Everything you need to know about riding a motorbike on the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand.
Mae Hong Son Loop
Northern Thailand is the kind of place that lingers in your heart long after you leave.
Offering a stark contrast to the southern beaches and islands the cooler, mountainous region offers all sorts of activities including trekking, volunteering with elephants, incredible temples and one of the country’s most famous motorcycle trips, the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Starting from the gorgeous city of Chiang Mai, the Mae Hong Son Loop is a 600km journey that takes you through the Mae Hong Son province.
The main towns that you visit will be Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai, and you can tackle the loop in either direction.
For those who wish to explore authentic Thai towns, cascading waterfalls, limestone caves and rugged wilderness this is the adventure for you!
The Mae Hong Son Loop is best undertaken on a semi-automatic scooter or larger motorcycle rented from Chiang Mai.
The road is notoriously difficult for inexperienced riders, with the stretch between Chiang Mai and Pai alone boasting 762 hilly curves. For this reason we recommend doing the loop in a clockwise direction, heading through Mae Sariang first.
The road is not too busy for South East Asian standards and is quite flat and simple – a good way to build your confidence up before you start heading into the mountains.
We recommend doing the trip in at least four days, longer if you want to enjoy some time in any of the towns (Pai especially).
We rented our scooters from the company Mr Mechanic in Chiang Mai. They offer decent bikes from your typical 100cc automatics right up to large 600cc road bikes.
Alesha and I rented 110cc semi-automatics and this was perfect for tackling the Mae Hong Son Loop. The semi-automatics are better on fuel and allow more control over mountain climbs.
Don’t be put off about the gears; They are easy to use! It will only take an hour or so if you are inexperienced to pick up the skills need to ride smoothly and it will make a world of difference on the road.
Mr Mechanic also has the option of taking out added insurance so if something goes wrong with the bike they will reimburse you for any repairs needed along the way or will deliver a new bike to any part of the loop. It doesn’t cost that much more, so may as well do it!
Travel Insurance For The Mae Hong Son Loop
While Mr Mechanic does offer insurance for their motorbikes, they do not offer health or medical emergency insurance. If you are thinking about riding a motorbike on the Mae Hong Son Loop, we highly recommend you buy travel insurance.
Unfortunately accidents do happen, and even though 95% of people who ride this magnificent stretch of Northern Thailand do so without incident, it is good to be covered in case of emergency.
Medical care in Thailand is surprisingly expensive (but that’s because the quality is so good). If you are sitting on the fence about it, read our Do I Need Travel Insurance page and decide for yourself.
We recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance.
DAY 1 – Chiang Mai To Mae Sariang (190km)
It is pretty straight-forward leaving Chiang Mai to start the Mae Hong Son Loop. From the old city, exit out the South Gate and then take Thipanet Rd (towards the airport). Follow signs to Mae Hong Son.
You cruise along Route 108 for 90km or so to the town of Hot. This drive is long, straight and very simple. Not too much traffic to worry about. Turn right at the roundabout, continuing to follow Route 108 (signs to Mae Sariang/Mae Hong Son).
From here, the scenery drastically improves. You will be following a meandering river surrounded by lush vegetation. A few bends and curves in the road, but nothing that will get your heart pumping. Very few elevation changes.
The town of Mae Sariang is quite pleasant, with some nice temples to check out.
We stayed at the Mitaree Resort in Mae Sariang. Note that this is a budget place, and “resort” isn’t really the right word. Still, it was comfortable and adequate for us.
Address: 34/1 Waingmai Rd. Mae Sarieng
Telephone: +66 (0) 53-68 1109
Web: Book Mitaree Hotel On Agoda
Pricing: 200- 800 Baht
If you are looking for something a bit higher end in Mae Sariang, Agoda has the best selection of options. Have something booked before you arrive so you don’t spend hours riding around trying to find somewhere to rest your hear.
Things To Do In Mae Sariang
There are markets on daily, but now and then if you are lucky there is a special event for some kind of celebration. When we were there there was an event about teaching farmers to grow other types of produce to discourage the cultivation of poppies for opium.It was very interesting looking at the displays of sustainable living, plantations, military installations, etc. There were performances on the stage with cultural music and dancing. The costumes were amazing. The standard night markets were full of all sorts of things to buy from meat to toiletries to vegetables to electronics.
- Wat Chomchaeng
This temple has a nice view of the town. There are about 40 stairs to get up there but it is a peaceful place. Remember- you are in a Buddhist temple, please be respectful and cover up. No singlets and short shorts.
- Doi Inthanon
The highest mountain in Thailand, this is a worthwhile detour if you are making good time on the way to Mae Sariang. You can ride to the top and will be afforded amazing views over the surrounding countryside.
DAY 2 – Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son (140km)
The road out of Mae Sariang begins much the same as it was coming in. Trees and few bends. But this soon changes with some nice banked curves and elevation gains.
The seemingly endless forest starts to change to gorgeous green farmland. The level of traffic drops away to be almost non-existent and there are quite a few little villages you can stop off at for a refreshing drink and a quick bite to eat.
