2 Days 10,000 Hairpins. Mae Hong Son Loop

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Canoli, Jul 11, 2011.

  1. Canoli

    Canoli Member

    Mar 24, 2010
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    Chaps had an idea, Matt (AKA “Passport”) had some time to kill and I had encouragement from Canoli Wife to go have some fun. So on the weekend of April 30th – May 1st 2011 we boarded a plane from Bangkok and flew up to Chiang Mai after work. The “plan” if you could call it that was to spend a night in Chiang Mai, get up in the morning, find a place that would rent us some bikes and ride the infamous Mae Hong Son Loop. For those not familiar with this route, it is actually a series of twisty two lane roads (Rt 107, Rt 1095, Rt 108,1263,1192 & 1009) that form a circuit startingending in Chiang Mai and reaching its midpoint at Mae Hong Song to the west. With an estimated 10,000 hairpin turns that snake though rural villages, and up and over jungle covered mountains it is a tour that must be done by any one who loves to ride motorcycles in South East Asia.


    Taking the 11PM Air Asia flight from Bangkok I arrived in town a bit later then I had wanted but after quickly checking into the barhotel


    I caught up with the guys who had gone ahead and gotten us a table at one of the more classy watering holeskickboxing arenas.




    Some time during the night of heavy drinking, eating of food that was questionable (Burger King at 2 am) or some time during our game of Jenga for beers we realized that an early morning start was necessary in order to allow enough time to enjoy the next days ride. So we called it a night and retuned to the Ride INN for an attempt at sleep.

    A solid four hours later we stumbled (fell) down the 3 flights of stairs, said goodbye to the staff, realized that Passports’ passport had been lost (now you know why we gave him that nick name) and headed out in search of some two-wheeled transport. Since Chiang Mai is a Mecca for backcountry motorcycle travel we were quickly able to secure 2 KLX 250’s for myself and Mr. Chaps and a Honda 125 scooter for Passport.



    Since Passport had limited riding experience we figured that an easy to handle twist and go would be the best bet. That way he could throw the bike into the turns and not have to worry about clutching and changing gears etc.. We topped off the tanks and got a little lost in town but eventually started rolling down Rt 107 on our way into the hills.

    Once we turned onto 1095 we pulled over so Chaps could change out of his dual sport flip-flops and into his race ready skate fully armored shoes (safety third!). We also decided to give the bikes a quick once over since the road ahead was going to get twisty. Pretty glad we did because we realized that Passports front wheel was flat. Luckily there is a motorcycle repair hut in every small town and for the outrageous price of $.75 US and a whopping six minutes later the tire was fixed and we were once again on our way.


    Riding up 1095 we carved our way through the mountains being sure to watch out for the normal hazards. Like dogs running into road, the cows that were already in the middle of the road, ..


    and the notorious grey mini-buses. In addition to the dogs, cows and busses we also had to watch out for the carnage from a few recent accidents as well as the numerous groups of people who were in various stages of motion sickness on the side of the road (sorry no pics of that). We took our time, stopped for a breakfast around 10:30, and even pulled over a few times to admire the view and snap some pictures.




    At 2:00 PM we rolled into the trustifarian town of Pai. This picturesque town is a major destination for backpackers and with its number of quality restaurants and guesthouses combined with the beauty of the surrounding countryside it is easy to see why. We stopped for a rest, grabbed a mango shake from a local establishment, took a few more pictures and got back to it.



    At around 3 pm the sky opened up and things slowed WAYY down. The fun twisty road suddenly turned into a log flume and we cautiously eased our bikes with the non-DOT knobbies though the turns being careful extra careful not to push too hard. Visibility was at times near 0 but after a few anxiety filled hours of riding we reached our destination for the day. The town of Mae Hong Son. Once in town we found a guesthouse on the main drag that met our requirements of clean, air-conditioned, cheap with hot showers and a nearby bar.


    We checked in, cleaned up and walked the 300 yards to The Cross Roads bar. This was our kind of place. It had great Thai food, cheap beer and motorcycle memorabilia stickers all over the place.


    We killed a few hours there waiting for the rain to stop and afterwards headed back to the guesthouse for some more beer some more laughs and a Cuban cigar for me ( a gift from the wife). Since we were exhausted from the days ride we called it an early night and passed out before 11.

