Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
By car from Chiang Mai via the Mae Hong Son Loop and back to Chiang Mai. Tips and experiences with the car on the road on the Mae Hong Son Loop.
One of the most beautiful tours with a rental car you can do in Thailand is the drive over the Mae Hong Son Loop. The 600-kilometer route followed a winding mountain road with a scenic view of the mountains from Chiang Mai to Pai – Mae Hong Son – Khun Yuam – Mae La Noi – Mae Sariang – Hot – Hang Dong – Chiang Mai. 10 years ago I drove the first time by car over the Mae Hong Son Loop, this year (2016) I really wanted to do this round trip again, for which I planned a week.
From Bangkok we went to Chiang Mai with Bangkok Airways, I booked the flight directly through the Bangkok Airways website, they often have very good flight deals. All in all I paid 2400 Baht for round trip including 20kg luggage.
Hotels were not booked in advance for this trip, except for the first and last night in Chiang Mai, where I always prefer the Duangtawan Hotel, which has a parking garage, a rich breakfast buffet and above all a central location.
As rental car I chose a Toyota Altis, which cost 230 EUR/week including insurance package. To the question if you can do the Mae Hong Son Loop with a small car, I can only say “Yes”, a large car is not necessary due to the good road conditions, unless you are traveling with several people and a lot of luggage.
I didn’t use my navigation device this time, because I wanted to try out the cell phone navigation of Google Maps and got myself a car cell phone holder* with charger for the smartphone at the cigarette lighter for on the way, in order not to stand there after a short time with empty accumulator. Cell phone navigation proved to be very easy and Google navigated very accurately, no problems here along the way, everything I entered was found.
Chiang Mai – Pai:
The first leg was 135 kilometers from Chiang Mai to Pai, which can be done in three hours. In Chiang Mai, I left early at 8 a.m., via Mae Rim (road 107 Chotana RD.) and from KM 18, north of Mae Rim, just before Mae Taeng we continued on the 1095. The view is particularly impressive from KM 43, when the road reaches a height of 1.Reached 350 meters before descending back into the River Pai valley.
A leisurely drive is in order here to enjoy the beautiful view. Viewpoints overlooking the mountain forests and gorges are everywhere along the Mae Hong Son Loop. Also some police checkpoints can be found on the Mae Hong Son Loop, but here you have nothing to fear as a tourist, mostly you are waved through:
After the short bridge visit we went 10 km further into the city center of Pai. The road was quite dusty due to the prevailing dryness, which was no wonder with 43 degrees outside temperature.
Pai is the ideal place for backpackers, mopeds to explore the area are available for rent everywhere, a car is not necessary here, the small town can be easily explored on foot. Respect to the two ladies who met me on the way, traveling with all their luggage in the prevailing heat in May, this is the best way to travel the north of Thailand.
In Pai there is nothing lacking for the individual tourist, there are many cheap accommodations and cozy pubs. Actually I wanted to make a stopover in Pai for one night, but then I changed my mind.
In Pai, I made a few laps around town, checking out the walking street and a few guesthouses, which I guess there’s no shortage of here. There are enough accommodations here, a paradise for backpackers. Since I was very well in time, I thought about going on to Mae Hong Son to stay a little longer there.
Wat Phra That Mae Yen:
Two kilometers east of Pai is Wat Mae Yen, on the way there you cross a bridge and after approx. one kilometer, the entrance to the temple can already be seen on the left side of the road.
Further it goes then by foot 350 steps up the temple, where already a large white Buddha statue is to be seen. I had saved myself the climb up the stairs in the midday heat (43°), but there is supposed to be a nice view over the Pai Valley from the top, especially at sunset, as a couple of local vacationers told me.
Huai Nam Dang National Park:
The area north and east of Pai is part of the Huai Nam Dang National Park, I had saved a visit due to time constraints.
