Hey Friends / Riders,
I just got back to blogging and one thing that keeps coming back to me as a long distance rider is the North Thailand. Here is how we discovered this one, and how one could plan to do it.
in this blog – I wish to share my experiences on one of the most outstanding Superbiking destinations in Asia – the Mae Hongson Loop in North West Thailand ( MHS for short).
I took my first trip of MHS way back in 2012. This was part of a series of recces that i took up, before setting up my International Motorcycle Expeditions Company, the Viktorianz. I desperately wanted to explore a unique riding destination – which is great in ride quality, has a unique feel and does not burn a hole in the pocket. The 1864 Mae Hongson Loop comes pretty close to what we wanted to offer. The beautiful and marked roads, the acute twists and turn, the unusually steep rise and fall, the deep caves and rare tribes and the thick green rain forested hills, a smooth road suprface to zip past and a lot more – makes this ride – one of the most outstanding, unique and unexplored riding destinations in Asia.
No wonder, hundreds of riders since then have been enabled to this wonderful superb riding countryside .. and I am proud to have introduced this ride to Indian Superbikers.
Lots and lots of riders continue to ask me, on riding on international destinations and MHS Loop is the one I most promptly recommend – it is close, affordable, needs less days, has a few options and riding like India is to the left of road. But for a rider it is enough to say that you would love the bending on the curves – better than anywhere else.
The ride invariably would start in Chiang Mai, the beautiful capital city of North Thailand or the Lanna Kingdom ( as it is locally known). The ride can be planned with an option of anything between 4 to 10 days. The major ride circuits that can be covered basis the number of days you can spare are :-
a. Mae Hongson loop – 5 days ride.
b. Mae Hongson and Golden Triangle – 7 days ride.
c. Mae Hongson, Golden Triangle and Pu Chi Fah – 10 days ride.
While North Thailand is a destination riders go year after year – in this blog I wish to write in detail about the most famous and challenging of them all – the 5 Day Mae Hongson Loop.
Your trip from India would begin with a flight to Bankok, and then a flight ( or a train or overnight bus) transfer to Chiang Mai. Another option is to book any Indian budget flight ( Indigo, Jet etc) to Bangkok and take a domestic flight to Chaing Mai from Don Muaeng Airport – a domestic airport which is about 25 km away from Suwarnabhumi airport. If you have a connecting flight, you get a free shuttle from Suwarnabhumi to Don Muaeng. Depending on time of the day this may take 2-3 hours. So keep about 3-4 hours between flights. If you have time and want to save some money do this later one. There are also economic options of buses and trains to Chiang Mai. So take your pick.
A good weather to ride the Mae Hongson loop is from November to February – it is also a high season full of tourists and our bikes get booked much ahead of time. The lean seasons are April – June and October. This is when the monsoons are tapering. These are shoulder season – and not too touristy – I personally love this season to ride. Be rest assured you would find some rains – as it is monsoon time – but that is fun too. First half of the day are usually drier than the second half. So while in mountains – be aware of this fact. If riding in shoulder season – well, go prepared to get wet a few times and carry with you a 2 -piece rain-cover.
General 5 Day Plan : Spend the first day at Chaing Mai – do the MHS Loop over next 4 Days ( about 750 kms)
Day 1 – Land in Chiang Mai, Check into your hotel, get your bikes and do trial run to Doi Suthep Mountain. Be back by evening and then do the Night Bazar.
Day 2 – Start early morning, ride out Northwards, and reach Pai, the laid back party town of North Thailand.
Day 3 – Ride down to Lod Caves and then ride to the 2nd world war border town of Mae Hongson.
Day 4 – Ride to the Karen Long Neck village, and then a beautiful ride to Mae Sariang
Day 5- Take internal roads through beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park, then on to Chiang Mai. This finishes the loop.
Here is how your detailed plan should look like – you may amend as you like or ask me to advice you on things you want to do differently .
