Mae Hong Son Loop – Travel Guide 20212021-06-16T21:12:22+07:00
Mae Hong Son Loop – Travel Guide 2021
The Mae Hong Son Loop is found in the most mountainous region of Thailand, away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy parts of the country. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a circular route going through the main tourist points of interest in and around the Mae Hong Son province. The loop itself is off the beaten path, as the region does not get too many tourists, but is the best way to experience Northern Thailand authentically.
The itinerary that has been put together for you consists of a combination of gardens, museums, waterfalls, and viewpoints. The entire itinerary will take approximately 4 days to complete. The tour takes the traveler through major parts of Northern Thailand and showcases the best that the Thailand hills have to offer.
The distance of the route is about 600 kilometers if you do not turn off the main road. However, if you decide to investigate all of the interesting and scenic places, it will be 900 kilometers. Make sure to note that there are about 2000 small and large turns in the road. That’s why one cannot ride this loop in one day. Although if you have an iron butt, perhaps you’ll be able to complete it in two days, but most likely you will need at least three days minimum to ride the entire loop.
Accommodations are best booked in advance; between October and March this destination is very popular with foreign and local tourists. You can choose hotel accommodation or rent a guest house for a more authentic holiday. Below we will recommend several websites on which you can choose the best prices for accommodation during your trip.
The Mae Hong Son loop is about 600 km long and normally requires three or four days to complete. The adventure starts and ends in Chiang Mai, after having gone through a number of little villages, towns, and attractions on the way. The loop as a whole provides the traveler with the most authentic Northern Thai and Shan culture exposure that will surely enthrall anyone who makes the journey.
If you do not plan to continue your journey after this, then it does not matter in which direction you go – clockwise or counterclockwise. But if after you traverse the loop you also plan to visit Chiang Rai, then, in this case, it is better to start your journey clockwise.
This trek is possible to travel by car, as it gives you the flexibility to stop and stay wherever you want for however long you want. You can either rent a car and drive yourself or hire a taxi for the entire trip. The cost of a taxi on this route is about 4000-5000 baht per day, excluding the cost of housing.
If you want to rent a car for travel, we recommend Economy Bookings. It is a global search engine for finding cheap car rentals around the world. At the time of updating this guide (June 2021), you can find there a comfortable air-conditioned car for rent for only 3,300 baht for 5 days.
Since the Mae Hong Son Loop is a common tourist attraction, many bus companies conduct tours and are easy to find. However, bus tours do not offer the passengers much independence to explore. The plan is very firm. Also, many passengers will suffer motion sickness due to the twists and turns of the road. We suggest that you bring a few sanitary bags with you, just in case.
We highly recommend that you consider using a minibus service if you do not have experience driving on the left or have not spent significant time on a motorcycle. The roads can be dangerous
This mountain adventure road trip is exhilarating. Even so, we encourage all motorcycle riders to always wear a helmets, as these mountain roads can be as treacherous as they are dazzling.
Another very common option that tourists in Thailand use are scooters. We love them! Scooter and motorcycle rentals are cheap, available everywhere, and the bikes are easy to drive on the roads of Thailand as well. Make sure you know how to drive one and that you can keep yourself safe while doing so. You can rent motorcycles or scooters from the following places:
2) POP Rider – the largest fleet of motorcycles in Northern Thailand. You can find this motorcycle rental point near Tha Phae Gate, the main gate of the old city.
R – Recommended
MS – Must See
Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 1
The description of the itinerary is counterclockwise. The road from Chiang Mai to Pai takes the traveler through the hills of Northern Thailand. The distance between Chiang Mai and Pai is about 147 km.
A separate map has been published for those who only want to visit Pai ( <– click here ).
Heading to Pai
Chiang Mai Erotic Garden (R)
Off the beaten track of the touristy parts of Chiang Mai is a little place called the Chiang Mai Erotic Garden. Full of manicured pathways, it is a very well-maintained garden with artwork displayed throughout. The hostess, Katia, walks visitors through the garden and explains the artwork with respect to how and what each piece signifies.
