Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
By car from Chiang Mai via Mae Hong Son Loop and back to Chiang Mai. Tips and experiences with the car on the road on the Mae Hong Son Loop.
One of the most beautiful tours with a rental car you can do in Thailand is the drive over the Mae Hong Son Loop. The 600 kilometer route took me along a winding mountain road with a scenic view of the mountains from Chiang Mai to Pai – Mae Hong Son – Khun Yuam – Mae La Noi – Mae Sariang – Hot – Hang Dong – Chiang Mai. 10 years ago I drove the first time by car over the Mae Hong Son Loop, this year (2016) I really wanted to do this round trip again, for which I planned one week.
From Bangkok I flew with Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai, the flight I booked directly on the website of Bangkok Airways, which often have very good flight offers. In total I paid 2400 baht for roundtrip including 20kg luggage.
No hotels were booked in advance for this route, except for the first and last night in Chiang Mai, where I always prefer the Duangtawan Hotel, which has a parking garage, a rich breakfast buffet and above all a central location.
The most important thing, the rental car, I booked as always in advance in Germany through the car rental comparison portal Billiger-Mietwagen.de, because here the insurance benefits are better than with a locally rented vehicle.
As a rental vehicle I chose a Toyota Altis, which cost 230 EUR/week including insurance package. To the question if you can do the Mae Hong Son Loop with a small car, I can only say "Yes", a big car is not necessary due to the good road conditions, unless you are traveling with several people and a lot of luggage.
I didn't use my navigation device this time, because I wanted to try out the cell phone navigation of Google Maps and got myself a car cell phone holder* with charger for the smartphone at the cigarette lighter, so that I wouldn't be left with an empty battery after a short time. Cell phone navigation proved to be very easy and Google navigated very accurately, no problems here on the way, everything I entered was found.
Chiang Mai – Pai:
The first stage was 135 kilometers from Chiang Mai to Pai, which can be done in three hours. In Chiang Mai I left early at 8am, via Mae Rim (road 107 Chotana RD.) and from KM 18, north of Mae Rim, just before Mae Taeng we continued on the 1095. Especially from KM 43 the view is impressive, when the road reaches an altitude of 1.350 meters before descending back into the River Pai valley.
A leisurely drive is appropriate here to enjoy the beautiful view. Viewpoints overlooking the mountain forests and gorges are everywhere along the Mae Hong Son Loop. There are also some police checkpoints on the Mae Hong Son Loop, but you have nothing to fear as a tourist, most of the time you will be waved through:
After the short bridge visit we went 10 km further into the city center of Pai. The road was quite dusty due to the prevailing drought, which was no wonder given the 43 degree temperature outside.
Pai is the ideal place for backpackers, mopeds to explore the area can be rented everywhere, a car is not necessary here, the small town can also be easily explored on foot. Respect to the two ladies who met me on the way and are on the road with all the luggage in the prevailing heat in May, this is the best way to travel the north of Thailand.
In Pai there is nothing lacking for the individual tourist, there are many cheap accommodations and cozy pubs. Actually I wanted to make a stopover in Pai for one night, but then I changed my mind.
In Pai I made a few rounds through the city, looked at the walking street and a few guesthouses, which are probably not lacking here. There are enough accommodations here, a paradise for backpackers. Since I was very well in time, I thought about going further to Mae Hong Son to stay there a little longer.
Wat Phra That Mae Yen:
Two kilometers east of Pai is Wat Mae Yen, on the way there you cross a bridge and after approx. after one kilometer you can already see the entrance to the temple on the left side of the road.
Further on I walk up 350 steps to the temple, where already a big white Buddha statue can be seen. I had saved myself the climb up the stairs in the midday heat (43°), but from the top there is supposed to be a beautiful view over the Pai valley, especially at sunset, as a few local vacationers told me.
Huai Nam Dang National Park:
The area north and east of Pai is part of the Huai Nam Dang National Park, a visit I had spared myself due to time constraints.