This is your first day in Chiang Mai – land and get into your hotel, freshen up and get to the lobby ( Check in time is usually 2 pm). Your hotel better be selected in or close to the old city – should be located pretty close to all the action. This is to say – old city monuments, bike hire place ( closer to Thae Phae gate), Night bazar etc. First things to do is to pick up a Sim card with free data – you can buy that for 7 days at about 300 thb at Bangkok airport or on arrival at Chaing Mai. Or you could also get it at 7-11 stores – the refills or top-ups to the sim can be done at any 7-11 store – these stores are spread everywhere in Thailand .
So if your flight or bus brings you in early – you have time to kill before check- in time of your hotel – Go to the bike shop – and use this time to get your bikes issued, paper work done and tank fuelled up ( bungee chords, panniers and helmets etc can be picked up from bike shop) . You could also grab a meal at Mcdonalds or Burger King – pretty close to the bike hire shop. If you want to eat even more budget, you could do that at 7-11 stores – nice burgers, noodles and rice dishes. ( Mostly non vegetarians – vegans will have tough time on this ride – though can be managed)
From the travel desk of hotel – each one of you must pick up a map of Chaing Mai North Thailand ( its free to have). Or you could also buy a laminated map which is in dual language – Thai and English. Very few people understand english in hinterland – so dual language map helps to ask your way around. 🙂 adds to adventure. Its even better to have your google maps going. And stick to the highway numbers that i have told below – these are very well marked than names of places.
Once bikes are done – comeback and check in to you hotel – freshen up and ride out around the Old Walled City – take a slow round of the City periphery – from outside and notice the four gates that face in 4 different direction and of course the water filled moat that runs around the square town. Take the exit towards Doi Suthep and do a controlled ride to Doi Suthep mountain – spend sometime seeing Doi Suthep and panoramic views of Chiang Mai from top. It would be good to ride back to town and hotel before its dark. On this first day – be slow on the bike and get used to it.
Once back from trial ride and all good with your bike – take a couple of hours to change and rest and then by about 8 pm, walk or ride to Night Bazar – these markets are popular all over Thailand and Chiang Mai too has a unique one. Don’t miss the Art gallery at the basement of Le Meridien hotel. It would be on your way to Night Bazar. Anusaran Market cabaret is a nice one hour show – starts at 9.30 pm. Plan to be there by about 9. There is a cover charge of 200 Thb and they give you a drink with it.
You could do some clothes shopping ( haggle the costs – don’t pay more that half of what they quote ;))
This day retire early and plan to have your b’fast by 6 and ride out by 7 am next day.
Finish check out, breakfast and loading of bikes and ride out by about 7 am. If you are late – you will get stuck with office traffic that gets bad after 7 am. So you basically ride out North from Chang Phuak Gate – take highway 107 and then after about 30 minutes to Route 1095 ride towards Pai. Lead rider should not miss these highway numbers. Otherwise the highway and Pai is pretty well marked. After an hour the winding roads will start. Be careful on bends – they are short and at times steep to climb – so your gears must be right while taking a turn. When in villages – slow down and look out for pedestrians and dogs.
Some where at around 11 am having done about 100 km you can take a coffee break. And then ride on to Pai – you should be there by about lunch time easily. Check into your hotel and ride out to explore Pai – Hot sulphur springs, elephant rides, rafting and some view points are the highlights – in the evening the whole town is abuzz with music and fun, especially on weekends. The walking street should not be missed for a variety of food you could taste here.
You could begin by about 8 am. Stop by at a beautiful view point on the way – have coffee and get the views of lower Himalayas tapering into Thailand.
Seeing the weather – you could press on and ride 60 odd kms to Lod Caves. Now this is not on the main road – you will have to take a right turn at Pang Ma Pha (after an Army check post and before the Petrol pump at Pang Ma Pha)- and go in about 20 minutes ( 14 kms or so) to reach the cave – it is well marked.
You should be there by 11 am or so. Go in and see a series of caves – it would take you about 2 hours – there is a 200 thb per person charge for the guide and the bamboo raft guy who takes you inside the river flowing through the cave. Do take some fish food if you want to entice the fishes to jump on to your bamboo raft. It is sure a unique experience.
You could have your lunch here – some noodles or rice and thai dishes. There is also a cave lodge closeby – where sometimes our riders stop – it is run by John, it is a good place to spend some time and have your lunch – they have a variety of non thai lunches option.
