Motorbiking the Mae Hong Son Loop is the best way to experience it.
Biking to Pai from Chiang Mai
Ride the Mae Hong Son Motorbike itinerary either clockwise or counter-clockwise, both are stunning. Our personal preference is to head towards Mae Sariang first in a clockwise direction as the section of road between Chiang Mai and Pai is pretty dangerous and best kept until the end.
Almost 600km, the Mae Hong Son Loop is the only true way to discover the rural towns of Thailand’s northern region. Caveat: this is so not for newbie’s on bikes. Get experienced and then join the trail of adventure as you ride through the provincial backroads of Thailand. If it’s your first time renting a bike in Thailand, you might want to think about if this trip is really for you.
Whichever direction you’re headed, stopovers along the way are Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park, Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, and last but not least: Bodega Pai. Break it up with breathers at Mae Sot and the Karen villages. Five days to two weeks is sound for the doing loop at your leisure.
Motorbike Rentals in Chiang Mai
Before you head out on the Mae Hong Son loop, you want to have the best motorbike. We suggest starting and finishing in Chiang Mai as it is the best place to shop around with endless amounts of bike shops. Don’t just jump in and rent the first one take your time checking out the bikes thoroughly.
The bigger the bike, the better the ride (those hills are endless to climb sometimes) with a semi-automatic or manual transmission providing greater control on mountain roads. You don’t need to go over 125cc; it might also attract too much attention.
Generally, you’re looking 200 to 250 baht per day although price varies depending on rental duration, bike type and the shop itself. Deals are always on option if you take on a longer rental. You could also go down the buy-and-resell route; with such a trip, you don’t want to risk being stuck with a bike you can’t resell or worse not having the proper paperwork.
Mae Hong Son Loop Itinerary
Three Nights in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is not a second Bangkok. In fact, life is a lot more chilled which might be due to all the green nature in and around the city. A leisurely pace and more culture than the rest of Thailand, Chiang Mai, and especially the old city, is where you’ll find the majority of tourists. In contrast to what we just described, our pub crawl in Chiang Mai is one of our most successful, even taking the #1 nightlife activity on TripAdvisor. It’s wild.
With great food and accommodation, springboard from the old town to check out the area on day-tours. Wandering around the old town, the hours of the day slip by as you pop into Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or the elephant sanctuaries.
One Night at Doi Inthanon National Park
Setting out from Chiang Mai, head towards Doi Inthanon National Park which is about a two hour ride. You want to leave the city early so that you have time to take in all the mind-blowing scenery and its waterfalls and hiking paths. To give you a little bit of structure, we’ve created our ideal itinerary:
6:00 AM: Bright and breezy get out of the city. If you’re still hungover from the night before, push back your departure to 8:00am. Be warned, this is to your detriment as you could end up driving in the dark or trying to squeeze too much in. Ride out on route 1009 with a full tank (bike and belly) as you won’t see any more restaurants until you get to the Park.
8:00 AM: You can really arrive too early at Doi Inthanon National Park as it opens at 5:00am. With a full tank of gas, pay the 300 baht entrance fee before heading into the park. First port of call has to be the temple/pagoda before the deluge arrives.*
Note that these are the rates at the time of publishing this blog on March 4, 2020. National park fees sometimes get increased without any warning or public announcement so if it’s more than 300 baht, sorry! And if this is the case, could you leave a comment so we can keep up to date info for our readers? Thanks in advance!
8:30 AM to 9:30 AM: Park your bike for free and take some time to explore; it’ll take about thirty minutes to arrive at Doi Inthanon’s major temple. Taking a hired tour guide, you’ll definitely visit the inside of both temples, as well as the nearby gardens.
9:30 AM to 11:30 AM: With the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon National Park is the “roof of Thailand”. Accessing the trail entrance, turn back towards the highway and take a left. As far as hiking in Thailand goes, this is considered one of the most scenic views in the entire country.
11:30 AM to 12:30 PM: Having hiked Thailand’s highest mountain, you’ll probably be feeling the hunger pangs by now. At the start of the trail, there’s a great cafe and food area, which isn’t too pricey.
12:30 PM to 3:00 PM: No need to hang around too long, get back on your motorbike to carry on exploring the park. Riding around, you’ll spot signs for waterfalls and hot springs. With the majority no more than twenty minutes off the main road, they’re super hidden treasures.
