BKK - Mae Sariang - Mae Hong Son - Pai - Chiangmai: how long

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by Grisu, Dec 26, 2008.

  1. Grisu

    Grisu New Member

    Hi there!

    Next week, my friends and I will go from Bangkok to Chiangmai. The longer we discuss the route, the weirder our ideas are getting.

    The latest proposal is to leave Bangkok on Monday and go to Mae Sariang. Google map tells us that's 745 km. The next day we want to go via Mae Hong Son and Pai to Chiangmai (400 km)

    In principle, it shouldn't be an issue to do about 1100 km over a period of two days, but we have no detailed knowledge about the road conditions. We want to enjoy the trip and not do any kind of racing, but as we all have big bikes (with my R1 being the smallest cc-wise), we will be able to increase average speed a bit where traffic and road conditions allow us.

    My question now is: does anybody know the route, and what is your experience how long that would take?

    Thanks for your input and best wishes for the New Year to the biking community!

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  3. Marco

    Marco Ol'Timer


    I would propose you to use some other color than Yellow,, that is just killing the eyes and cant be read with out been highlighted. :wink:
  4. Grisu

    Grisu New Member

    Hmmm... I thought black is the standard background on this forum and it looks pretty nice on my screen. (and no intention to express any political sympathies here either, ha, ha!)

    Ok, Marco, here we go without any colors:

    Hi there!

    Next week, my friends and I will go from Bangkok to Chiangmai. The longer we discuss the route, the weirder our ideas are getting.

    The latest proposal is to leave Bangkok on Monday and go to Mae Sariang. Google map tells us that's 745 km. The next day we want to go via Mae Hong Son and Pai to Chiangmai (400 km)

    In principle, it shouldn't be an issue to do about 1100 km over a period of two days, but we have no detailed knowledge about the road conditions. We want to enjoy the trip and not do any kind of racing, but as we all have big bikes (with my R1 being the smallest cc-wise), we will be able to increase average speed a bit where traffic and road conditions allow us.

    My question now is: does anybody know the route, and what is your experience how long that would take?

    Thanks for your input and best wishes for the New Year to the biking community!

  5. johngooding

    johngooding Ol'Timer

    Hi There,
    If you read some of the recent trip reports in the Northern section, you will find several groups have done this route in the last couple of months.
    How long does it take, is hugely variable, dependant on wether you wish to see any of the scenery at all, once you get to the smaller roads, in the Mae Sariang area you will find large volumes of traffic at this peak holiday time and so average speeds will drop below 60kph, thats from experience in the last few weeks.
    I would recommend you at least break the first leg into two ldys so you can enjoy it a bit more. One day you are likely to be riding into the dark. Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai can be done in an enjoyable days ride, still enjoying some of the views.
    Please do check the trip reports you will find various options described
  6. Grisu

    Grisu New Member

    The Bangkok-Pai Loop

    First of all, thanks for the helpful comments!

    For those in a rush, and just to answer my own question from above:

    Confirm: Bangkok - Mae Sariang (about 750 km) can be done more or less "easily" in one day on big bikes. For this however, one should leave Bangkok early in the morning (say 7 a.m. or earlier in order to arrive MS before dark, and any major delays should not occur. Mae Sariang - Mae Hong Son - Pai - Chaingmai (about 430 km) can be done on the second day, too.

    BUT if you can afford to add at least another day, do it, because you will enjoy the ride and the scenery so much more!

    For all others, here's the long version:

    Finally, after a couple of discussions, we (riding a BMW K 1200 S, Honda CB 1300, and a Yamaha R1) agreed to do the trip over three days.

    Day 1 (Sun, Dec 28, 2008)

    Since we decided to do it sloooow, two of us start with breakfast on Thonglor at 7:30 a.m., picking up the third guy at 8:30 at BTS Ari.

    Well, with the usual delays, the needs of lots of caffeine in the morning to get brain and body working, we don't leave the Starbucks before 9 a.m. Traffic at that time is heavier than expected for a Sunday morning, and leaving town via Vibhavadhi is not that much fun.

    Anyway, the first tank stop after 220 km is reached in less than 2 hours thanks to sufficient horsepower and excellent roads.

    From Kamphaeng Pet onwards, however, the road gets a bit bumpier, but still manageable. Then, finally we get into the mountains; GREAT canyon roads, lots of cornering. Feels like home!

