After a week of partying in Chiang Mai for the Songkran Water Festival, my friend asked “so what are your plans now?” Luckily, when I was divulging my plans-or the lack of them rather, I met someone who said, “Man if you like motorbikes don’t miss riding the Mae Hong Son loop”.
I quickly learned that the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand, was a 3 to 4 day loop (you can even stretch it out for a week!), that went from Chiang Mai through the Mae Hong Son province. This epic 600km journey brings you through cascading waterfalls, awesome lime stone formations, and villages that are untouched by tourism. Whilst you can do this journey on a car or through an organized tour, there and then, I decided to rent a motorbike from Chiang Mai, convinced that the next few days was going to be awesome.
- Mae Hong Son Loop by Car or Motorcycle?
- How to Select the Right Motorcycle for the Mae Hong Son Loop
- Mae Hong Son Loop Route Options
- My Mae Hong Son Loop Experience
- Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang
- Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son
- Mae Hong Son to Pai
- Pai to Chiang Mai
- Overall Mae Hong Son Loop Review
Mae Hong Son Loop by Car or Motorcycle?
You can travel the Mae Hong Son Loop by either an organized tour, renting a car, or a motorcycle. To those of you who have read a few of our articles, you would know that exploring by motorcycle is our top choice for seeing a place. This article has information on the routes that we took but regardless if you’re doing it by motorcycle or car, the routes still apply.
How to Select the Right Motorcycle for the Mae Hong Son Loop
Motorcycle Rental Information and Prices in Thailand
There will be hundreds of motorcycle rental shops ready to offer you a bike for the trip. You don’t need a motorcycle license but will need to present your passport. Some might even ask to keep your passport as a deposit. Before you go anywhere near the shops, decide on what kind of bike you want to rent. Here are a few tips when renting a bike:
- Don’t leave your passport. Instead, try to leave a photocopy or a deposit of it if you can. (Larger shops will require you to do so which is understandable if you are planning on renting a larger bike.)
- If you are renting the bike for a couple of days, haggle for a cheaper price!
- Don’t forget to check the bike condition-take photos of it to be sure. Thai people are sticklers on their motorcycle damages.
First timer/ Beginner Rider
Opt for a 125cc automatic scooter. A simple twist and go bike will be easy for you to learn and get used to. It will also do the job and is likely to take you around the Mae Hong Soon loop without any mechanic problems.
Price Range: 200-300 baht per day
Rode a bike a few times – Opt for a semi-automatic bike. A bit more power and control over the automatic scooter. Also more fun as you get to change gears and take the corners faster.
Price Range: Around 600 baht per day
Opt for a 200-600cc Manual Motorcycle. This choice will mainly come down to your budget. The bigger the engine, the higher the cost and it goes up quickly. I don’t have to tell you that this option will bring you the most fun. If you are an experienced rider, suck up the extra cost and go for it. You won’t regret it!
Price Range: Around 800-2,500 baht per day, depending on the model (200cc)
My Motorcycle Choice for the Mae Hong Son Loop
Since moving to Chiang Mai, we’ve scoured the place for the best rental options and one company that stood out was Tony’s Big Bikes. This shop was professionally run by two British expats who are riders themselves. Their love for riding the awesome trails here in Thailand is what brought them to the country in the first place! We recently rented a big motorcycle from them (Honda CB300F Street Bike) and was more than happy zooming along all the curves on the road up to Pai.
Their bikes were well maintained and were in tip top condition. We were also able to rent air flow armored mesh jackets which was a big plus for us since renting a big bike.
When I first did the loop, I rode a semi-automatic but wished I had gone for at least a 200cc. With that being said, the semi-automatic did its job and stayed with me for around a week. It had no problems and I managed to take my backpack on the back with me as well. The second time I did the loop, I rented a larger bike and had the time of my life! Cruising down those roads on a big bike was awesome!
Mae Hong Son Loop Route Options
For the Mae Hong Son Loop, you have a few options. You can either do it in a counter-clockwise direction taking route 107 north heading to Pai. This trip can be a bit tricky as the road from Chiang Mai to Pai alone has 762 turns. For less experienced riders, you can build your confidence riding counter clockwise towards route 108 and heading to Mae Sariang first. There are loads of side trips to take, depending on how much time you have. We recommend doing Chiang Mai towards Mae Sariang as after a few days of non-stop riding, you will want to chill out and relax in Pai for a couple of days.
Chiang Mai – Doi Inthanon – Mae Sariang – Mae Hong Son – Pai – Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai – Pai – Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang – Doi Inthanon – Chiang Mai
My Mae Hong Son Loop Experience
To date, I have done the Mae Hong Son Loop twice now, trying out the two routes I’ve outlined. The first time I did it, I rented a bike in Pai and returned it to the sister shop in Chiang Mai a couple of days after. The second time I did it, we rented a large bike and drove from Chiang Mai around the loop in four days. You can opt to extend this trip by however long you want as there are always loads of things to do in each of the towns you end up going to. Our recommendation is to block off at least 3-4 days.
Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang
It took us around 3 hours to reach the sleepy village of Mae Sariang. If you are in no rush, there is meant to be fantastic trekking and rafting in the area. We stayed in a small guesthouse and woke up to a beautiful riverside view. The town itself is rather small with one interesting night market which is in full swing during Sundays. The night market offers lots of local dishes and interesting street food.
Inside Tip: Take the time to see Doi Inthanon, which is the highest mountain in Thailand. You can ride all the way to the top allowing you to see a spectacular view of Thailand. We recently spent a weekend camping there and the views along was highly worth it! The Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail is also something we recommend doing as the views is absolutely incredible. You can read more about our camping experience as well as all the necessary park fees to enter Doi Inthanon.
