allowed Nastya to loosen the backpack on her back and put it on the seat surface. In Chiang Mai, most of rental companies are located along the eastern and western parts of the old city. We took our Honda at A-rent Company. Here the prices are lower, but do not expect a huge choice. You can leave the passport or $ 150 as a deposit. The price of the motorbike was 450 baht per day.
Renting a motorbike in Chiang Mai

To find them, you need to cross the bridge from Suthep Rd side, then than turn to the right (18.786994, 98.978186). A little further is Mr. Mechanic rent office. The prices of the latter are at the photo:
Renting a motorbike. Prices

Another company, which often appears in the reports of tourists, «Mister Pop», is located on Bunrueang Rit. This means, if you go from Suthep Rd, do not pass the bridge, turn to the left. Here they have a very large selection:
Renting a motorbike. Mister Pop

The day before our departure, we had a little practice with the help of a trip to Doi Suthep. This mountain is located near Chiang Mai, the road is full of twists, but wide. We recommend you to check yourself and your bike before you go to the loop.

Mae Hong Son Loop.

The route we have covered in 8 days (clickable):
Mae Hong Son Loop route

Chiang Mai – Doi Inthanon Mountain – Mae Sariang

Day 1 (about 300 km).
Standard loop does not include Doi Inthanon mountain. Yet, we could not skip the highest peak in Thailand with altitude of 2565 meters above the sea leel. In addition, on the way you can see several pictorial waterfalls and explore the pagodas of King and Queen, which were erected in honour of their 60th anniversaries in 1987 and 1992.
pagodas of King and Queen

Doi Inthanon waterfalls

Of course, it was hard to start the journey with such a long distance, but it was worth it. The main road before the turn to Doi Inthanon is very good and wide. Before the turn, there is a large gasoline station, where you can relax, eat, use WC and pump up the wheels. The ascend to the top also did not seem so critical. The road is quite wide for mountains, in most cases with a slight slope. It helped to adapt to travel through the curves, both for the driver and the passenger. On the way back, going down was more difficult, besides, the brake cylinder broke.
road to Doi Inthanon

After descending, the wide road soon ended – it was necessary to turn off to Mae Sariang. At first, we were astonished by nature, but several hours later things started to get worse, since it was becoming dark and cold. We made frequent stops to stretch our legs. We reached the destination point tired, but happy, because it was the longest day distance on our route.
We stayed at the PC Riverview guesthouse for 400 baht per night. The room was with its own shower, but the owner was a nasty old man, who was dissatisfied, as we did not want to sleep with insects on the bed. It was very late to find something else, but the owner’s wife was more kind and solved the issue.

Mae Sariang and surroundings

Day 2 (about 100 km).
On this day, we planned a trip to a nearby park, where we were walking for 2 hours, and then drove to the border with Burma to observe one of the longest rivers, the Salavin, and to have a look at the picturesque border village.
Despite the short distance, the road took a lot of time. This is due to the fact that the optimistic start with asphalt ended with dusty gravel road, where, at times, it was impossible to drive more than 10 km/h. Perhaps, at the time of your journey it will change, because during our visit there were many heavy machines repairing the road.
Mae Sariang and surroundings

We spent the second night in Mae Sariang in another place in front of the previous guesthouse: 300 baht per night, shared shower, but lovely hostess.

Mae Sariang – Pang Tong Palace – Ban Rak Thai

Day 3 (over 200 km).
From Mae Sariang we headed to the Chinese mountain village Ban Rak Tai, which is located in the north of Thailand. On the way, we passed Mae Hong Son, had a look at Pang Tong Palace (the farm residence of King), and watched Pha Sua waterfall. Ban Rak Tai is a very nice and scenic village, placed around the lake. There is a market, shops, restaurants, one hotel and a lot of guesthouses. We spent very nice evening here. The morning with fog on the water was also gorgeous.
Some sections of the road impressed us with steepness and twists. In general, it was not too difficult.
Mae-Hong-Son-Loop Rak Tai

We stopped in one of the guest houses on the lake: small room, but with a terrace standing on the lake (350 baht).
Hostels in village Ban Rak Tai

Rak Thai – Pai

Day 4 (more than 100 km).
The way to Pai went through some sights. We visited another Royal project – Pang Tong Under Royal Forest Park 2 (Pang Ung). In fact, this is a regular village with a pond, designed as a place of rest. Another place to stop is the Fishing cave – a park with a river, where rare species of fish live. Here there is also a cave with a pond.
Fishing cave

Along the way, there are several observation points and another cave Tham Lot – with stalactites and the possibility of the short walk by the boat.
The road is very pleasant, there is a nice twist, where you feel motorbike well enough to tilt the body and enter the turns as a real rider. Most of the road is going up to the observation deck, and then down to Pai. At this point, we were almost out of fuel. Some business men sold half a litter bottles of gasoline for 100 Bat (normal price – 25 Bat/l). We decided to avoid supporting this business and descended down to the village gas station.
Gasoline stations in Thailand

Some people hang in Pai for more than one day because of unique atmosphere. There are some sights and the night market. We stayed in Piranha Park guesthouse. This is a very cool place, but a little far from the centre. However, it is very cute and has a pond where you can fish.

