The Mae Hong Son loop must surely rank among Asia’s great motorcycle thrills.
I did this approximately 600-km ride in a week, stopping whenever I felt the need to soak in the culture or mingle with the multitude of ethnic groups that populate these areas. The journey is possible in about four days but really needs more time for sightseeing, sampling the cuisines or just hanging out in tribal home stays. If you have the time you could actually spend a couple of weeks meandering your way around the loop.
This challenging route with over 1,800 bends, twists and turns its way through forested mountains, valleys, paddy fields, ethnic minority villages, national parks, waterfalls, caves and hot springs. You name it, it’s all there.
I started my odyssey from Chiang Mai on Highway 1095. The roads that snake through the rugged mountains are in good shape and every so often I stopped to admire the scenery. On the way to Pai, I decided to spoil myself for a few hours at a hot springs. The town of Pai, set in a very pretty valley, is small but cosmopolitan and a hugely popular tourist hangout. The valley is the starting point for great white water rafting expeditions down Pai River and trekking opportunities are plenty in the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Mae Hong Son is the most mountainous province in Thailand and the stretch of Hwy 1095 from Pai to Mae Hong Son town offers, arguably, some of the most scenic drives in the north. Before arriving in Mae Hong Son pay a visit to Pang Ung Lake to feel the cool mountain air on your face as you feast your eyes on the scenery around you.
My last stop on the loop was Mae Sariang, a pleasant and peaceful town alongside the Yuam River. On the border with Myanmar, it is a crossroads for ethnic minorities. The trekking paths here are the most authentic in the north and worth trying if you’re tired of all the commercialized treks generally on offer.
Hwy 108 and 1009 back to Chiang Mai will take you to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, 2,500 metres above sea level. Also a national park, the area has enough waterfalls to last you a lifetime. It’s the perfect stopover for a refreshing splash and a picnic.
- By Fabien Vuillerey -
Poy Sang Long Procession of pre-puberty Shan boys preparing for monastic vows.
The Mae Surin Waterfalls.
Karen long neck women wear the rings from childhood, starting with four or five, and adding more annually up to a limit of 20.
Motorbike & car rentals:
Mr. Mechanic, a very reliable business has been operating successfully in Chiang Mai for over 15 years.
Mae Hong Son: Fern Resort. The wooden Shan-style bungalows are the perfect retreat for nature lovers.
Pai: Baan Benjarong Restaurant in Pai. Fantastic Thai cuisine. The grandmother was once a cook for the royal family.