Pai Hot Springs:
A bit outside of Pai, in the direction of Mae Hong Son, you can find the Pai Hot Springs. The way there is well signposted and the entrance fee of 50 baht is quite reasonable. Here you can take a short break and relax a bit in the warm water. But it is not a highlight, who is on the way to Mae Hong Son, can have a look here.
From Pai to Mae Hong Son:
From Pai to Mai Hong Son it went approx. 120 kilometers down Road 1095, passing Pai’s small regional airport just outside of town.
As pure driving time from Pai to Mae Hong Son you should plan two hours, if you want to see something on the way, like the beautiful Lot Cave and Mae Lana Cave, which I unfortunately passed, you should take more time, because on the way there is a lot to see, especially hot springs, waterfalls and caves, which are located off along the route 1095.
Soppong is a small quiet village, located in a mountain pass on Route 1095, between Pai and Mae Hong Son. In the vicinity of the village there are numerous caves, including Lot Cave, one of the largest caves in Thailand, which is crossed by a river. At the cave entrance, boats and cave guides can be hired for a fee.
On some sections you can buy cheap provisions for the road, like drinks, fruit and hot meals (Thai food). Here you should take a rest, the street vendors are happy about every customer.
The road conditions on the Mae Hong Son Loop can be described as “very good” designate, the winding roads are in pristine condition, unlike many years ago when I first drove over the Mae Hong Son Loop.
On the way there are some view points, where you can enjoy the view of the mountains, also the traffic on the Mae Hong Son Loop keeps within limits, here is driving really fun. Especially for motorcyclists who met me on the way, the Mae Hong Son Loop should be a paradise.
Mae Hong Son:
In total, I had traveled 350 kilometers from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son and arrived there in the late afternoon. The first thing I did was to look for suitable accommodation, of which there is no shortage in Mae Hong Son. There are numerous guesthouses and hotels in and outside of the city, so it might be difficult to choose one. I had three hotels shortlisted as a suitable hotel for the next few days:
Fern Resort Mae Hong Son:
The Fern Resort is located ca. 7 kilometers south outside the city center, in a very quiet environment in the middle of nature. The whole facility is integrated into the landscape and is especially suitable for nature lovers.
Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort:
The Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort is located on the southern outskirts of Mae Hong Son and is an oasis of tranquility. Ideal for those who are on the road all day and want to spend the evening in the hotel.
The Ngamta Hotel has a central location in Mae Hong Son. From here, you can reach everything the small town has to offer on foot in the evening.
Because of the good location I decided to stay at the Ngamta Hotel, here you could leave the car in the evening and explore Mae Hong Son on foot. The location is just perfect, close to Jong Kham pond, a small lake in Mae Hong Son, and Wat Jong Kham.
Across the street from the Ngamta Hotel is a footpath that leads up to Wat Doi Kong Mu, from which there is a great view, especially in the evening, of the Mae Hong Son valley. As an alternative to the footpath, which consists of many steps, you can also drive up by car, the path is signposted.
Nightlife Mae Hong Son:
A turbulent nightlife in Mae Hong Son, as it is in the tourist strongholds, you will find here in vain. Here it is quiet, a few cozy restaurants, a few bars and the daily night market, where you can eat a little something cheap, that’s about it.
Here, the sidewalks are raised pretty early on. You don’t need to come to Mae hong Son to party, after all you are on the road all day to see the area, so you are happy to go to sleep in the evening after a few cozy beers.
Sights Mae Hong Son:
In and around Mae Hong Son there is a lot to see, here the rental car proves to be advantageous, you are independent of travel agencies and can arrange your own excursions. If you don’t have a car available, there are some travel agencies and tour operators in Mae Hong Son where you can book excursions.
Sutongpe Bamboo Bridge:
A bamboo bridge that crosses rice paddies and a river that is a little hard to find, about 10 kilometers out of Mae Hong Son towards Pai (Route 1095) a turnoff goes off the road to the left, which is ca. one kilometer over a dirt road leading to a temple. There’s a sign at the turn.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu:
The most famous destination in Mae Hong Son might be the temple on the mountain Doi Kong Mu. From up here you have a great view over Mae Hong Son.