Pai – Chiang Dao

Day 5 (approximately 150 km).
On the road we have had a look on The Land Split Pai, a small Canyon, and WWII Memorial Bridge.
small Canyon of Pai

After the bridge, the road went up, began to zigzag, and soon became totally broken. This was the most difficult part of our trip, even though we were more or less adapted for a plenty of turns. Many sections of the road were being repaired with a lot of dust, sand and gravel. In one of these places, we had an accident. When we drove on another gravel slope with a turn, we ended up in a hole, covered with gravel. No one could remember what happened, we just found ourselves lying on the ground. Victor was ragged a little more, but Nastya hit the ribs  and was also wounded. The motorbike was scratched too, including the silencer, mirror, fender, and side step.
Mae-Hong-Son-Loop- bike accident

Of course, all this was scary. We were lucky that no one was driving behind us and we were not thrown under the coming car. We moved the bike to the side of the road, one car even stopped, offering their help. We somehow bandaged ourselves and continued the descent. Now the road seemed endless, Victor drove through the gravel with speed 15-20 km/h. Beeping machines, asking to give the way, become annoying, somehow we got on flat asphalt, but the ride was scary. We felt insecure and now 60 km/h seemed to be terribly fast. There was a great temptation to turn to Chiang Mai, when we were less than 50 km away from it, but we turned to the north, to the Chiang Rai direction.
Somehow, we finished at that day destination point – Black Cat Hostel near the town of Chiang Dao. There, we happily bought more tape and iodine to treat the wounds. Incidentally, the stop in this hostel was very useful, as the owner gave us a map, and also told us what is better to see around.
Even late at night, healing the stress with beer, we concluded that a car which we had wanted to rent in the beginning would make this route even more difficult. Endless zigzag narrow road would have made the drive strained and crazy. In contrast, on a motorbike, you always have an option for a manoeuvre. We advice you not to be afraid, but to be careful.

Chiang Dao – Ban Tha Ton

Day 6 (about 200 km)
Next day we went to the Karen village first. It was about 20 kilometres away from the planned route. Then, we went to the Ban Tha Ton. Turning towards the Doi Ang Khang hills and visited the Royal green factory.
The main road was not very wide, but good enough. In the hills, the situation changed, and the road became very steep, especially in the last part of it. The way back down was quite scary. It was so abrupt, that the brakes simply did not work. We did not want to make a video of the road after our fall, but the road was extremely impressive. On the particularly steep descents with turns of 180 degrees, volunteers were placed to make signs about oncoming cars. Sometimes the police literally stopped cars and bikes to prevent brakes from overheating and vehicles from accidents.
Policemen in Thailand

We reached Ban Thaton in the late evening, but fortunately found a completely new and cheap hostel (GPS: 20.05217 99.35829) for 300 baht per night. There we celebrated New Year Eve.

Ban Thaton – Chiang Rai.

Day 7 (about 100 km).
On this section, one of the shortest of our trip, we had an adventure too. After driving 20 kilometres, we stopped at new Buddha statues, to watch a religious festival held there. While Nastya was making pictures, Victor found that we had struck the wheel.
Buddha statues

struck the wheel

We had to go back, fortunately, after five minutes, we saw the motorbike parts shop, where we repaired our tire. Then we drove on a good and smooth road, without any problems.

You will find many attractions in Chiang Rai and its surroundings. On the road from Ban Thanon you can visit Karen village and Black Temple (we went there the next morning).
Karen village

In the city there is an interesting museum of hill tribes and the night market. We stayed at Akha River House hostel (423/25 Moo 21, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai). It was quite dirty and shabby, with shared showers, but very cheap. There are some more expensive rooms, maybe they are better.

Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai.

Day 8 (about 200 km)
On the road to Chiang Mai, it is certainly worth to have a look on Wat Rong Khun or White Temple.
Wat Rong Khun or White Temple

The road between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai is relatively good, although there were at times quite narrow and winding turns. We arrived in Chiang Mai after dark.
The last thing we had to do is to return scratched motorbike. Fortunately, only the mechanic (not the owner) was in the office. He did not pay attention on the body of the motorbike: while Victor was showing the broken brake cylinder, Nastya revolved around the bike, blocking the view. As a result, we got our deposit back.
The trip was hard, but we are proud to have made it and Victor has a right to wear a commemorative T-shirt. Unfortunately, there is no T-shirt for our full rote, but it will definitely remain in our memories.
Northern Thailand by motorbike

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