Typically, this stop takes about two hours. But for travelers with a specific interest for horticulture, the flora and fauna are a treat! The Chiang Mai Erotic Garden is home to a variety of rare flowers and plants, each labeled with their botanical and common Thai names.
The garden is off the usual tourist paths of Chiang Mai. But, for anyone in the area, it is a place that should not be missed.
Mok Fa Waterfall (R)
If there is one thing Thailand’s mountainous regions are known for, it is for its waterfalls. Mok Fa is one of many waterfalls in the Chiang Mai region and on this tour. It is unique because of its segmented characteristic. Its overall height is about 60 meters and it is surrounded by shrubbery and small trees. The actual height of the waterfall is deceptive because of the trees, but it is breathtaking. There is water flowing throughout the year.
From the carpark, there is a well-marked forest trail that takes you to the foot of the waterfall. The usual time that tourists spend at this stop is around 30-45 minutes. During the summer, there are a lot of people swimming and cooling off in the pools at the base of the falls.
Pai Memorial Bridge (MS)
The Pai Memorial Bridge offers a foot path across the Pai river. The bridge was built during the Second World War as a route to attack Burma. It can be crossed prior to entering Pai It is made of solid steel and affords visitors picturesque views. The spot is a popular place among tourists for photographs and selfies.
Pai Canyon (MS)
Pai is a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai. The drive to Pai is set in the valley with hundreds of twists and turns, and at every turn, there is a picturesque view. The most scenic view, however, is the Pai Canyon. In Thai, the Pai Canyon is called the Kong Lan. The canyon has 30-meter dips and highs that look quite daunting. The best way to get to the Pai Canyon is to drive up. But for the more adventurous amongst us, there are treks and climbs that take you up the Canyon and all its features.
Like most things and places in the hills, the Pai Canyons are also enjoyed best either at sunrise or sunset.
Coffee In Love (R)
One hundred and forty-four kilometers from Chiang Mai is a coffee shop called Coffee In Love. The coffee shop is a small, roadside shop with beautiful views of the hills surrounding it. This is a coffee shop with the best view of the Pai Valley on the Mae Hong Son loop. The coffee shop is famous because it is the set of two major films in Thailand and China. Apart from this, the coffee shop is merely one of those stops-on-the-way places.
Pai: Things To Do
Legendary Pai Bamboo Bridge (R)
Pai is also home to the longest bamboo bridge in Thailand. It crosses over rice paddies, and right before harvest is the best time to visit. The rice fields and bamboo bridge are set with mountains in the background. The views are exhilarating and make the one km walk totally worth it.
Wat Nam Hu (R)
The Wat Nam Hoo Temple is two km from the town of Pai. Of all the Buddhist temples in the country, Wat Nam Hoo is one of the less spectacular ones in terms of architecture and views. Nevertheless, this temple is famous and is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists because of the story of the Buddha. The temple houses a bronze Buddha statue that once had holy water flowing through its head.
Santichon Village (R)
The Chinese village of Santichon was founded by the Yunnan people when they fled from mainland China during the Mao Tse Tung revolution. Over the years, it has become a place tourists flock to. The town is also known for its authentic Chinese cuisine, little shops, and mule rides. We strongly recommend eating in the restaurant located nearby. Here you can find delicious Thai food and perhaps the best Chinese cuisine on the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Yun Lai View Point (MS)
The Yun Lai Viewpoint offers a 360-degree, panoramic view of the Pai valley. The viewpoint is also very crowded during the peak season. There is a small teahouse that is very popular among tourists. The Yun Lai Viewpoint is one of those stop-on-the-way kinds of places.
Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort (R)
The Pai Hot Springs Spa is a resort that is built around natural springs. The resort is ideal for staying for a couple of days to kick back and relax. This is a very popular place for swimming and mineral bath facilities. If you are traveling in peak season, it may be wise to book in advance as it tends to book quickly. The entrance fee is 100 THB for once visit but is less the more visits you make. It is about 500 THB for 10 times.