    I was woken up by the sounds of the monastery next door around 6 am and met the guys downstairs who were ready to roll. Chaps really wanted to visit the Karen Long Neck Tribe who live just outside of town so we took a detour off the main road,



    followed the signs ..


    and wound up in tourist trap hell. We tried not playing by their rules and instead of going to the office to pay money, we headed into their village and bought the traditional Karen Tribal breakfast.


    They were NOT pleased with us. While we were sitting down to eat a guy came over and shoved a piece of paper into our faces. It said that in order to see the long neck women we needed to pay 250 bhat each (about $8.30 US). Well if that’s what we had to do …. So be it. Once we paid, we were lead through a gauntlet of souvenir shops and into their “village”. This was not the village that we bought breakfast from, but rather a village setting that seemed to have been specially constructed for tours with yet more souvenir stands. We snapped a few pictures bought some trinkets and headed back to the bikes.



    We asked one of the girls over to the bikes for some pictures and while we had planned on giving her a few bucks for her trouble, she turned and yelled at the office manager something that we took to be “ Hay did these boys pay us yet”? Only after the manager gave his approval did the girl come over and smile.


    In a country where it is extremely rare to find anyone who is pushy or rude the attitude we got from this village was 180 degrees different from anything any of us had experienced in our many years of living in Thailand. My wife and I have visited other Karen tribes in Northern Thailand (not the long necks) and our experience was nothing short of amazing. That tribe was friendly, welcoming and even invited us into their homes. I’m not sure what we were expecting from this branch of the Karen, but it sure as hell wasn’t the “give us money or go away” attitude that we got.

    Back on the bikes we shook off the bad vibes and headed out of town on 108 and back into the hills. The second ½ of the Mae Hong Son loop that we were on looked less like South East Asia and more like the hills of Germany.


    There were rolling green hills, lots of cattle farms and not much else. But just when we expected to hear yodeling we would turn a corner and run into tiered rice patties that were carved into the sides of mountains.


    The roads were just as twisty as the previous day but blissfully devoid of traffic and the rain held off for most of the day.


    While we had to keep the pace up in order to get the bikes back to Chiang Mai by 6 pm but we certainly didn’t rush the ride. Taking our time to absorb the scenery we stopped often to take pictures and grab some lunch at an old-world coffee house in the middle of nowhere. More great food, more caffeine and more miles to cover back on the bikes we go.


    At the intersection of Rt 1192 & 1009 we had a decision to make. Did we want to ride up to the summit of Doi Ithanon Thailand’s highest peak or did we want to get back into town? With the skies threatening, time running short and our energy levels fading we decided to head south on 1009 and get back to civilization. Just as we made the turn the sky let loose a deluge of water. This time it was not the normal happy fat warm rain that is standard for this region, rather it was cold stinging rain that just sucks to ride in.


    Eventually we turned onto 108 (highway slab) and cruised into town around 4 pm. We got our ID’s back and headed over to Riders Corner where we were welcomed like old friends. We took our seats for some burgers & beer and a few laughs.


    While sitting around laughing about the last few days we ran into Simon & Lisa who were killing time on their round the world trip while waiting for Simons bike to be fixed.


    These two are both amazing photographers with more stories then could be imagined. It was cool to have a chance to meet and chat with them.

    Around 9 PM I had to say goodbye and I grabbed a Tuk Tuk to the airport for the last flight of the night back to Bangkok.

    The Mae Hong Son loop is a truly fantastic motorcycle tour and like so many other places we have ridden it is not just the road or the bikes that make it great. It is the combination of good roads, great scenery, the food, and the people that make the journey memorable.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. Ozjourno

    Ozjourno Ol'Timer

    Sep 1, 2011
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    Great yarn and some terrific photos. I have ridden only Chiangmai to Pangmapha, 50 klms from Pai along the Maehongson road. However if the rest of the loop is similar to the first 200kms, it deserves a spot in 10 Most Fabulous Bike Rides in the World.
  3. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Sep 19, 2006
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    Good on You for going at the start of Rain season! It's a Great Ride anytime of Year so glad You had a Good time!
  4. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

    Oct 23, 2009
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    Hello Canoli. I am sorry that you had a bad impression from the «*kro yao*». Maybe it was the wrong village. Since twenty years I take pictures from the Karen Padang and I love them. I have, however, mostly visited the village of Na Noi (North-West of MHS).


    During my last visit, I gave them old pictures and they really enjoyed them. Over the years, they have learned some Thai language and communication is now easier.

    If you are interested, this is the link to my GTR post:


    At least you did a nice trip on this legendary loop.



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