    A pity that this great experience is messed up once more by the driving style in Thailand: apparently it does not matter how many lanes are available for one direction, you always have to be prepared to have someone coming straight towards you on what you might think is your lane. Scary!

    We reach Mae Sot earlier than expected at 4 p.m. Or should I say we almost reach it? My fuel warning light has been on for a while, and the moment I enter the roundabout, the engine shuts off and attempts to restart are in vain. Keeping the bike rolling as long as possible, I come to a final halt right in front of the gas station - just on the opposite site of the road, with the next two u-turns blocked so tightly, that even a bike cannot get through. What a f**k!

    Luckily my mate with the CB 1300 sees my misery (he's already on the other side of the road) and helps me out with some pushing.

    Well, at least I know now exactly how much gas fits into my tank, and I do not have to try anymore how far I can go after this little yellow light turns on... (In fact, I realize how lucky I am that this thing did not happen 10 km away from the next station!)

    After the thirst for gasoline is satisfied, we start another discussion: two of us find Mae Sot rather boring, and having come so far already, we wonder if it's really such a good idea to spend the night here as originally planned. And Mae Sariang doesn't seem that far. We are aware we are entering deeper into the mountains, but it's only another 230 km, and at least the first half of the remaining distance seems pretty straight, so we assume it should be possible to reach M.S. by riding maximum half an hour in the dark (initially we agreed not to ride after sunset at all...). Then we should still have sufficient time to find a hotel, have a hot hot shower, a 2 hours Thai massage, a nice dinner with maybe one or another beer, and yet go to bed early to be fit for the next day. And so, with a 2:1 vote, we keep the motor(s) running.

    With 20 minutes wasted on this discussion, we are leaving Mae Sot at 4:25 p.m.

    We have seen a couple of road accidents already on that day, but the bicycle run over by a truck and a sandal left on the road puts a knot into our stomachs.

    Anyway, our decision to depart is rewarded with wonderful, empty roads, and the landscape submerged in the colors of the slowly setting sun. Close to the Myanmar border, numerous police check-points slow us down once in a while, but at least none of us gets stopped. We also pass a huge refugee camp, but with a tight schedule, there is no time to stop and take a closer look. (However, much information about this interesting topic can be found here on the web, just for instance one link here: http://www.unhcr.org/country/tha.html )

    This ride is a dream...

    ...with a slight taste of a nightmare: the well built road abruptly ends. Apparently we have reached the end of the road extension; all ahead of us is under construction. We have to do a couple of kilometers just on sand, slowing us down tremendously. As the sun sets further, two of us have to do an extra stop in order to exchange the black face shields against transparent ones.

    The good news is that the construction area ends soon. The bad news is that the road is now tiny and not in a good condition. And soon the twilight turns into dark. Pitch dark. We have done more than 600 km already, and things are getting really exhausting. We are on these roads for the first time in our lives, and we have no idea what to expect behind the next corner, and there are many of them. Shadows turn out to be leaves, birds, stones, or whatever. One of us thinks he has run over a snake...

    The job for the front rider gets really nerve-racking, and once in a while he will wave one of his followers to take the lead. Muscles in the back, arms, and legs are getting tighter on my sports toy, and the fun part seems to be over. For the first time this day I see the brake lights of my friends flickering in the middle of corners, adjusting speed or lean angle, or just tipping the pedal in a moment of feeling insecure for no real reason. Kind of fear detector rather than a brake light.

    We are in desperate need for a break. Since the road is tiny, we need to avoid collisions with following cars and stop the bikes as far on the left as possible. I underestimate the slope on the banquette, I feel my right foot stepping into the nothing while I'm getting off my bike, and then I realize my 200 kg baby moving towards me. With the limited remains of energy I cannot prevent the fall, but slow it down at least. I hurt my arm badly, but the bike falls onto grass only, and there is no damage at all. But without the help of my friends, I would never have got it up again. Thanks na!

    Facing a moment of pure horror when the bike cannot be re-started, the engine warning light is on, and the display shows some error code. Would I leave the bike here in the middle of nothing next to the Burmese border? Or sleep in the roadside ditch with whatever animals might be there? Luckily the beast starts roaring again after the key is turned off and on. ....!