Sunset with Big White Buddha (MS)
One of the most imposing views from the Pai town is the Big White Buddha statue on a hill. It is a few minute’s walks up and the area surrounding the statue is tiled for people to sit and enjoy the view. One of the most touristy things to do at the Big White Buddha after climbing up is to sit and watch the sunset. The hill’s summit can also be reached by motorized transport, but by walk is the ideal way to get there.
Walking Street (MS)
Thailand is known as a shoppers’ paradise and for all the right reasons. Pai Walking Street is a night market that tourists flock to from all over the world. The Walking Street is set up with roadside stalls and food trucks that are aptly designed. The shops there sell souvenirs, unique handicrafts, lacquerware, and hand-made clothes. The Pai Walking Street begins at 17:00 every evening.
Heading to Mae Hong Son, Day 2
The distance between Pai and Mae Hong Son town is about 200 km. One can travel by motorbike, car, or minibus. The road is curvy and scenic, with breathtaking views at every turn. Hence, renting a motorbike is a good option. But if you are driving your own car, be aware that there are only a few gas stations on the entire loop.
Direct route – 93km
Scenic route – 202km
The things to do on the trip:
Doi Kiew Lom View Point (MS)
The Doi Kiew Lom Viewpoint is a typical viewpoint on the way to Mae Hong Son and is a stop-on-the-way kind of place. The viewpoint has a few coffee and tea stalls and is the good breakpoint on the road from Pai to MHS. The viewpoint offers the vast, mountainous greenery that Thailand has to offer and is breathtaking.
Tham Lod Cave (MS)
Tham Lod Cave is one of Thailand’s most impressive caves. It is wildly popular among tourists because of its limestone stalactite formations, which are impressive. The Tham Lod Cave is also one of the more easily accessible caves in the region. The main cave has a smaller cave, or a coffin cave, within it which is reachable by bamboo raft. While visiting the cave it is advisable to take plenty of time and to stay with your tour guide because it is not very hard to get lost in these places.
Phang Ma Pha View Point (MS)
Gem of the Mae Hong Son Loop. This is another stop-on-the-way kind of viewpoints because it has a couple of good coffee and tea stalls. The viewpoint is almost halfway between Pai and Mae Hong Son.
Tham Pla Fish Cave (R)
Tham Pla or the Fish Cave is a very popular tourist location in the region. It is about 17km from the town. The Fish Cave is a part of the Tham Pla – Namtok Pha Suea National Park. Tourists find this place very calming because of its small bridges above flowing streams filled with fish. The Fish Cave is home to many rare fish species and because it is confined in a small space, you just may be lucky enough to see some of them.
Outskirts of Mae Hong Son: Things To Do (+4-5 hours on the way):
Pha Suea Waterfall (MS)
The Pha Suea Waterfall is, by far, Thailand’s most beautiful. It flows from the Burmese river of Mae Sa-nga. The fall has six levels and flows year-round. It is about 26 km from Mae Hong Son and is one of Thailand’s most visited falls.
Ban Rak Thai (R)
Ban Rak Thai is a small Chinese mountain village near the town of Mae Hong Son. The village was built by the Kuomingtan for Yunnan people of China during the Mao revolution and the name translates to “the Thai-loving village.” Ban Rak Thai is also the last Army checkpoint before the Burma border; it is strategically positioned so that the officials can keep an eye on the Jade trade.
Ban Rak Thai is famous for its lake, authentic Chinese foods, souvenirs, and its conservative Yunnan culture. The mountain village surrounds a lake which is a pleasure to walk around. The Ban Rak Thai itself is very easy to get around.
Pang Tong Under Royal Forest Park, Pang Ung (R)
Pang Tong Under Royal Forest Park (Pang Ung) is a large park with tall trees. The trees are planted in parallel lines which makes it very appealing to the eye. The plantation park is also adjacent to a pristine lake. If you are really lucky, you will see the occasional swan among the ducks on the water. The Pang Ung is a very popular camping spot at the Mae Hong Son loop during the winters and is a very well endorsed place for other adventure activities.
