Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son Loop
After taking a train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai (info) we started to plan our next route. Having read many online blogs of the colossal journey - The Mae Hong Son Loop. We really wanted to give it a go. The blogs were mainly for motorbikes and with our gear-limited bicycles, we asked locals of our chances of cycling. They strongly advised us against it...
However, keen to try and prove our capability we 'practised' on the road 1004 leading into the closest mountain. The gradient was extreme and if this was a representation of what was to come, we would be pushing bikes for the whole 600km+ loop. Still keen to fulfil dreams, we rented a couple of motorbikes for 6 days at the price of 1300 Baht.
The ride was immense. Over 1800 bends, paddy fields carpeted the horizon, great eating options and plenty of opportunities to meet the northern people. This chapter lacks detail of routes and difficulty, as the road is a very simple circuit and the road is continuously challenging in terms of elevation.
Day one - Chiang Mai to Mae Sarieng/Mae Ho
Taking the main road out of Chiang Mai, heading SouthWest on the 108, the road slowly becomes less trafficked and food options start to diminish. The first stop was at the National Park of Op Luang, where the option of a 1 hour self guided hike through gorges, offers a welcome break for the buttocks! Back on the bikes, climbing through clouds and passing the mountain people, we finally decided to call it a day just short of the town of Mae Sarieng - making a total of 170km (+ 30km for a hot spring detour.)
There was a substantial gap between the National Park and Mae Sariang and so sleeping and eating options are limited. We finally reached a small guesthouse that caught the corner of our eye. The guesthouse was situated in Mae Ho, only 20km shy of the larger town of Mae Sariang. There was more options in this town, and it served as a great spot in the morning for us to grab a coffee and breakfast.
Day two - Mae Ho to Khun Yuam
The temperature was a lot cooler than the south, and we were chilly on the motorbikes. We recommend bringing a few warmer layers in this high elevation, especially at night time when the temperature plummets.
Carrying on along the 108, to the town of Khun Yuam, the road is in fine condition and the view is incredible. The signage is clear and offers an abundance of hot springs, remote villages and other points of view. Picking up a map in a 7/11 was a useful investment, which gave us an indication of what was down side roads and how far it would be.
We visited a cave en route and then continued all the way to Khun Yuam, a total of 140km in the day. Khun Yuam is an ideal spot with a array of guesthouses and a selection of good restaurants. Try the pizza restaurant for a slice of TomYum pizza. There is waterfall east of Khun Yuam, a beautiful 30 metre free fall, and definitely worth the ride. The road there is exceptional and in the right season the sunflowers are a unique photo opportunity (early November-December.)
The road continues north to the capital of the region, Mae Hong Son, which can be flooded at times of the year with Thai tourists. This leaves the city with an excess of accommodation options. We were quickly swept up in town by a lady on a motorbike offering the cheapest price we had heard of in Thailand. 150 baht a night, for a private double, shared bathroom (Johnnies). The town has a small element of charm around the lake and it's a stones throw away from the guest houses.
Day 4 - Mae Hong Son to Bang Mapha
On leaving Mae Hong Son, the 108 soon turns into the 1095. Along this there is the possibility to take a detour towards the town of Ban Rak Thai (AKA Mae Aw), a Chinese settlement close to the Myanmar border.
The road to the town is jaw dropping spectacular, however little is to be said of the town with only a few Chinese tea shops offering tastings.
On the way back to the 1095 there is a chance to rejoin via another road (unnamed but clear on the map). This is definitely worth it as you are almost beneath the long green reeds and winding through quieter parts of this region. A GPS will be able to guide you nicely back onto course, but with the map you may be second guessing your decisions through a few small lanes in the town. After rejoining we push east to the town of Bang Mapha. This sweet roadtown offers a few sleeping arrangements and spots to eat. Apart from that you will be having an early bedtime.
Day 5 – Bang Mapha to Pai
Waking up to good news from our host of the Buddhist festival that was ongoing that week. She showed us the local temple and from here we were warmly welcomed by monks and locals to feed for free on the vegetarian selection. This was a great experience and prepared us well for the drive ahead to Pai.
The road this time became busier and we saw more travellers doing day trips from Pai. The scenery is still fantastic and there's a great viewpoint on the way - but the feeling of being; "far away" is slightly tarnished.
Day 6 Pai to Chiang Mai
This is the most challenging part of the route. The road was being resurfaced and some parts were particularly hairy. We had to push on to return the bikes for our agreed date. The road eventually flattens out and then more lanes appear before returning to what feels like a large daunting city. The 1095 reaches a junction where there is two parallel roads running into the city. We took the 107 and it was wide and in good condition.
Back on the bicycle venturing further north...