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I thought I might share my first experience riding the Mae Hong Son loop, something the husband and I did back in October 2014.
The idea of exploring a foreign land on two wheels is highly romanticised. There truly is something more immersive to tour via motorcycle than car. Perhaps, that is one of the many reasons why we ride… So, while many have done this loop before, I know several others who are interested, and keen to know more.
If you embark on this trip, expect to discover Thailand’s northern provinces via the Mae Hon Son loop through its most mountainous province. As the name suggests, this loop is a circular route, starting from Chiang Mai through the Mae Hong Son province, and ending back up at Chiang Mai. It is approximately 600km long, and one would need a minimum of 4 days to complete the loop (excluding time for sightseeing and activities along the way).
The Mae Hong Son loop can be taken clockwise (Chiang Mai-Mae Sariang-Mae Hong Son-Pai-Chiang Mai) or anti-clockwise (Chiang Mai- Pai- Mae Hong Son- Mae Sariang- Chiang Mai). Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand, and it would be a worthwhile detour (just before Mae Sariang) – if you ride to the top, you are promised a spectacular view of the countryside.
We chose the clockwise direction and took about a week (six days to be exact) resting two nights in Chiang Mai, one in Mae Hong Song, and another two nights in Pai. I am to understand the anti-clockwise direction is more treacherous for the novice rider.
Such experiences are best shared with stunning photos. Unfortunately, I do not have National Geographic-esque images to post on this occasion since both my hands were occupied, to say the least. These would have to do.
We flew to Chiang Mai and rented motorcycles from POP Rider in Chiang Mai. Naturally, we brought our own gear. You can look up POP Rider via Facebook here. I took the Kawasaki KLX 150S and my partner decided on the Honda CRF250L fitted with semi-road tyres. I recommend taking smaller bikes for their agility and maneuverability. PIus, you might not get to refuel as frequently, so best to go with something more fuel-efficient especially if it’s your first time there.
While sightseeing in Chiang Mai, we popped by Rider’s Corner Cafe, ( I hear it is a rite of passage for all visiting motorcycle riders who are passing through) and naturally, the Kawasaki dealer for me – I needed parts for my ride at that point, a KLX125.
As always, getting lost on an adventure is nothing new to us and true to that spirit, we took a wrong turn and ended up on gravelly, unpaved road – they were constructing a new road to Pai. To say that skill and luck were paramount in controlling the motorcycle (stopping it from spinning and sliding out of control, hitting the non-existent guardrail and tumbling down the side of the mountain) is a massive understatement.
I’d like to think God must have loved us a little more that fateful day. We are grateful to have survived without so much as a scratch.
So, here are the details. We pushed off from Chiang Mai around 8am and travelled through Doi Inthanon, arriving in Mae Hong Song town past midnight. There was little to do at that point except clean up, celebrate with a can of beer, then say a night prayer and get rested up for the next leg of the loop. After breakfast the next morning, we pushed off towards Pai around 9am and arrived in Pai in the evening past 5pm.
No, we weren’t crawling i.e. travelling at a leisurely pace. And no, traffic wasn’t heavy.
It’s challenging to ride through 1,864 corners (Chiang Mai – Mae Hong Son), more so than blasting through straights on a freeway anyway. Throughout the loop, there are quaint little coffee shops, ramshackle villages, some gravity-defying hairpins, more twists and even more turns to overcome. It is even more challenging to ride the loop in total darkness (there are no street lamps!?), which is what we ended up doing towards the last stretch from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son.
Don’t forget to visit the Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce to get your Mae Hong Son Loop completion certificate!
Since we decided to take our time with this trip, we spent two nights in Pai walking the night markets and relaxing. We even found Teh Tarik!
It is 762 turns from Pai to Chiang Mai, by the way. Frankly, I was all cornered out by the end of the journey. Somewhere in between, we stopped to visit the Karen Long Neck Village (or Chiang Rai Mai Hill Tribes), also known as the Indigenous Peoples of the World.
So that’s the total distance I travelled over the six days – 748km. In one of the photos below, I am seen at POP Rider Chiang Mai returning the rented KLX.
Overall, it was a fun-filled experience and an unforgettable adventure. I always prescribe a dose of motorcycle therapy because it is critical for the soul.
To contact POP Rider Chiang Mai, hop onto their Facebook Page or click this link for more details on the Mae Hong Son loop – probably a good jumping off point to planning your trip. I won’t go into details on motorcycle rental prices because this trip happened over two years ago but I think it’s safe to say, one can budget about S$40 and upwards (dependent on type and engine capacity) to rent a motorcycle a day.
Do pack light but remember thicker gloves, rain gear, light snacks and some water for the journey especially if you are travelling during the months October through December as it gets pretty dry and chilly up in the mountains. Happy trails and good luck!
And as always, keep the rubber side down.