Pai Hot Springs:
A little outside of Pai, in the direction of Mae Hong Son, you will find the Pai Hot Springs. The way there is well signposted and the entrance fee of 50 baht is quite cheap. Here you can have a short rest and relax a bit in the warm water. But it is not a highlight, who is on the way to Mae Hong Son can stop by here.
From Pai to Mae Hong Son:
From Pai to Mai Hong Son we went ca. 120 kilometers further on the road 1095, passing Pai's small regional airport, which is located outside of the town.
As pure driving time from Pai to Mae Hong Son you should plan two hours, if you want to see something on the way, like the beautiful Lot Cave and Mae Lana Cave, which I unfortunately passed, you should take more time, because on the way there is a lot to see, especially hot springs, waterfalls and caves, which are located off along the route 1095.
Soppong is a small quiet village located in a mountain pass on Route 1095, between Pai and Mae Hong Son. In the surroundings of the village there are numerous caves, among them Lot Cave, one of the biggest caves in Thailand, which is crossed by a river. At the cave entrance you can hire boats and cave guides for a fee.
On some parts of the route you can buy cheap provisions for the road, such as drinks, fruit and hot meals (Thai food). Here you should take a rest, the street vendors are happy about every customer.
The road conditions on the Mae Hong Son Loop can be described as "very good" The winding roads are in perfect condition, unlike many years ago when I first drove over the Mae Hong Son Loop.
On the way there are some view points where you can enjoy the view of the mountains, also the traffic on the Mae Hong Son Loop is not too heavy, here driving is really fun. Especially for motorcyclists who met me on the way, the Mae Hong Son Loop must be a paradise.
Mae Hong Son:
In total I had traveled 350 kilometers from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son and arrived there in the late afternoon. The first thing I did was to look for a suitable accommodation, of which there is no lack in Mae Hong Son. There are numerous guesthouses and hotels located in and outside the city, so it should be difficult to choose. As a suitable hotel for the next days I had three hotels in the closer selection:
Fern Resort Mae Hong Son:
The Fern Resort is located ca. 7 kilometers south of the city center, in a very quiet area in the middle of nature. The whole resort is integrated into the landscape and is especially suitable for nature lovers.
Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort:
The Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort is located on the southern outskirts of Mae Hong Son and is an oasis of tranquility. Ideal for those who are on the road all day and want to spend the evening in the hotel.
The Ngamta Hotel has a central location in Mae Hong Son. From here you can reach everything the small town has to offer on foot in the evening.
Because of the good location I decided to stay at the Ngamta Hotel, here you could leave the car in the evening and explore Mae Hong Son on foot. The location is just perfect, in the immediate vicinity is the Jong Kham Pond, a small lake in Mae Hong Son, and Wat Jong Kham.
Opposite the Ngamta Hotel is a footpath leading up to Wat Doi Kong Mu, from where there is a magnificent view, especially in the evening, of the Mae Hong Son valley. As an alternative to the footpath, which consists of many steps, you can also drive up by car, the path is signposted.
Nightlife Mae Hong Son:
A turbulent nightlife in Mae Hong Son, as it is in the tourist strongholds, you will find here in vain. Here it is tranquil, a few cozy restaurants, some bars and the daily Stattfindente night market, where you can eat a little something cheap, that's about it.
The sidewalks are raised quite early here. You don't need to come to Mae hong Son to party, after all you are on the road the whole day to see the area, so you are happy to go to sleep in the evening after a few cozy beers.
Sightseeing Mae Hong Son:
In and around Mae Hong Son there is a lot to see, here the rental car proves to be advantageous, you are independent of travel agencies and can arrange your own excursions. If you don't have a car, there are several travel agencies and tour operators in Mae Hong Son where you can book excursions.
Sutongpe Bamboo Bridge:
A bamboo bridge that leads over rice fields and a river, which is a bit hard to find, about 10 kilometers outside of Mae Hong Son towards Pai (Route 1095) a turnoff goes off the road to the left, which is approx. One kilometer over a dirt road leading to a temple. There is a sign at the turn.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu:
The most famous destination in Mae Hong Son is probably the temple on the mountain Doi Kong Mu. From up here you have a magnificent view over Mae Hong Son.