    Finally we make it to Mae Sariang, arriving around 8 p.m. Instead of riding half an hour in the dark as expected, it became more than two hours.

    I did some Internet search earlier and remember some hotel recommendations, but what a disappointment to find them all fully booked. I don't know what this little village has to offer that attracts such a number of tourists, but it seems we cannot find any reasonable hotel or guest house at all! After another hour of search we give up and take the 300 Baht hotel. The beds sag, the bed sheets and towels are covered with stains, but at least there is a private bath room. We are forced to skip the Thai massage and have dinner instead. With enough beer to find some sleep. After that, I'm looking forward to get at least my hot shower which my back needs so urgently. But - oh my God! - the water in the shower gets barely warm. How am I going to survive the next day?

    Lessons learned day one:

    - Even on a Sunday morning, leave Bangkok before 8 or 8:30 a.m. latest
    - The tank of my R1 holds 17.3 L, which suffices for 290 km max., and within less than 60 km after the first flashing of the fuel warning light I seriously need to look for a gas station!
    - The 750 km BKK-Mae Sariang can be done in one day, but if you want to arrive before dark (highly recommended!) you better leave Bangkok at 6 a.m. and take no breaks for photo sessions.
    (This applies for the current road condition and might change for the better once construction is completed. Let me know when this will be.)
    - Hotels in Mae Sariang should be booked in advance during peak season!

    Day 2 (Mon, Dec 29, 2008)

    After we have made so many kilometers more than expected on the first day, we take it slow on the second one. After a big breakfast we leave Mae Sariang at 9:45 a.m. It's a cold but wonderful morning, roads are excellent, and despite the high season there is hardly any traffic. What a perfect ride!

    We reach Mae Hong Son at noon time already (about 250 km in 3 hours) and decide to continue to Pai instead of staying in Mae Sot overnight. I have stayed at the wonderful Pai River Corner Resort before (see http://www.pairivercorner.com) and I call the owners to book rooms for the night. But the next hotel challenge seems ahead: not only the Pai River Corner is fully booked, the whole village of Pai is apparently over-booked! Thus they can only give me some recommendations to check upon arrival in Pai; nothing to be booked in advance. As it is still early, we don't worry too much.

    Mae Hong Son almost ran out of non-gasohol-gasoline, and we are lucky to find another gas station a little bit out of town. We continue along amazing roads with stunning views. (No pics posted here though since they would be merely copies of the wonderful photos to be found in the other threads already.)

    Since we take more time this day to enjoy the scenic views, we arrive Pai not before 6 p.m. - and indeed we find ourselves confronted again with the problem of finding a hotel.

    Luckily, the staffs from Belle Villa turn out to be extremely helpful, and finally we manage to get one room in their resort and another one a bit out of town. Glad we are not forced to continue to Chiangmai throughout the night!

    The Belle Villa is a very cozy place with a number of nicely styled cottages. For details see http://www.bellevilla.com

    From my previous visit, I remember Pai as a bit strange place for a kind of foreign Hippie folks, but it looks like this place takes a 180 degrees turn in this season: the town is absolutely crowded with mostly young Thai people, many of them from Bangkok, and hardly any Farangs. A nice bustling atmosphere, and we spend the evening making new friends, and consuming a couple of more beers than the night before. Lucky the bar we are in offers an open fireplace as it's getting f***ing cold by now.

    Lessons learned day two:
    - Amazing roads of Thailand!
    - During that time of the year, it can be rather cold in the mountains. Prepare clothes accordingly!
    - Hotels in Pai should be booked in advance during peak season!

    Day 3 (Tue, Dec 30, 2008)

    One of us apparently enjoyed partying too much the evening before, and we do not leave Pai before 11 a.m. - which turns out to be a mistake: apparently all of the folks in Pai have decided to leave at the same time, and we even have to cue up at the gas station. Unbelievable.

    Accordingly, we face rot tit maak on the roads, and this is no fun. Lots of cars forcing us to speeds of partly below 50 km/h. And overtaking is quite risky.

    Anyway, the road is still fascinating, and we finally make the only 150 km to Chiangmai. With a loooong lunch break with lots of coffee we arrive in the late afternoon, this time with the hotel booked in advance from Bangkok! The choice is the Shangri-La (http://www.shangri-la.com/en/property/chiangmai/shangrila). Perfect hotel, perfect service (well, forget about this NYE buffet...), and finally I get my perfect massage. (Thanks Khun A.) What a wonderful life!