Wat Chong Kham:
Chong Kham Temple is located in the middle of Mae Hong Son and is open to visitors every day. The entrance is free.
Mae Hong Son Lake:
The most famous lake in Mae Hong Son is Chong Kham Lake, which is located opposite the temple of the same name and is a good photo motif, especially at sunset.
Long Neck Village:
Driving out of town south on Route 108, after a few miles you’ll come to a turnoff that leads to the Long Neck Village boat dock (follow signs). The trip on the river with a longtail boat to the village takes half an hour and costs 500 baht.
All in all I spent three days in Mae Hong Son, if I had had more time I would have added a few more days, in the small quiet town I liked it very much. The journey continued on road 108 via Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi.
Mae La Noi:
In Mae La Noi I made a little stop to look at the mountain scenery. I left Route 108 and drove up a mountain pass towards Ban Mae Sa Kua, which is surrounded by fields.
But what is grown here I could not find out, since I was traveling in high summer, the mountain fields were already harvested and burned, nevertheless the view from the top is fantastic.
After the mountain tour, I went back to the 108, towards Mae Sariang, where I actually wanted to spend the night. Since it was just noon, I decided to drive on and look at the signposted tourist attractions. Everywhere there are hot springs, caves and temples to see, one spring I wanted to check out and followed a sign on the side of the road.
Actually I should have guessed, as so often you follow the huge sign “Tourist attraction” on the side of the road, leave the main road and drive a few kilometers on a well paved country road.
After that you follow the sign, which by the way gets smaller and smaller and the road conditions suddenly get worse, from here on you should not be able to drive on with the rental car at all according to the insurance conditions.
That’s why you should always look out for this sign: H108* = black stars on main road numbers and along routes indicate poor road conditions where the road surface has humps, potholes or broken up areas.
But I didn’t care about that now, I really wanted to know what special things there were to see, so I carefully drove on at walking pace, past harvested rice fields and a few farmers’ huts. After a rather adventurous drive I finally arrived at my destination, which looked very romantic from afar.
A suspension bridge stretched over a river leading to a bungalow complex embedded in the forest. Connected were some thermal springs where you could swim and barbecue areas, here you can stay out for a few days.
Since I came here in the low season, there was of course nothing going on, the river was only a rinsal due to the prevailing drought and the forests were parched. Again, the smoke from the burning fields and woods spreading across the area was disturbing everywhere here.
Mae Sariang – Hot – Chom Thong – Hang Dong:
After the stopover, we continued again on Route 108 towards Hot. Here there was not much to see and drove further through the city of Hot to Hang Dong, where I wanted to spend the night.
If you want to see the Doi Inthanon National Park, you can turn off the 108 after Chom Thong onto the 1009, the well-built road leads to the summit of Mount Inthanon, up to over 2000 meters above sea level.
Since I already know the Doi Inthanon very well, I decided to go on to Hang Dong. On this day I had 270 kilometers on the speedometer from Mae Hong Son to Hang Dong and this time I wanted a nice place to stay where I could relax a bit. On the way I found only cheap hotels, but I didn’t feel like it. So I let my navi decide, which guided me to the Baan Nam Ping Riverside Village.
Baan Nam Ping Riverside Village – Hang Dong:
The small and cozy bungalow complex appealed to me after a short inspection. Spacious bungalows, large terrace with comfortable seating, quiet location directly on the Ping River and friendly staff.
The owner was from Singapore who knew his way around Chiang Mai, as well as the Mae Hong Son Loop. Here I received many tips on what to look at on the way, I had not even seen half of what he told me everything.
The room rate for a deluxe bungalow incl. Breakfast was 1500 baht, but well worth it. From here it is very easy to get to all the sights around Chiang Mai by moped, motorcycle or car, you save yourself the traffic chaos in Chiang Mai and return to peace and quiet in the evening.
As the owner told me, he wanted to sell the bungalow complex in the near future and go back to Pai, where he had lived before, to open a guesthouse there.