Once you are done ride back the rain forests and come back to the Main highway again. Check your bikes and fuels and begin another twisty ride towards Mae Hongson. Lots of bends and turns as you ride down to Mae Hongson town – it happens to be the greenest district of Thailand. Pass through the town and you have to take a right turn to Karen Long Neck village. Please ask someone about it. It is about 12 km to the right – you would pass a second world war airfield on the way. ( This can be done today if you have day-light and time – else you could do this next morning too – take a call basis the time of the day)
Now you have to be very cautious about 7 water streams that you would cross on the way – they are perennial streams and have a concrete base. So lots of moss in there and superbikes tend to slip and skid. So the drill is – stop before the stream, go very slow speed ( zero speed), no braking, no turning and no accelerating. Just roll the bike with both legs ready to save the fall. People have slipped and hurt themselves here. But with precautions 90% guys do go safe through them – good fun.
Long neck village also has a charge of 200 thb per person. And it is just a view of these tribal women who keep long necks. I personally love it, as this is one unique tribe in the World – but some may find it a waste of time – so unless you are keen on such cultural tribal things – you could decide for yourself.
Once done you ride back and check into your hotel – you should be in by 5 pm or so. Plan on a walk and a dinner by the lakeside – it is a nice pleasant evening you would love.
Today is the ride fun day. ( Do the Long necks before breakfast, if you have not done it on Day 3). You continue to ride out on the high way 108 and your first stop should be Khun Yuam. This is a beautiful ride and my favourite stretch on MHS loop – also one of the best in Thailand. By this day you also know your bikes well – so you guys can experience and enjoy a real good one.
At Khun Yuam – if you have time and inclination – take a break at a Japanese 2nd world war museum. On this route there is very little to eat or drink. You then ride some more good roads to reach Mae Sariang – a typical small border town of North West Thailand. At the end of the ride today – you can reward yourself with a treat as you would have completed the 1864 hairpin bends – and the Mae Hongson loop. Its good to do your meals early. In these small towns the eateries close early.
Today is your last day of the Mae Hongson Loop ride. Ride out by 8 am after fuel ups and breakfast – you continue on the Route 108. and go ride some more beautiful roads lined with sunflowers and some beautiful vistas. Keep following the sign boards and you should be in by about 3 pm. You could go straight to the bike shop and deposit your bikes. . Ensure you clear your dues and take your passports.
Normally riders rush out to Bangkok in the evening for Part 2 of their Thailand visit. But i would always suggest staying one more night in Chiang Mai and soak more of this yet culturally preserved town of Thailand.
If you have decided to fly out – you could take a room somewhere closeby and freshen up. Many small B&Bs will allow you to do this at a nominal cost.
- Please take a print out of this paper for your reference. Google maps run pretty ok all through – so you guys should be ok if your maps are working. Ensure your smartphones have the maps going before you take off from Chiang Mai.
- Once again – please take care of rains, start early and don’t speed up too much on hair pin bends. This is sure an awesome trip – the fact that you guys are doing it yourself makes it even more adventurous. I did this route the same way about 3 years back -since then close to 200 riders have been there with Viktorianz.
- As a security the bike hire shops would keep your passport – or about 10,000 Thb. If you do keep your passport – take a copy of the passport for your identifications use during the ride.
- Please do carry an International Driving Licence, though at times you can get through with Indian DL – the only risk you run is the insurance claims, if ever you come to it.
- A world of caution – anything you break on bike or fall a bike – you pay full amount. At times, these are quite steep – so it is always better to be careful not to let the bike fall.
- Mobile communications and internet are good on 95% of the ride. Any place you stop you would have wifi connectivity. This connectivity part is surprisingly well managed in Thailand and more so for tourists.
- ATMs work in almost all the towns on MHS loop – though at places the Credit cards may not be accepted.
We know North Thailand very well by now. For any advice or help in North Thailand you could Contact Us or call me.
Have a look at this video too –
Wish you a great and safe ride and all the best in taking on the challenging 1864 Bends on MHS Loop.
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