These are some nifty places I’ve been and fun things I did during my drive around the Mae Hong Son loop. Sadly I was only able to spend 4 nights on this joy ride, but I’d highly encourage you do spend at least a week to get the most out of it! Spend 2 nights in each place to get an actual feel for the town and explore the surrounding activities. You can enjoy jungle hikes (you do on you own), hot springs, caves, waterfalls, temples, rafting, visiting small villages, many many things to do. Make your trip your own!
As for the route my partner and I took, we went counter-clockwise:
Chiang Mai -> Pai -> Mae Hong Son -> Mae Sariang -> Chiang Mai
But I think I’d recommend going clockwise for a couple reasons:
1. The final 1.5 hours to Chiang Mai (going counter-clockwise) are the least enjoyable aspect.
2. Pai will probably be a highlight for most people and you may want to spend some extra days there, which is nicer as a last stop.
3. The longest drives are from Chiang Mai -> Mae Sariang and Mae Sariang -> Mae Hong Son so you can get the long drives in while you’re still feeling fresh 🙂
The drive itself is surely the best part of the experience (I mean, that’s what we’re doing here). You’ve got 600km of spectacular views. You’re driving through tropical jungles doing turn after turn on your bike (1864 from Chiang Mai -> Pai -> Mae Hong Son, to be exact).
There was barely any traffic in the rainy season…but there was also a lot of rain. We got wet everyday! But the rains are always coming and going so you dry off pretty quick when you’re riding at 60-90kph 😉
The Pai Night Market
Pai is an easy place to be. Almost too easy, it’s hard to move on. They’ve got live music almost every night and usually at several venues (the music is always better during high season). There is a sweet Jazz place that typically has backpackers playing as they stroll through Pai.
But our favorite thing about Pai is the night market that happens every night. It’s the cheapest most delicious food I find in Thailand. They have an extreme variety on offer from fresh avocado bruschetta on home baked whole wheat break, to fried gyoza, to lasagna, to the best vege wrap in Thailand! Whenever it’s dinner time, I wish I could teleport to the Pai night market.
The Pai Hua Chang Waterfall
Outside of food, the most memorable thing I’ve done in Pai is the Hua Chang Waterfall. I just saw something looking like a hike on MAPS.ME and decided to take off searching for the hidden treasure. I ended up convincing a few folks from the hostel to come with me. This hike follows the river the whole way to the waterfall, but the river is winding back and forth. So you’re doing 21 stream crossings by the time you get to the waterfall. It is relatively flat the whole way so hiking sandals absolutely recommended, but flipflops are probably fine. Then you get there and it’s got 3 separate waterfalls hitting the same spot. The hike takes 2-3 hours so take some water with you!
The Hill Sides by Cave Lod
About an hour drive from Pai -> Mae Hong Son is one of my favorite places called Cave Lodge. Cave Lodge is a hostel situated within walking distance to Cave Lod (a cave worth checking out and known for the 1000’s of birds that come flying in/out at dusk). I’d highly recommend a night or two at Cave Lodge. If you’re an adventurer they have some of the best caving experiences you can get. The place was setup by an Australian Caver who personally discovered the cave networks in the area during the 80’s and 90’s. His initial basecamp he later turned into Cave Lodge. It’s a little more pricey, but worth it because they have experienced people and quality equipment getting you through it.
Anywho, if you aren’t so adventurous as that, it’s an amazing journey spending the day just getting lost driving through the hills in the area. You’ll see amazing views and meet incredible locals!
Lastly, while you are there, there are some fantastic hikes to have. Ask people at Cave Lodge and they’ll tell you about a few. The Aussie even created 3 “treasure maps”, where you can go and try to find caves he’s give you loose instructions to find.
The Meditation Temple Wat Pa Tam Wua
This is a meditation retreat center. It is a beautiful place just to visit, see the meditators, walk around the lush monastery grounds, see the lakes, and be sure to check out the small caves they have. You can even join for a free lunch if you arrive between 11am-12pm.
Wat Pa Tam Wua is a meditation retreat center that lets you stay as many days as you would like from 1-10 days. You can just drop by and ask to stay there without reservations (but if you know you want to stay you can email them in advance). They will welcome you with smiles. You can learn about Buddhism and meditation and enjoy free food during your stay (they only ask for donations).
The JiJi’s Restaurant in Mae Hong Son
When you get to Mae Hong Son, go to JiJi’s to fill your tank. JiJi’s offers food for vegetarians and meaters alike. My partner and I are both vegetarian and the food here was incredible. I got the Thai Curry, which seemed like a mix between green curry and massaman…I wasn’t sure. The portion size was massive and it definitely could’ve been enough for two people with an order of rice. Also, we went for breakfast and their Fruit Bowl was delicious. It included 5-7 different fruits, muesli, yogurt, and cashews. Yum Yum!!
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything specific to mention for Mae Sariang. We were short on time and I was visiting a friend of mine who is living as a monk at Wat Chom Thong, nearer to Chiang Mai (another temple you can visit :). So we booked it early in the morning in order to spend the afternoon with Idan <3 Enjoy finding your own special places – there are many to be had!
How Much was My Trip?
We did this nearly as cheap as possible using a motorbike. It is definitely possible to do it using vans and buses for a bit less, but I only think that is cheaper as an individual. Also, I think it is not worth the cost savings to not be driving yourself. You’d miss out on so much freedom and joy in exploring those small random roads leading to nowhere and ending up in gorgeous mountain villages or random hikes.
So here is my cost breakdown totaling the values for 2 people.
|Transport||Motorbike and Fuel||$1060|
|Activities||Bamboo (only paid for activity)||$60|
|Food||Normal Daily Food (with a little bit of splurging)||$1660|
|Other||Alcohol & Gifts||$100|
Let me know – what are some of your favorite things about the Mae Hong Song Loop 😀