Don’t forget to stop off at the cafe 17km from Mae Hong Son to enjoy a fresh coffee with a spectacular view. A perfect break along the Mae Hong Son Loop!
Arriving in Mae Hong Son you may be surprised at how large the town actually is. It has every kind of amenity you could possibly need and a decent selection of guesthouses.
Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son Hotel
Address: Sorry, we could not find this address online. It is off the main road, Khunlum Praphat, on a side road. If you ask a local they would be happy to help.
Pricing: 300- 350 Baht per night
It is a two storey white building with 8 rooms. The rooms are extremely large, with their own private bathroom (hot water and towel), TV and fridge. The lady running it is very friendly and lives behind the reception area. Each room has a sitting area.
This place is hidden off the main road and down a side street. We came across it by chance and were glad we did. The lady was super friendly and very welcoming.
Things To Do In Mae Hong Son:
- Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (top of the hill)
- Temple at the bottom of the hill
- Wat Chong Kham (near the lake)
- Lake Jong Kum
DAY 3 – Mae Hong Son to Pai (110km)
The road is windy, but it is scenic and beautiful. You need to be very careful on this leg of the journey due to the bends and steep hills you will encounter.
Is very picturesque and the ride will probably take longer than expected as you stop for numerous photo opportunities and to check out the huge number of attractions to see.
The final 50km on this section of the Mae Hong Son Loop sees you ride to the top of a mountain pass and then descend into the valley with spectacular vistas and fun curves to take at speed, if you are feeling ready!
Address: Over the bamboo bridge, directly in front of you when you cross over.
Pricing: 200 Baht in low season, 300 Baht in high season.
Web: Book Family Huts on Booking.com
This place is located on the other side of the river, but downtown. You have to walk over a bamboo broken bridge and it will be straight in front of you as you hop off. The man that ran it and his staff were very friendly.
The bungalows are simple but with a hammock out the front (this is all you need). It had a double bed with a private bathroom. Towels and mosquito net were supplied. It was very relaxing and nice just to chill in the hammock, read a book and people watch.
Address: 291 Moo 1, Mae Hee. From town head up past the swimming pool and the road to the circus school.
Pricing: 150 Baht per person for Dorm, 450 Baht for Private Bungalow.
Web: Book Spicy Pai on Hostel World
Spicy Pai is one of the funnest hostels you will come across in all of Thailand. It is very rustic with basic facilities, but the vibe is great.
Located amongst rice fields with spectacular views of the mountains surrounding town, Spicy Pai attracts chilled backpackers, hippies and those looking to spend their days smoking and exploring and their nights drinking and partying.
The kind of place you go for a night and spend the next two years laying in a hammock contemplating how awesome your life is.
Things To Do In Pai
- Check out our 10 things to do in Pai post.
Things to do on the ride:
- Pha Sua Waterfall
This waterfall is on the Route 1095 to Pai. It is well signed so don’t worry about missing the turn off. It is a beautiful and large waterfall and you ride through some very pleasant villages to get there. It is definitely worth a stop
DAY 4 – Pai to Chiang Mai (130km)
The most popular section of the Mae Hong Son Loop is this one, with minibuses and other tourists plying the route at all times of the day. Directly out of Pai you start to climb another steep hill and the 762 bends come at you hard and fast.
The nature changes with the altitude gain and you are eventually riding through the sweet aroma wafting from pine trees. You stay at height for a while and then begin to descend, offering more sensational views and tight corners.
Plenty of villages provide ample rest opportunities. Eventually you reach the highway for the anti-climatic end to your ride to Chiang Mai.
- CM Blue House
Address: 30-1 Moonmuang Rd. Soi 6, Chiang Mai
Pricing: 300 Baht Fan/ 450 Baht A/C (Low Season), 350 Baht Fan/ 500 Baht A/C (High Season)It is a two story light blue building located in the old city. The rooms are large with their own private bathrooms (with hot water and towels). You can choose from fan or air conditioning.They have a garden area on the side for you to sit in and enjoy some outdoor time. They have refreshments available on an honesty system and when you check out you fix up that side also.We have stayed in Chiang Mai a couple of times now and wish we found this little gem earlier.
- CM Blue House
Things To Do In Chiang Mai
We would love to tell you what we loved but everyone is different and has their own ideas of things worth exploring. Make sure check out our post on “Things to do in Chiang Mai” as this is a magical city. Our favourite attractions were:
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Located at the top of Doi Suthep mountain this is one of the most picturesque temples in all of the Chiang Mai region. The ride to the top is beautiful with lots of great places to stop off and see along the way.
Check out Lesh’s Vipassana Meditation Retreat post here.
- Sunday night walking stree or Saturday night markets
Always a fun place to pick up a gift or be adventurous with some different foods. Both markets are large, but the Sunday walking market is huge. This one was our favourite and it vines off into many side streets also. While you are enjoying your evening, you will be entertained by all kinds of different music from the street performers.
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