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How to travel the Mae Hong Son Loop

Drive Mae hong son loop

Mae hong son loop road © Thailand Hilltribe Holidays

Are you thinking about travelling on the Mae Hong Son Loop?  This icon 600km loop which starts in Chiang Mai and travels through Mae Hong Son province, traversing through rugged mountains and some of the best scenery in Thailand. It finishes back in Chiang Mai and takes a minimum of roughly 5 days to complete, although you could easily extend this, as there are so much to be discovered. The loop travels through the towns of Pai, Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang. From these towns, you can take day trips out to discover local cultural and natural wonders. Mae Hong Son is renown for its authentic opportunities and pristine nature.

To give you an idea, here’s a sample itinerary for the Mae Hong Son loop. This one goes in an anti-clockwise direction, but you could also do it in the reverse direction (there’s no difference and the distance is the same). This one takes 7 days by road, but you can modify it as you wish, adding extra days for activities, side trips, trekking etc.

Mae Hong Son Loop Itinerary

Day 1) Chiang Mai to Pai (Approx 2.5hrs, 134km)

From Chiang Mai take the 1095 road west to Pai. You’ll pass the tourist area in Mae Rim, if you wanted to stop off to visit the Tiger Kingdom, elephant camps, ziplining and other such adventure activities along the way.

Day 2) Sightseeing Pai 

Enjoy the sights in and around Pai, such as the Pai Canyon and hot springs.

Day 3) Pai to Mae Hong Son (approx 3hrs, 110km)

Take the 1095 road to Mae Hong Son. Attractions on the way include Tam Lod Cave (coffin cave), numerous view points along the way to stop and admire the lofty mountain landscapes. There’s a beautiful and quiet forest monastery (Wat Tham Wua) which is also a meditation centre.

Day 4) Sightseeing Mae Hong Son:  Day trip to Ban Ruam Thai & Ban Rak Thai (Mae aw) villages

Spend the day visiting the idyllic villages nearby by the Burma border (they are peaceful and safe). Ban Rak Thai (formerly Mae Aw) is a Chinese settlement renown for its tea production and rustic mud hut buildings, selling souvenirs of the area such as local tea to Chinese preserves. Twenty minutes drive from here is the neighbouring village of Ban Ruam Thai , which is centered around the idyllic Pang Oong Lake.  The early morning wave of fog which sits above Pang Oong Lake, surrounded by towering pine trees, is the popular postcard scene that Ban Ruam Thai is famous for. As such, it is nicknamed the ‘Switzerland of Thailand’ due to its European type weather and ecology.

Once you are back in Mae Hong Son town, the main attractions here include; Wat Doi Gong Mu temple, a hilltop temple just ten minutes from the town centre. At the top of the hill, the temple offers a beautiful view overlooking the valley town of Mae Hong Son. The view puts it all into perspective, when you can see the valley town of Mae Hong Son, ringed by mountains.

Day 5) Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang (approx 3hrs, 165km)

Take the 108 road south to Mae Sariang. Another very scenic part of the loop, which takes you through neverending twists and turns through landscapes of fertile valleys and farmland. The half-way point is Khuan Yuam, a small quaint village-type town. Apart from soaking up the small-town feel, the main attractions here are the World war II memorial centre, showcasing relics from the war with Burma, and Wat Tor Pae (a 16th century Shan style temple).

Day 6) Sightseeing Mae Sariang

Mae Sariang is a quaint valley town by the Yuam river. Mostly known for its trekking opportunities through rugged and pristine forests. Remote and traditional hill tribe villages (Karen and Lawa tribes) are scattered throughout the area, and the chance to visit them as part of a trek, is a big part Mae Sariang’s appeal. As a backwater town which sees only a handful of tourists each year, it offers little in the way of organised group treks or tours, and most are run privately. Some travellers rent motorbikes, in an attempt to try and find villages themselves, but most are unsuccessful in doing so, or have a very mediocre village experience. Plus there are a multitude of reasons why you should go with a local guide, instead of visiting a village by yourself.

Day 7) Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai (approx 4hrs, 180km)

The last leg of the loop, and the last chance to enjoy the glorious mountain scenery. A four hour drive on the 108 road, the first half of this leg has a lot of curves, and last half from the town of ‘Hod’ back to Chiang Mai is straight highway. A part of the road journeys alongside the Yuam river and.  The main stop-off site on this leg, would be Doi Inthanon National park and mountain. The summit of Doi Inthanon mountain is the highest point in Thailand (2,562metres above sea level). As you drive up to the top, the ecology and climate starts to become very European-like. On the way up, the attractions are two royal pagodas, and several waterfalls, the main is Wachiratharn waterfall. Upon arrival at the summit, there’s a short walking trail at the top (Angkha nature trail).

 

Mae hong son loop road

Mae hong son loop road © Thailand Hilltribe Holidays

The Mae Hong Son loop , can also be done in the reverse direction, starting with Mae Sariang first. The roads and route are exactly the same, just in reverse order.

Tips

– You might want to allow more days for the loop,  to give yourself ‘recovery’ time after travelling each leg of the loop, for side trips to beautiful villages and to fully enjoy what Mae Hong Son has to offer

– If you are short on time, you could also do some parts by flight (available between Chiang Mai – Pai, Chiang Mai – Mae hong son) on Kan Air and Nok Air

– If you suffer from motion sickness, come prepared as the windy roads on this loop are unforgiving.  If you need medication, this is available at pharmacies in all of the main towns

– During the high season winter months (Nov-Feb), it’s recommended to book accommodation beforehand, as a lot of Thai tourists flock here from Bangkok and the south to enjoy the cooler climes

– Despite the remote locale, free wifi is offered in most guesthouses/hotels and all of the major towns have ATMS

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