Wat Chong Kham:
The Chong Kham Temple is located in the middle of Mae Hong Son and is open daily for visitors. The entrance is free.
Mae Hong Son Lake:
The most famous lake in Mae Hong Son is Chong Kham Lake, which is located opposite the temple of the same name and is a good photo motif especially at sunset.
Long Neck Village:
If you drive out of town in a southerly direction on Route 108, after a few kilometers you will come to a turnoff that leads to the boat dock to Long Neck Village (follow the signs). The trip on the river by longtail boat to the village takes half an hour and costs 500 baht.
I spent a total of three days in Mae Hong Son, if I had had more time, I would have added a few more days, in the small quiet town I had liked it very much. The journey continued on road 108 via Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi.
Mae La Noi:
In Mae La Noi I made a small stop to have a look at the mountain scenery. I left route 108 and drove up a mountain pass towards Ban Mae Sa Kua, which is surrounded by fields.
But what is grown here, I could not determine, since I was in high summer on the road, the mountain fields were already harvested and burned, but still the view from the top is fantastic.
After visiting the mountain I went back to the 108, direction Mae Sariang, where I wanted to spend the night. Since it was just noon, I decided to drive on and look at the tourist attractions signposted. Everywhere there are hot springs, caves and temples to see, one spring I wanted to see and followed a sign on the side of the road.
Actually I could have guessed it, as so often you follow the huge sign "Tourist attraction" On the side of the road, leaving the main road and driving a few kilometers on a well paved country road.
After that you follow the signpost, which by the way gets smaller and smaller and the road conditions suddenly get worse, from here on you should not continue with the rental car at all according to the insurance conditions.
So you should always watch out for this sign: H108* = black stars on main road numbers and along routes indicate poor road conditions where the road surface has humps, potholes or broken up areas.
But I didn't care, I wanted to know what there was to see and drove carefully at walking pace, past harvested rice fields and a few farmer's huts. After a rather adventurous ride I finally reached my destination, which looked very romantic from afar.
A suspension bridge stretched over a river, which led to a bungalow complex embedded in the forest. Connected were some hot springs where you could swim and barbecue places, here it can be endured for a few days.
Since I was here in the low season, there was of course nothing going on, the river was only a rinsal due to the prevailing drought and the forests were parched. Also the smoke from the burning fields and forests, which spread over the area, disturbed here again everywhere.
Mae Sariang – Hot – Chom Thong – Hang Dong:
After the stopover it went on again on the route 108 direction Hot. Here there was not much to see and drove further through the city of Hot to Hang Dong, where I wanted to spend the night.
If you want to see the Doi Inthanon National Park, you can turn off the 108 after Chom Thong on the 1009, the well-built road leads to the summit of Mount Inthanon, up to over 2000 meters high.
Since I already know Doi Inthanon very well, I decided to continue to Hang Dong. On this day I had 270 kilometers on the speedometer from Mae Hong Son to Hang Dong and this time I wanted to find a nice accommodation where I could relax a bit. On the way I found only cheap hotels, but I did not feel like it. So I let my navi decide, which guided me to the Baan Nam Ping Riverside Village.
Baan Nam Ping Riverside Village – Hang Dong:
The small cozy bungalow complex had done it to me after a short inspection. Spacious bungalows, large terrace with comfortable seating, quiet location directly on the Ping River and friendly staff.
The owner came from Singapore, who knew the area around Chiang Mai, as well as the Mae Hong Son Loop very well. Here I received many tips on what to see on the way, I had not even seen half of what he told me everything.
The room rate for a deluxe bungalow incl. Breakfast was 1500 baht, but it was worth it. From here it is very easy to get to all the sights around Chiang Mai by moped, motorcycle or car, you save yourself the traffic chaos in Chiang Mai and return to the peace and quiet in the evening.
As the owner told me, he plans to sell the bungalow complex in the near future and go back to Pai, where he had previously lived, to open a guesthouse there.