My Mae Hong Son Experience

Feb 19, 2004
For less words and more pictures please visit: and enter this email address to view my album [email [email protected]][email protected][/email] and now on to the story...


The plan was simple - go ride the famed Mae Hong Son loop in northern Thailand. I had read about the route and over the years it had become a favorite tour for back country and road riders alike. So on a 34C afternoon, I loaded my bike and headed out to start my tour on this secluded and scenic journey. I departed from Ayuthaya around noon and decided to steer away of the major highway heading north, instead choosing a circuitous route through smaller towns and
hopefully closer to the mountains. As it turned out, the roads were satisfying to ride but the heat was no better since I was still smack dab in the middle of the central plains of Thailand. What would have taken me 1.5 hrs. by major highway turned into 4 hours of riding but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Cruising thru Nakon Sawan, I made a stop in this mid-sized town for a chain adjustment. The guys at the local shop love to see big bikes as the typical motor in Thailand is about 100-150cc. Many questions are posed about how fast is the bike and how big is the motor and what is the top speed. It reminds me of the excitement I felt when I was first introduced to motorcycling. Off I went heading due north until I reached the larger mid-sized town of Phitsanoluk. Nothing too exciting as far as a motorcycle tour goes but I camped out here for the night since it was getting dark and I'd rather avoid being on the road after sundown. That evening as I studied the map the road seemed to be a thin band running along the Burmese border and in some places passing closer than a stone's throw of the Shan state of Myanmar. I had heard that some sections of the road were dangerous or at least used to be - "lonely, pot holed stretches where bandits
ran amok, guerrillas pressed their causes and narco-armies prowled."

The next day started early to beat some of the central plain heat. Late March can bring the start of the hot season in Thailand and as April arrives the rain shows up as well. I departed heading due west along No.12 thru Sukhothai to Tak. 14km out of Tak the road
begins its first scenic jaunt into the mountains. Cool air, weeping corners and steep climbs and drops. Although short lived it is an appetizer of the terrain to soon be covered. I eventually arrived in Mae Sot, a small town about 6 km from the Burmese border. Another fun part of No.12 is the new section of 2 lane divided highway that is straight as an arrow. This lies between Phitluk and Sukothai. Not a car in sight and a great place to wind it open while trying to break any previous land speed records. I reached Mae Sot around 1pm and so lunch was in order. Mae Sot has a touristy feel to it as it is a jumping off point for those major treks and white water adventures in Thailand. Stopped in at a great little restaurant, River Restaurant, and had a good discussion with the owner Kun Mate. He told me all about the great caves and waterfalls in the locale but he also told me about some of the more serious issues that Mae Sot and the surrounding area were experiencing. This region is home to a group of indigenous people called the Karens. They are often crossing the border into Thailand fleeing from the Burmese army. As they settle in Thailand they clear the forest to create plots/fields so they can grow rice and other crops and build homes. At the same time they are taking advantage of clearing additional forest and selling the land to local wealthy or individuals from Bangkok who end up building a lodge or tourist resort. The deforestation is happening at such a rate that many areas are experiencing a warming trend and local temperature increases. The deforestation has also led to an inability of the land to absorb and store the additional moisture/water during the rainy season and consequentially there is an increase in landslides and floods. It was disheartening to hear this news and I wished
him luck in his attempts to help the local community find resolutions with these issues.
Looking at the map I had about 200km to the next significant town of Mae Sariang. I figured that should take at most 3 hours and left Mae Sot around 3pm as I tried to avoid mid-afternoon heat. Starting out from Mae Sot can be a bit confusing as the highways to various
destinations disperse from a round-about a few clicks from town. As I went round and round I tried to coordinate my map with the round-about exits to hit the right one for Hwy.105. Wouldn't ya know I luckily decided on the right one. The first 33km north of Mae Sot was fairly hot, dry and flat. As I reached Mae Ramat I started wondering if the whole ride to Mae Sariang was going to go like this. Another chain adjustment and I discovered that the boys in Philuk didn't actually use the adjusters on the swing arm ends to pick-up the slack. This time a back water repair shop did the job and thru my improving broken Thai we had a little chat about my bike, where I came from and where I was going. Again, as I usually find in Thailand, no one wants to be paid but is helping out from the goodness in their hearts. "Jai dee" and "Korp khun mak
krup" and I'm on my way. I continued on the 42km to Tha Song Yang and the Tham Mae U-Su cave. I peaked in for a look and was treated to a great sight as the caves inner depths were lit by the sun as light poured in through a shaft on the western hill. I pass thru a
number of Karen villages that have hundreds of thatch roofed huts scattered all over the hill sides and backed by huge limestone karsts that drift away into Burma. Many of the village kids came running out to the roadside as I puttered thru. I couldn't help but
stopping and trying to communicate with them. It was amazing to think they lived as simply as they did and back home our world is so filled with technology that we feel we couldn't live with out. As I pushed on the road climbs and dips and provides fantastic views of chocolate brown hills and jagged peaks. The road then begins its climb in earnest into the mountains and winds its way thru 2000-2800 foot elevations with many hairpin turns. Sometimes the river will make a brief appearance running beside the asphalt and then disappearing back into the forest. I noticed no services so it was a good thing I filled up in Mae Sot. Hwy 105's characteristics mimic a carefully constructed Disney ride. A few newly paved sections offer a relaxing relief from the mix of gravel corners, ruts, pot
holes, rough tread, steep mountain passes, blind corners, disappearing lanes that slid during the rainy season, washouts, landslides, roaming Kwai (water buffalo), brush fires,
eye stinging smoke and the odd tree branch which reaches down and wallops your helmet just to remind you that you'll need to keep your eyes on the road and not the scenery. Don't get me wrong - I loved every minute of it. Two of the mountain passes were tricky as they turned to soft dirt and need to be negotiated with care lest I end up on my better half. I was glad that the dirt sections were on the uphill side since braking in this stuff would surely have put me wheels up. After what seems like another hour of the seemingly endless logged Teak forests of Salawin National Park, or what is left of them, I make another rest stop. This time to take in some water and the views of a sun setting over the hills and
mountains of Mayanmar. I did make a mistake of thinking I could cover the distance to Mae Sariang in good time. My average speed in this latter half of the trek was about 40-50kph. Road conditions and visibility reduced by smoke and low light were my greatest impediments.
I would recommend anyone interested to do this ride to plan it well before the hot season arrives. I was about two weeks prior but most of the moisture had dried up and the natural burn was well underway. As the light faded ever quicker I new I needed another bottle of "Krateng Dang" (original Red Bull) to see me thru this. A friend once told me "slow and steady wins the race" and this was my mantra. I reached Mae Sariang at 8:30pm that evening and bedded down at the new River House Resort. A total treat as this place is 4 months old and charming with natural wood everything. It is set right beside the river and has a great terrace for breakfast. Apparently all the wood furniture was hand built on site as well. I
highly recommend it with breakfast for 800 baht. The morning breakfast on the terrace with great coffee and toast and eggs was
delicious. I especially like the setting - right beside the Soep Moei River. As I depart Mae Sariang for Mae Hong Son, Hwy. 105 becomes 108 and for good reason. Its a totally different beast. More fresh blacktop and around 60km north of Mae Sariang is what I call a sport riders dream. Hairpin after hairpin tucked neatly into a valley with the river right beside. Did I hit a truck and go to motorbiker heaven? I had to turn around and do it again it was so amazing. The early heat of the day providing just the right temperature to turn my tires to fly paper. I couldn't get the bugger to budge no matter how much I leaned it over. By the end of my second run I had holes in my pants at the knees!! The overall ride to Mae Hong Son is fantastic and has stunning views through
mountain peaks, golden valleys and patch work rice fields that disappear into the folds of the hills with their vibrant greens.