Nai Soi Long Neck Village (R)
Nai Soi is a village that is about 20km from Mae Hong Son. The village is famous because it is close to a Thailand refugee camp. The village is predominantly occupied by the Long Neck Hill Tribe and the occasionally accepted refugee. Nai Soi, over the years, has become a very popular tourist destination because it is a safe environment in which tourists can interact with tribal people to get a deeper understanding of the life they live.
Mae Hong Son: Things To Do
Sunset on Doi Kong Mu (MS)
The Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is a Burmese temple built atop the Doi Kong Mu hill in the 1860s. The pagoda of the temple was built in traditional Burmese architecture and the temple is home to a lot of monks. The Wat Phra That Doi Kong Moo is famous among tourists because it is an ideal place from which to watch the sunset. The hill provides a vantage-point over the town and the airport.
You can find the times of sunsets and sunrises in this place at this link – https://firstname.lastname@example.org,97.9601902. Remember: Sunrise is the time when the sun has already risen above the horizon, and sunset is when the sun has already sunk below the horizon.
Wat Chang Klang and Wat Chong Kham (R)
Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham are two of the most famous temples in the Mae Hong Son province. The lake that surrounds the two temples adds to the beauty of the place. These two temples see a lot of tourists coming in because of the imposing image of they make at the edge of the lake with mountains in the background.
The best time to visit Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham is at night because both of the temples are lit up and the water below reflects them. The picture of the lights reflecting from the lake is probably one of the most photographed sights in town.
Mae Hong Son Loop Certificate
Ok, buddy. You did it! You made 1864 turns! Don’t forget to get a certificate to prove it. The cost of the certificate is 60 baht.
Do not forget that the working hours of the Chamber of Commerce, where you can receive your certificate, are from 8:00 to 18:00. The Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce is located opposite the only post office in the city, which is located a stone’s throw from the Chong Kham lake.
The exact point on the map and coordinates can be found in the description of the route in the .pdf file, which is located at the end of this guide for motorcycle travelers.
If you don’t want to visit the outskirts of Mae Hong Son and don’t want to watch the sunset on Doi Kong Mu, you can merge the 2nd and 3rd day. If the time is not enough, then split up your journey into two days (five-day trip).
Heading to Mae Sariang, Day 3
From Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang is about three hours. It is a 163 km drive that goes through the mountainous regions of Thailand’s northern parts.
There are two variants of the trip. Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang or to Mae Chaem (see below).
Direct route to Mae Sariang – 162km
Scenic route – 190km
Direct route to Mae Chaem – 164km
Scenic route – 192km
The things to do on the road:
Pha Bong Hot Spring (R)
Pha Bong Hot Springs is another place to relax in the Mae Hong Son province. It has one large hot spring with several smaller pools around it. The mountains rise in the background creating a place of tranquility. There also has a number of mineral spa baths in the area that are accessible for 50 baht for a single room or 400 baht for a big room.
Pha Bong View Point (R)
This is another stop-on-the-way kind of viewpoint because it has a couple of good coffee and tea stalls and a number of places to pick up snacks. The viewpoint falls in the middle of the road from Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang.
Mae Surin Waterfall (R)
The Mae Surin Waterfall is one of the main reasons tourists flock to Namtok Mae Surin National Park. It is Thailand’s one of the most picturesque waterfall, with multiple levels of rock and beautifully cascading, clear water. The serenity and sheer size of the Mae Surin are unmatched and bring in tourists from across the globe.
Thai-Japan Friendship Museum (R)
The Thai-Japan Friendship Museum is in the little sleepy town of Khun Yuam. The museum is home to many World War II memoirs. During the second world war, Khun Yuam was one of Japan’s most important Army bases. Since the museum contains exhibits that have nothing to do with the war, it is generally addressed as Thai-Japan Friendship Museum or the Khun Yuam Museum. The museum opened in 1995.
After visiting the museum, you can choose where to go. Mae Sariang – for those who want to ride longer. Mae Chaem – for those who want to return home quickly. The routes differ only in the length of the road. The points of interest on both routes are the same.
