Mae Hong Son Loop – The Most Complete Travel Guide
Away from the hustle bustle of the touristy parts of Thailand, in the most mountainous region of the country is the Mae Hong Son Loop. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a circular route going through the tourist points of interest in and around the Mae Hong Son province. The loop itself is off-beat, as the region does not get too many tourists because of the time it takes, but is the best way to actually experience Northern Thailand authentically.
Table of Contents
- 1 Mae Hong Son Loop – The Most Complete Travel Guide
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 Travel
- 1.3 Chiang Mai to Pai. Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 1.
- 1.4 Road to Pai
- 1.5 Pai: Things To Do
- 1.6 Pai to Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 2.
- 1.7 Outskirts of Mae Hong Son: Things To Do (+4-5 hours only on the way):
- 1.8 Mae Hong Son: Things To Do
- 1.9 Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 3.
- 1.10 Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 4
- 1.10.1 Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai
- 1.10.2 Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai
- 1.11 Mae Hong Son loop PDF Travel Guide
- 1.12 Video Report by Kraig Adams
The itinerary that has been put together for you consists of a mixture of gardens, museums, waterfalls, and viewpoints. The entire itinerary will take close to 4 days to complete. The itinerary 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 go straight, without turning anywhere (which is not really interesting). However, if you decide to go to all the interesting and scenic places on the route, it will be 900 kilometers (wow, this is cool). Make sure to note that there are about 2000 small and large turns on the road. That’s why one cannot ride this route in 1 day. Although if you have the iron butt, then perhaps you’ll be able to do it in two days, most likely you won’t be in time. 3 days is the minimum time to ride through this route.
Accommodation along the Mae Hong Son loop is easily available and can be booked using booking.com. You can either choose to stay in a standard hotel or even rent out guesthouses for a more authentic experience.
In case you are traveling during peak season, make sure that you book your hotel and place of stay well in advance.
The Mae Hong Son loop is about 600 km long and normally requires 4 days to complete. The adventure travel starts from Chiang Mai and ends at Chiang Mai, after having gone through a whole 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.
This route 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 Mae Hong Son Loop is a common tourist route. There are many buses that conduct tours and are easy to find. The only trouble with the bus tours is that there is not much independence from the plan of the bus.
Another very common option that tourists in Thailand use are the scooters. Scooter rentals are cheap, available everywhere and are easy to drive on the roads of Thailand as well. But just 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:
1) Cat Motors (motorbikes for rent – here)
2) POP Rider
R – Recommended
MS – Must See
Chiang Mai to Pai. Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 1.
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 route has been published for those who do not want to travel along the loop of Mae Hon Son, but want to visit Pai ( <– click here ) only.
Road to Pai
Chiang Mai Erotic Garden (R)
Off the beaten track of the touristy parts of Chiang Mai, is a little garden called Chiang Mai Erotic Garden. The Chiang Mai Erotic Garden has manicured pathways and is a very well maintained garden with artwork strewn all over the place. The hostess of the Chiang Mai Erotic Garden is called Katai. She walks visitors through the garden. Explains the artwork with respect to how and what each piece signifies.
Typically a walk around the garden takes two hours. But for travelers with a specific interest for horticulture, the garden is a jungle. 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 routes 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 waterfall is one of the many waterfalls in the Chiang Mai region houses, which is located on the Mae Hong Son loop. It is unique because of its segmented characteristic. The waterfall is about 60 meters high and is surrounded by shrubbery and small trees. The actual height of the waterfall gets lost because of the trees, but it is breathtaking. There is water flowing throughout the year.
From the car-parking, there is a well-marked forest trail that takes you to the foot of the waterfall. The usual time that tourists spend in this waterfall is around 30-45 minutes. And during the summer, there are a lot of people swimming and cooling off in the pools around the waterfall.
Pong Dueat Geyser and hot Spring (R)
Another typical Thailand experience is the visits to the hot springs in the area. Pong Dueat Geyser and Hot Spring is one such place. The natural geyser is a phenomenon that is unique to certain parts of the world and Thailand is blessed with multiple ones. The water that is ejected into the air from the geyser can go up to as high as 4 meters. The geyser is surrounded by multiple smaller hot springs and warm water pools. The site of Pong Dueat Geyser and Hot Springs is developed by the Thailand Tourism Department. The department has managed to adapt the place to the surroundings and keep the site as natural as possible.
Pai Memorial Bridge (MS)
The Pai Memorial Bridge is a bridge that offers a path across the Pai river. The bridge was built during the Second World War as a route to attack Burma. The bridge comes on the way from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, located on the Mae Hong Son loop before entering to Pai. Is made of solid steel and now tourists walk on them. The views that the bridge offer is very picturesque. The spot is a very popular site among tourists for photographs and selfies.
Pai Canyon (MS)
Pai is a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai. And the drive up to Pai is set in the valley with hundreds of winds and turns. And at every turn, there is a picturesque view. The most picturesque, 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 ways to get to the Pai Canyons 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 2 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 (MS)
Thailand is also home to the longest bamboo bridge in the world. The bridges go over rice and paddy fields and right before harvest is the best time to visit this place. The rice fields and bamboo bridge are set into a mountainous background. The views are exhilarating and make the 1 km walk totally worth it.
