While the majority of tourists in Thailand are drawn to the relaxing beaches and boozy resorts of the islands in the south or the siren’s call of Bangkok, the real adventure travel is found in the north. The Mae Hong Song motorbike loop is the third loop I did in Southeast Asia, and it was one of my favorites. Tiny, winding mountain passes thousands of meters above the oceans through dense vegetation and misting fog that breaks away into fleeting rays of sunlight as quick as it had come lead you from town to town. For more information about the route I took and what the trip is like, check out the video below and following post.
Our Route Through the Mae Hong Song Loop
The counter clockwise route starting in Chiang Mai takes you through Pai, Mae Hong Song, and Mae Chaem for night stops. The entire trip is around 335 miles or 540 kilometers and takes four days. I stopped in Pai for a few nights to do some outdoor activities and enjoy the town, so it was actually a six day trip. You can read more about things to do in Pai here.
On my last loop in Laos, I took a semi-automatic bike, but the roads are so nice and smooth throughout Thailand, an automatic bike works great. I rented my 125cc automatic bike for $8/day at the Chiang Mai Inn. It was plenty powerful to make it up the mountains and probably a little too fast on the highways.
Day 1: Chiang Mai to Pai (150 km)
The first 50 kilometers out of Chiang Mai are on a major highway. There isn’t much to look at besides flat roads and traffic. Further out from the city, once off the highway, the road gives way to a single lane road tracing the bends of mountains with heavy vegetation and quaint little cliff-side coffee shops on the right.
After a few hours of driving, you will come upon a huge field of rice paddies before you arrive in Pai. There are a few lookout points and a national park between Chian Mai and Pai, but the park entry fee is 300 baht per person. My group skipped this, as we didn’t think it was worth the fee to look around for a few minutes. Of course, for locals, it is only 50 baht.
Pai is tucked away in the mountains with a bustling couple of blocks filled with cafes, restaurants, shops, and vendors. There is also a lot of nature and day-trips to do. I stayed at the Muslim House, which I definitely recommend. It’s brand new, with a nice staff and is super close to the main walking street.
Day 2: Pai to Mae Hong Song (107 km)
Leaving Pai and headed towards Mae Hong Song, the roads are smooth and appear new. High up in the mountains, fog and mist shrouds the road making speeding along even more dangerous. There are also some nice lookout points down to the endless mountain ranges. The trip from Pai to Mae Hong Song is the shortest distance and doesn’t take very long. Going slow along the roads and enjoying the views is the best way to travel.
Mae Hong Song itself is much larger than Pai and seems more like a city than a town. We didn’t actually do anything in the town in terms of temples or hikes, though. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from to fuel up and rest for a longer ride to Mae Chaem the following day.
I stayed at the Ban Phu Montalang Resort, just a little bit out of town. It’s a quiet area with a handful of comfortable bungalows for rent.
Day 3: Mae Hong Song to Mae Chaem (164 km)
Ah, day three of the loop. The trip from Mae Hong Song through Khun Yuan to Mae Chaem is an incredible part of the journey. Initially riding through the mountains and lush forest, it eventually gives way to rolling fields of steep corn farms. The different shades and textures of deep green in rectangular patches fill the valleys.
Around midday, we stopped in Khun Yuan for food and coffee and then set back out on the road. A few miles into the ride, one of us got a flat tire. It was the second time in our three motorbike loops somebody got a flat. This time, luckily, some Thai guys driving by in a pick up truck hoisted Stu and his bike into the back of their truck and drove him to the next town to get it fixed. It was actually pretty seamless.
After we got back on the road, we road through all of the mountainous farmland. It is coming back down the other side of the mountain from the farms that our only crash of over 1,000 miles of remote mountain paths and village roads in Southeast Asia occurred. Going downhill in the rain, zigging and zagging around switchbacks you think it would be easy to crash. But really, we were only going 25-30 kph and it took a road slick with oil or exhaust to take us out.
Banking around a mild right curve, I suddenly felt my bike just slip out and before I realized I was sliding across the pavement for several feet, I was back on my feet pumping with adrenaline. Mid-crash, simultaneously, I could see Stu do the exact same thing. And behind me, I heard Augustino’s bike sliding on the road as well. Lucky for us, we were all fine besides a few scrapes and bruises – confirming our great decision to wear long sleeve shirts, jeans, and sneakers to go with our helmets while we did long rides.
Picking our bikes up, which sustained mild to decent damage, and some a narrowly escaped a plunge to destruction off of the cliff by mere inches, we slowly made it the rest of the way to Mae Chaem with more caution. Once we arrived, we found a nice little homestay down the road directly across from Sikon Restaurant, which is also a nice place to eat. The homestay owner is a middle-aged retired English teach who kindly dressed our wounds and provided bandages.
Day 4: Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai (120 km)
With the crash fresh in our memories, and with the addition of the pouring rain for the first time on our trip, we crawled towards Chiang Mai at less than 35 kph. This part of the loop was both the most dangerous and stimulating. These were the sharpest switchbacks of the trip. It felt like driving up and down miles of San Francisco’s Lombard Street tens of thousands of feet above sea level through jungle-dense vegetation in the dumping rain.
Once through the hours of danger zone, both the the winding roads, and luckily for us, the rain, subsided. The final stretch back to Chiang Mai is back on a modern highway where the average speed of any vehicle is around 75 kph.
Final Tips for the Mae Hong Song Motorbike Loop
Overall, every single day of this loop is amazing. The second and third days are great because there is no highways, but all of the segments have their moments. A few handy tips for the trip are:
- bring a plastic poncho
- bring a bandanna or face mask if you want to limit the dust/fumes you breath in
- when in doubt, slow down and enjoy the sights instead of risking a spill
- wear jeans and cover your body
- rent a bike with some power to make it up the mountains
If you have any of your own stories of tips for the Mae Hong Song motorbike loop, please comment and share below! To learn more about other motorbike loops in Southeast Asia like the Ha Giang Loop in Vietnam or the Thakhek loop in Laos, check out some of my other posts.
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