3:00 PM: Early start means early finish after this long but amazing day. After spending the day in the saddle, you might prefer a proper bed in a local homestay. If you’re feeling hard and want to commune with nature, why not camp in the park especially as gear rental is available. Wherever you overnight, stay on the western side of Doi Inthanon, from where you’ll head out in the morning.
One Night in Mae Sariang
Small and untouched, Mae Sariang is a three hour ride from Doi Inthanon National Park. To discover this sleepy town ost in time, leave the park early. With its chilled vibe, it is not another tourist trap and definitely deserves to be explored.
Seeing that it is doable in a day even at a lazy pace, detailed itinerary is not a requirement here. The daily market and some of the old temples are worth a visit. Sundays, the Walking Street is a great market to visit. With must-see areas done and dusted, lock into the local vibes and relax by the river with a brewski. Still feeling adventurous, ride out Mae Sam Laep or just poodle round the countryside.
Two Nights in Mae Hong Son
Three hours north of Mae Sariang is Mae Hong Son, inspiration for our infamous motorbike loop. Just over the border is Myanmar (aka Burma), Mae Hong Son is surrounded by Thailand’s hill tribes. More hustle and bustle than Mae Sariang, it’s still not exactly a big city here.
As all the must-sees are spread out around Mae Hong Son, a couple of days here with day trips are the order of the day. They are totally worth it.
First on our list is Wat Phra That Doi Kon Mu from where you’ve got stunning aerial views of Mae Hong Son. If you’re up here, you might as well trek out a little further to some of the hill tribe villages and explore the Tham Pla-Namtok Pha Suea National Park. Tours are easily arranged if you’re not feeling daring.
Other top spots are the Pha Sua Waterfall and Pang Tong Palace which are located close by each other. The villages of Ban Rak Thai and Pang Ung are in the area and worth a visit too..
Three Nights in Pai
Two hours east of Mae Hong Son along a mountainous section of the loop, Pai is located on the map. So, worth the work!
Once you get to Pai, you end up in the “Pai-Hole”. You are going to stay longer than you intended. To avoid getting drawn in, stick to our schedule otherwise the three planned nights will not cover it all.
Day 1: Pai is the perfect place to do nothing. Laze around town, maybe grab some local maps to plan your explorations of the neighbouring areas. Take in the sights and the sounds, and don’t forget the tastes. Take it all in. Drinking games start around 7PM at our hostel in Pai and the pub crawl takes off when we’re all liquored up and ready to see Pai’s Walking Street.
Day 2: Okay, so you’ve had a day of nothing in Pai. Now it’s time to put your inner discoverer to the test. There’s some phenomenal one-day motorbike route or why not watch the sunset at Pai Canyon or Mae Yen’s White Buddha.
Day 3: As you spend more time in Pai, you’ll start to notice there is more and more to see and do. Of course, this trail is not only about seeing devastatingly gorgeous nature areas, the villages and their inhabitants; it’s a chance for you to meet new people and discover their adventures, even possibly making them your own.
The return journey to Chiang Mai is considered to be the most dangerous part of the journey. Leave Pai early, give yourself time and put that helmet on.
Tips for Your Mae Hong Son Loop Trip
Leave as early in the morning so that you don’t miss all the amazing stops along the way. More importantly, you don’t get stuck on the side of the mountain once the the sun has gone down.
Cash is king for this trip, but no need to flash it around. With few ATMs on the route, cash is what talks if you need gas or worse case scenario, your bike breaks down.
Get a Thai SIM card and use it if nothing else for Google Maps. Road signs are rare and mostly in Thai. Google Maps (and Google) could literally be your answer to everything on this trip.
Stay left – so many people forget this one!
You might be chasing that wind in your hair feeling but you won’t feel that way if you get a fine from the police or worse end up in a crash. Wear your helmet.
Biking the Mae Hong Son Loop can get cold at the higher points so wear appropriate clothes: close-toed shoes, long pants, and sleeves. It also makes a big difference if you happen to have an accident.
Plan ahead when it comes to tanking gas. The chain gas stations are a good deal cheaper than the local ones. Fill up when you spot one rather than choking out the last drops to get to a smaller, costly one.
This is not the time to pack the kitchen sink. Keep it to one bag per person with a change or two of clothes as well as your camera, phone, wallet, and toiletries. Store your big bags in Chiang Mai in one of the hostels while you’re out on the loop.
The Mae Hong Son Loop is an Adventure Waiting for You
If you’ve added the Mae Hong Son Loop to your adventures, we’d love to hear how you did it!! What was your favourite part of the trip? Tell us about your most memorable view from the biking trip in the comments!