Wat Nam Hu (R)
The Wat Nam Hoo Temple is 2km from the town of Pai. Of all the Buddhist temples in the country, Wat Nam Hoo is one of the lesser spectacular ones. In terms of architecture and views. 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.
This is not a very touristy location, but the region attracts a lot of tourists because of the waterfalls in the region. But over the years because of the proximity, the temple to is starting to attract the odd tourist.
Santichon Village (R)
The chinese village Santichon was set up by the Yunnan people when they fled from mainland China during the Mao Tse Tung revolution. And since, over the years, has become a place tourists flock to. The tourists that come here have a clear window into the conservative ways and traditions of the Yunnan people. 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 is delicious Chinese cuisine. Perhaps the best Chinese food 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 has little tea stalls that are very popular among tourists. The viewpoint is also very crowded during the peak season. The best way to reach the viewpoint is by road. The Yun Lai Viewpoint is one of that stop-on-the-way kind of places.
Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort (R)
The Pai Hotsprings Spa is a resort that is built around some natural hot 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 this place also has mineral bath facilities. If you are traveling in peak season, it may be wise to book in advance as it tends to get booked quite fast. The entrance fee is 100 THB for once but is lesser the number of times you go. It is about 500 THB for 10 times.
Sunset with Big White Buddha (MS)
One of the most imposing views from the Pai City center is the Big White Buddha statue on a hill. It is a good hour’s walk up there 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.
Pai to Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son Loop, 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 a breathtaking view after every turn. Hence, renting a motorbike is a good option. But if you are driving your own car, beware that there are only a few gas station on the entire route.
Direct route – 93km
Scenic route – 202km
The things to do on the road to Mae Hong Son:
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 Mae Hong Son. The viewpoint has to offer 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. The limestone formations are very attractive to look at. The Tham Lod Cave is also one of the 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 keep plenty of time and to stick 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 falls 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 of Mae Hong Son. The fish cave is a part of the Tham Pla-Namtok Phasuea National Park. Tourists find this place very calming because it consists of small bridges with streams flowing underneath it, filled fishes. 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 only on the way):
Pha Sua Waterfall (MS)
The Pha Sua Waterfall is, by far, Thailand’s most beautiful waterfall. It flows from the Burmese river of Mae Sa-nga. And the waterfall has six levels. Making it a year-round waterfall. The waterfall is about 26 km from Mae Hong Son and is one of Thailand’s most visited waterfalls.
Ban Rak Thai (R)
Ban Rak Thai is a small Chinese village near the town of Mae Hong Son. The village was set up by the Kuomingtan for Yunnan people of China during the Mao revolution. The village’s name translates to ‘the Thai-loving village”. Ban Rak Thai is also the last Army check post before the Burma border. This place is also strategically positioned right at the border so that the officials can keep an eye on the Jade trade.
Ban Rak Thai is famous for its lake, authentic Chinese foods, souvenirs, conservative Yunnan culture, etc. The village is built around a lake. Which is very pleasurable to walk around. The Ban Rak Thai itself is very easy to get around for its small size and the best way to get there is by road.
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, that makes it very appealing to the eye. The plantation park is also adjacent to a pristine lake. And if you are really lucky, you will see the occasional swan among the ducks. The Pang Ung is a very popular camping spot at the Mae Hong Son loop during the winters. And is a very well subscribed 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 very close to a Thailand refugee camp. But over the years, the village has become a tourist spot. The village is predominantly occupied by the Long Neck Hill Tribe people 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. And get a deeper understanding of the life they live.
Mae Hong Son: Things To Do
Sunset on Doi Kong Moo (17:15) (MS)
The Wat Phra That Doi Kong Moo is a temple atop the Doi Kong Mu hill. It is a Burmese temple built on top of the hill, established in the 1860s. The pagoda of the temple is built in traditional Burmese architecture. The temple is home to a lot of monks. The Wat Phra That Doi Kong Moo atop this hill is famous among tourists because it is an ideal place to watch the sunset from. The hill provides a vantage over the town of Mae Hong Son and the Mae Hong Son airport.
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 two huge temples near a lake, with the mountains in the background.
The best time to visit Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham is at night. Because both the temple 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 Mae Hong Son.
If you don’t want to visit the outskirts of Mae Hong Son and did not want to watch the sunset on Doi Kong Moo, in that case you can merge the 2nd and 3rd day (3 day Mae Hong Son loop trip). If time for Mae Hong Son route and Mae Hong Son outskirts is not enough, then split up your Mae Hong Son loop journey into two days (5 day trip).
Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 3.
From Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang is about three hours away. 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 Mae Hong Son to Mae Chaem.
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 just another hot spring in the Mae Hong Son province. It has one hot spring and has a whole bunch of smaller pools around it. The Pha Bong Hot Springs is set with the mountains in the background. The hot springs are quite green and are the perfect place to kick off your boots and relax. The Pha Bong Hot Springs also has a whole number of mineral spa baths in the area that is accessible with a small entry fee.