Things to do in Mae Sariang:
- Visit Wat Chomchaeng Temple – take the winding stairs up to the temple for views of the town but remember to dress appropriately (cover your knees and shoulders).
- Stroll Around the Markets – You may come across daily markets or specific celebrations while you are there.
- Visit the Karen Lahwi tribe near the border of Myanmar – admire the culture of the long-neck women of the tribe who use their form of dress as their identity.
- If you have time, go trekking in the Salawin National Park, rafting alongside the river, and seeing some Karen tribes. The treks here are beautiful, remote, and spending a few days relaxing by the riverside isn’t too bad as well.
- Grab a drink in Ching Ching Cafe, one of the coolest bars we’ve seen! The owner is super lovely and the whole vibe and atmosphere of the place makes it a good place to grab a cold beer before calling it a night.
Where to Stay in Mae Sariang:
Budget: Good View Guesthouse
Midrange: Tamarind Grand Resort Mae Sariang Booking.com
Splurge: River House Resort Booking.com
Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son
This day consisted of straight fast roads which allowed us to get to our next stop Mae Sariang faster than expected. Here, there is the option to visit the long-neck Karen tribe near the border of Myanmar. Mae Hong Son is a much larger town than expected. From Mae Sariang, it was around a 3-hour drive coupled with stunning mountainous roads. The roads are in perfect conditions, making them highly enjoyable and easy to navigate.
Things to do in Mae Hong Son
- Drive or trek up Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu – the oldest landmark in the Mae Hog Son province, this temple atop Kong Mu Hill has amazing views of the entire valley. This spot is particularly popular during sunset. There is also a coffee shop located at the top with stunning views of the mountains around you.
- Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang – Twin Burmese-style temples located in front of a beautiful lake and are conveniently close to the city center.
- Lake Jong Kum – A perfect place to seek shade, this small lake is completely surrounded by a pristine public park. The lake is surrounded by a food market alongside with little tables where you can enjoy your freshly cooked meal. We recommend eating by one of the lakeside vendors as you watch the temple’s reflection light up the lake.
Where to Stay in Mae Hong Son:
Budget: Boondee House Booking.com
Midrange: Sang Tong Huts Booking.com
Ban Phumon Talang Resort Booking.com
Splurge: Fern Resort Mae Hong Son Booking.com
Mae Hong Son to Pai
This for me was one of the best parts of the trip as the mountains leaving Mae Hong Son are absolutely stunning. On your way to Pai, you can also visit the Lod Cave which is a cave which you can explore on a bamboo raft as it had a stream running through it. We recently visited the Lod caves and it was AMAZING! The whole place was absolutely beautiful so a trip there is well worth your time.
Side Trip to Ban Rak Thai: Another side trip you can do taking you off the regular loop path is a visit to Ban Rak Thai, a small Chinese village near the Thai-Burmese border. The roads are beautiful and very rural, making it an ideal side stop for lunch. You can eat at the restaurants by the reservoir which all serve fantastic Chinese food! The views are pretty beautiful and a side trip here will add another hour or so until you reach Pai.
As soon as you get to Pai, you get a bungalow by the river, grab a cold beer, and relax in a hammock. Trust me, it’s the best things to do!
Things to do in Pai
Watch the sunset in the Pai Grand Canyon- Head up towards the Pai canyon where you can watch the sunset along with other travelers as it sets amidst this stunning canyon. The stillness of your surroundings, the quiet chatter of the people around you, and the treacherous 100ft drops of the canyon.
Go Visit the Waterfalls- The Mor Paeng Waterfall is one of the most popular destinations in Pai. It is often busy with both locals and tourists. If you want to avoid the crowds, head there early or hike a bit further to the bottom of the waterfalls. To those that are looking for a more adventurous hike, head on over to the Mae Yen Watterfalls which is a pretty long hike through the jungles of Pai
For more information on what to do, check out our: Pai Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Pai:
Budget: Baan Kati Sod Booking.com
Mid-Range: Soi One Boutique Bedrooms Booking.com
Splurge: Puri Pai Villas: Booking.com
For more information on where to stay in Pai: Check out our full post Where to Stay in Pai.
Pai to Chiang Mai
After spending a couple of days in Pai (and trust me, you would want to stay forever, it’s time to make your way back to Chiang Mai. Here, you will encounter the famous curved roads with exactly 762 turns. The roads are beautiful but just be wary of the minivans and buses along the way.
Things to do/see in Chiang Mai
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – one of the most picturesque temples in the Chiang Mai region, atop the Doi Suthep mountain.
- Sunday Night Walking Street or Saturday Night Markets – Wander the huge maze of market stalls sampling different food and enjoying live music.
- Cliff diving – head to the Hang Dong Rock Quarry to jump into a turquoise green lagoon from heights up to 12 metres!
- Watch a Muay Thai match – if you’re in the area when there is a match on you might consider heading to the Kawila Boxing Stadium or Thapae Boxing Stadium to watch the spectacle.
- X-Centre – for adventure and extreme sports, you should definitely check this place out!
To read the full article on what to do in Chiang Mai, read: 10 Awesome Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai:
Budget: The Grace House Booking.com
Midrange: The Peaberry Booking.com
Splurge: Anantara Booking.com
For more information on where to stay, you can read our full article: Where to Stay in Chaing Mai
Overall Mae Hong Son Loop Review
Overall, riding the Mae Hong Son loop was great. I would definitely recommend riding for at least 4 days If you’re a more experienced rider with more time on your hands, just get a map and ride inland. There is loads to see and do!
The first time I did it we didn’t cover a massive distance due to our bikes and the fact that we underestimated the distance that we had to cover (that is my lack of planning showing). However, I am glad I got to do it again, spending more time exploring the towns in between, enjoying the beautiful scenery, friendly locals, and stunning temples along the way.