Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop

I always knew that I had to do a scooter trip if I were heading to Chiang Mai, Thailand. So, when I spontaneously booked a ticket to the city in North Thailand, I started looking for popular road trips in the region. Initially, I planned for the Chiang Rai loop, which had a steep and winding road leading up and down the mountains close to the border with Myanmar. But my apprehension eventually got the best of me.

The Mae Hong Son loop is a more well-known route passing through Pai and Doi Inthanon, both being very popular tourist destinations. I usually avoided such places, but after some persuasion from the hostel owner and realizing Chiang Rai may not be the best for me on a solo trip, I decided to go for it. After all, I extended my trip by a day to make this happen!

The Islander Hostel in Chiang Mai was the starting point of my journey. It’s probably the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in with the most hospitable owners and an incredibly social environment. I rented my first 125cc scooter from them and loved it so much that I eventually ended up staying another night before leaving.

Just a disclaimer: before this trip, I had only ridden a scooter for a total of 11 days in my life, and the 125cc was the heaviest I had ever tried. But since I knew I needed it for the mountainous roads, and my recent experience with the bicycle had helped to build my confidence, I decided to go for it.

The many sharp curves in the first half of the loop were a real challenge. But after so many curves, I got the hang of it soon enough. In fact, they even prevented me from dozing off on long rides. Despite the challenge, the journey was scenic, with many beautiful views along the way. There were even some charming cafes on the way to Pai, and I couldn’t resist stopping at a witch-themed one.

The only downside to traveling to North Thailand in March and April is the thick haze that covers the region. Inhaling the combination of smoke and dust was far from pleasant, and I had to equip myself with a KN94 mask to stay relatively safe. The lack of visibility also meant that the stunning views were obscured, and even a majestic spot like Pai Canyon couldn’t be fully appreciated.

Speaking of

First stop: Pai

To be honest, it wasn’t anything too exciting. It felt like I was transported back to Bali with the crowds of tourists on the walking street. Nonetheless, I had a good time trying out some of the food places and taking a class at Charn Chai Muay Thai, where I ended up making a new friend (although I forgot to take a picture with them). The surrounding areas were also quite enjoyable.

By the way, have I mentioned how much I adore Lactasoy? I pretty much drank a carton of it every day!

Second stop: Mae Hong Son

When I finally made it to Mae Hong Son, I was completely exhausted from the multiple instances of smoke I had ridden through on the way from Pai. Although there were several beautiful sightseeing spots to stop at, I decided to give them a pass and instead check-in at Crossroad Guesthouse. The hostel was one of the friendliest in the region, and we even got to cook dinner with the owners!

One of the highlights was spotting a wildfire in the mountains. It wasn’t the most pleasant sight, but it appeared to have been put out by the morning. Afterward, I saw what I could see in the town, before leaving with a new friend joining me for the most of the remainder of the journey.

Third stop: Mae Sariang

This is where the journey began to take a more off-the-beaten-path turn. Mae Sariang, a village located at the lower eastern corner of the loop, was the point where I almost didn’t come across any other foreigners besides my companion.

After three consecutive days of long rides, I wasn’t particularly in the mood to explore. However, thankfully, my companion convinced me otherwise, and I got to experience the laid-back village life of Thailand. It was a refreshing change of pace from what I had witnessed so far since arriving in Chiang Mai. It’s hard to believe that I almost took a shortcut to Doi Inthanon and skipped this place altogether!

Final stop: Doi Inthanon

Having an extra night on my hands, I decided to head up to Doi Inthanon to get some fresh air, and I’m so glad I did. The cool temperature was a much-needed relief, and despite the haze, the view was still breathtakingly clear. I must mention that Motho Homestay deserves a ton of compliments too. Spending time up there was a surreal experience, and it served as the perfect ending to the loop – one that I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

After an epic 5-day journey on the loop, I realized there was still so much more to explore. The more I saw, the more I fell in love with North Thailand’s charm, making it feel like I belonged here. The South’s seas may be stunning, but North Thailand has my heart. This certainly won’t be my last visit, and who knows, maybe I’ll have more exciting tales to share on my next adventure here.

*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.

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