Pha Bong View Point (R)
This is another stop-on-the-way kind of viewpoints because it has a couple of good coffee and tea stalls and numbered places to pick up some 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 most picturesque waterfall, with multiple levels of rock and beautifully cascading, clear water. The serenity and sheer size of the Mae Surin Waterfall are unmatched and bring in a lot of tourists from all across the globe. You should leave the main route of the Mae Hong Son loop to visit this place.
Thai-Japan Friendship Museum (R)
The Thai-Japan Friendship Museum is in the little sleepy town of Khun Yuam. The museum is home to a lot of World War 2 memoirs. Khun Yuam during the second world war was one of Japan’s most important Army bases. Since the museum contains a lot of 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 was set up in the year 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.
Mae Hong Son Loop, Day 4
The Things to do on the road to Chiang Mai:
Mae Ya Waterfall and Wachirathan Waterfall + 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. Here is a one-day trip to Doi Inthanon (<– Click Here).
Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is about 200 km away from Mae Sariang. It drives 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. The temple is a Buddhist relic because it is believed that Buddha himself visited the hill once, now where the temple is. It is a Buddha relic and the temple also has a meditation center.
Mae Ya Waterfall (1st entry) (MS)
Mae Ya waterfall is one of Thailand’s most beautiful waterfalls that fall. Which falls on the road between Mae Sariang and Chiang Mai. The waterfall is about 260m high. The waterfall has many pools around it that locals swim and cool off in during the summer months.
Wachirathan Waterfall (2d entry) (MS)
The Wachirathan waterfall too is on the foothills of the Doi Inthanon and is the second waterfall on the way up to the summit. This waterfall is by far much stronger than the Mae Klang Waterfall and that is probably also because it is a lot higher than the previous one.
The waterfall is also accessible by road and has ample parking at the entrance. The English alternative or translation of Wachirathan is Diamond creek as the water that flows down from the slope of the waterfall, flows down on granite as it reaches the ground. The waterfall itself is quite segmented, but the cumulative height of the waterfall is approximately 80 meters.
On most days in the non-rainy seasons, the waterfall has one very forceful stream plummeting to the ground on the leftmost part of the waterfall and it gets stringier as you move to the right. But even without rain, there is enough water falling down the slope to manage a powerful mist spray and make rainbows by reflecting the sun.
The Wachirathan Waterfall too is in the Doi Inthanon National Park and is one of the more crowded ones on the way up to the summit. This waterfall is the most authentic of waterfalls in the region because of its sheer power and it is truly the best in Northern Thailand.
Great Holy Relics Pagodas (2d entry) (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 perch to watch both the sunrise and the sunset from.
Doi Inthanon, Highest Spot in Thailand (2d entry) (MS)
The Doi Inthanon Peak is the highest mountain in the country, parts of the Mae Hong Son loop, and is a very popular tourist destination for tourists across the world and within the country. The elevation of the peak is around 8,500 ft and the view from this vantage is phenomenal. Doi Luang and Doi Ang Ka are the two other names that the locals sometimes call the Doi Inthanon 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. He, in fact, wanted his ashes to be interred on the Doi Inthanon summit. Apart from being a symbol of historical importance, Doi Inthanon is also home to the Thai Air Force’s weather radar and the Thai National Observatory.
The Doi Inthanon summit can be reached by road and for the more adventurous amongst us, it can also be trekked up to. But in case you are planning the trek, plan to stop often, keep hydrated and wear appropriate footwear because the nature trail towards the top becomes a little harder to scale than the lower ones.
If in Northern Thailand and in the Doi Inthanon National Park, a visit to the summit is a must. As not going there would truly be missing out on a wonderful experience. An added perk of the climb to the Doi Inthanon there is a sacred temple that is on the way up. The peace one feels at the temple is unmatched and it is also a nice spot to take a break. But for entrance into the temple, it is important that you be dressed modestly.
Ganesha Museum (R)
The Ganesha Museum in Chiang Mai is probably the most peculiar museum in Thailand. The entire museum is a collection of Ganesha statues, the Hindu god of success and luck. It was started by a Bangkokian called Mr. Pundhorn Teerakanon. Mr. Pundhorn got his first Ganesha statue from his father when he was 19 years old and since embarked on creating a collection. One of the last point of interests on the Mae Hong Son loop.
Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai
Direct route – 118km
Scenic route – 165km
Great Holy Relics Pagodas (1st entry) (MS)
Doi Inthanon, Highest Spot in Thailand (1st entry) (MS)
Wachirathan Waterfall (1st entry) (MS)
Mae Ya Waterfall (2d entry) (MS)
Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong (R)
Ganesha Museum (R)
Please be careful at the Mae Hong Son loop. On the route thousands of turns. Keep left and avoid the idiots on the road.
Mae Hong Son loop PDF Travel Guide
Download PDF-file with a Points Of Interest on the Google maps.