Get Back to Chiang Mai, Day 4
The Things to do on the road to Chiang Mai:
Mae Ya and Wachirathan Waterfalls + Great Holy Relics Pagodas + Highest Spot in Thailand are in the same national park, but they have different entrances. One ticket can be used to enter different entrances.
Chiang Mai is about 200 km away from Mae Sariang. Ittakes you through the hills back to the bustling city of Chiang Mai.
Direct route – 196km
Scenic route – 287km
Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong (R)
The Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong temple is a very important temple in Northern Thailand. The temple is located atop a hill and has an aerial view of the little villages below. The temple is a Buddhist relic because it is believed that Buddha himself visited the hill once where the temple now is. The temple also has a meditation center.
Mae Ya Waterfall (MS)
Mae Ya Waterfall is one of Thailand’s most beautiful. On the road between Mae Sariang and Chiang Mai, the fall is about 260m high and has many pools around it that locals swim and cool off in during the summer months.
Wachirathan Waterfall (MS)
The Wachirathan Waterfall is also in the foothills of the Doi Inthanon mountain in the Doi Inthanon National Park and is the second on the way up to the summit. This fall is by far much stronger than the Mae Klang, likely because it is higher. It is a lovely place to rest and relax before continuing on to the next point of interest.
The English translation of Wachirathan is “Diamond Creek” as the water flows down over granite as it reaches the ground, and millions of falling splashes become like airy fragments of bright and iridescent diamonds. The waterfall itself is quite segmented, but the cumulative height of the is approximately 80 meters.
On most days in the non-rainy seasons, there is one very forceful stream plummeting to the ground on the leftmost part of the fall and it gets stringier as you move to the right. But even without rain, there is enough water falling down the slope to create a powerful mist spray and make rainbows by reflecting the sun.
The Wachirathan is one of the more crowded ones on the way up to the summit. This waterfall is truly the best in Northern Thailand. The waterfall is accessible by road and has ample parking at the entrance.
Great Holy Relics Pagodas (MS)
The Great Holy Relics Pagodas is a temple that is built on the slopes of Doi Inthanon National Park. Because of its height and its location on the hills, the Great Holy Relics Pagodas is a nice stop to watch both the sunrise and the sunset from.
Doi Inthanon, Highest Spot in Thailand (MS)
The Doi Inthanon Peak is the highest mountain peak in Thailand and is a very popular destination for both domestic and international tourists. The elevation of the peak is around 8,500 ft and the view from this vantage point is phenomenal. Doi Luang and Doi Ang Ka are two other names that the locals sometimes call this peak which essentially translates to the same meaning, “the Big Mountain”.
Doi Inthanon was renamed in honor of the last king of the Chiang Mai Province who was deeply concerned and involved in the conservation of forest lands and the mountains. In fact, he wanted his ashes to be interred on the summit. Apart from being a symbol of historical importance, this mountain is also home to the Thai Air Force’s weather radar and the Thai National Observatory.
The summit can be reached by road and, for the more adventurous amongst us, by hiking. If you are planning to hike the mountain path, plan to stop often, keep hydrated, and wear appropriate footwear.
Ganesha Museum (R)
The Ganesha Museum in Chiang Mai is probably the most peculiar museum in Thailand. Ganesha is the Hindu god of success and luck, and the entire museum is a collection of statues to this god. It was started by a Bangkokian named Mr. Pundhorn Teerakanon. Mr. Pundhorn received his first Ganesha statue from his father when he was 19 years old and since embarked on creating a collection. This is one of the last points of interest on the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai
Direct route – 118km
Scenic route – 165km
Great Holy Relics Pagodas (MS)
Doi Inthanon, Highest Spot in Thailand (MS)
Wachirathan Waterfall (MS)
Mae Ya Waterfall (MS)
Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong (R)
Ganesha Museum (R)
Please be careful traveling the Mae Hong Son loop. There are many turns. Keep left and avoid the crazy drivers on the road.
Mae Hong Son Loop Map
Download this mini-guide with geo-coordinates in .pdf format. If your mobile network suddenly goes down in the mountains, you can use the information from this file to find POI without the Internet.