I spent a night in Mae Hong Son and negotiated a similar 700Baht rate at the Mountian View Inn (they were almost empty). The next provided similar riding and views all the way to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately as I arrived in Chiang Mai I became concerned about some engine noise which I had heard since I bought the bike. At first it was a subtle vibration between 3000-4000 rpm but the vibrations had spread to a wider band. Took my bike to Big Bikes and they passed it off as a normal Yamaha engine noise. Tom & Joe looked at it and considered it a cam chain issue but thought I'd make it to Bangkok where I'd be better off dealing with it. Next day I left in the afternoon and made it to Den Chai before she gave up the ghost. I coasted into the local HighWay police office for assistance. We talked train schedules and it looked like the next one left in the morning. So the boys not only fed me but gave me use of the shower and put me up for a night in their A/C police dorm complete with my own bed. These guys were phenomenal hosts. The next day they ordered a police pick-up to get me to the train station. Although I ended up negotiating with an empty transport headed for a load in Bangkok. I have to say if you are ever in Den Chai please drop in and buy some beer for the boys in brown. I loaded their fridge before departing but they went beyond the call of duty to help me out.

Cheers and keep it upright...
Yamaha TDM 850

Check my post "needing engine parts" if you think you can help me out


Jan 1, 2004
Great story and pics. I plan to ride the same area, from Chonburi to Mae Sot and Mae Sariang. How are the hills? Anything very steep and tight? I have been riding since last Feb, a Honda Super Four, 400cc (i love your TDM!) and wonder if there will be many problems. I have done the tight winds on Goh Chang, but dont know what to compare to that area near MHS...

Any advice is welcomed. thanks and keep riding and writing

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