    The bikes get a wash and a rest for two days

    Lessons learned day three:
    - Leave Pai early in the morning during peak season
    - The Shangri-La is probably the best hotel in Chiangmai

    Day 4 (Fri, Jan 2, 2009)

    After the NY break with family reunion, two of us decide to go back to BKK in two days with a stopover in Sukhothai for some history lessons.

    We choose to take the route 11 direction Phrae and leave Chiangmai at around 11 a.m. with quite some traffic all along the way to Lamphang and partly further. But what a reward once we are on the 101 (be careful not to miss this small right turn at the junction a couple of kilometers before Den Chai!): the road is small but with good tarmac, no cars at all, amazing mountain views, green all over. No speeding, just cruising, and the conviction that life simply cannot be any better.

    "So don't stop me now don't stop me
    'Cause I'm having a good time having a good time

    I'm a shooting star leaping through the skies
    Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
    I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
    I'm gonna go go go
    There's no stopping me

    I'm burning through the skies Yeah!
    Two hundred degrees
    That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
    I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
    I wanna make a supersonic man of you

    Don't stop me now I'm having such a good time
    I'm having a ball don't stop me now "

    Ok, good you cannot hear me singing in my helmet...

    We arrive Sukhothai in the late afternoon and check in at the Ruenthai Hotel as recommended by the Lonely Planet. A cozy boutique hotel that suits our needs. (http://www.rueanthaihotel.com)

    Then we still want to have our cultural lessons at Sukhothai Historical Park. But what a disillusionment. First of all my frustration on entering the park: my mate has paid already our entrance fees when I realize something strange: next to the price of 100 THB per person I find some Thai writing, apparently with a different price, which prompts me to ask the lady at the counter some questions, which prompts her to show me another sign, this one completely in English: Thais 20 Baht, Foreigners 100 Baht.


    I work in Thailand and pay a hell lot of taxes and now you still want to charge me five (!) times the normal price? I pull out my Thai driving license and start an useless argument with the lady who suddenly doesn't speak a single word of English anymore. With my limited Thai language skills, this discussion leads to nothing. (There are some other threads with regard to this topic, so what should we foreigners conclude? Boycott? Officially complain to the new PM who has no other problems to solve?)

    The second disappointment are the ruins themselves. More destroyed than Ayuthaya, and some concrete reconstruction might impress some historians but not me. Anyway, the day is saved by a nice sunset and some good value for money food at the "Coffee Cup", another recommendation from the Lonely Planet. (http://www.thecoffeecup.biz)

    Nightlife on a Friday evening is as disappointing as anything else in Sukhothai, so we just have a couple of beers and go to bed early.

    Lessons learned day four:
    - The wonderful 101 is worth a detour on the way back to BKK.
    - Sukhothai however is not worth an extra stop
    - Farang discrimination IS an issue in Thailand.

    Day 5 (Sat, Jan 3, 2009)

    Nothing much to say. Another 450 km on more or less boring roads just to bring us home, a necessity, not more. On the road I am wondering if I should not look for a job in Chiangmai...

    Traffic is getting heavier with every km that brings us closer to Krungthep, and I admit the last hour of the ride is no pleasure. At home, I almost fall of my bike, get my hot shower, have a great Thai massage at my favorite Mie Massage, and start dreaming about what tour could be next... Maybe Malaysia during Songkran...?

    Lessons learned day five:
    - These 2,000 km were the best trip ever!
  7. Marco

    Marco Ol'Timer


    Remember alway when you positing,, PREWIEV before you post so you actual can see if it's what you wanna people to see, before you posting,,,,

    love to see some pictures from your ride...

    and good note is ,put picture time to time and every one gor your intresteres....
  8. Pikey

    Pikey Ol'Timer

    I would say for "lessons learned" that a bit more planning would've made the trip much more enjoyable. Day 1 sounds like you used the bikes purely as a form of A to B transport rather than fun, and scrabbling around looking for accommodation in the dark would not be the way I would choose to end my day.

    Glad you guys enjoyed it but you could've made it a whole lot better.....



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