550 km through the highlands of Thailand. Wow. First I struggled a bit as I’ve never driven such a long distance on a scooter but finally felt like I really wanna see the landscape so I told myself: Just do it! Within half a day I looked for a good deal for a reliable scooter (1000 Baht/26€ for 7 days) I organized some equipment for the trip.
Absolutely! I bought a brand new helmet and a waterproofed phone holder for the scooter. According to the locals I made a really good deal to get the helmet for only 300 Baht (8€). And actually it was a really good one! I would recommend this to everyone going on a scooter trip: get your own helmet! It’s so important to feel safe while driving through the highlands and it helps keep yourself warm as well!
The phone holder was a bit more expensive – 450 Baht (12€) – but after finding myself around 6 times in a pouring rain I was more than happy and thankful about it. Definitely worth the money.
Actually there are different routes for this loop. As there are only a few streets leading through the highlands you don’t have a lot of possibilities to vary the route itself but you can decide where to stop and how far you wanna go. Here is my version of the loop:
First Stop: Pai – 130 km
Luckily I got some company for the first part of this trip to get comfortable driving the curvy and steep routes. It took us 3,5 hours to get from Chiang Mai to Pai. It is a nice place to stay for a few days. I’ve been there for 2 days before I continued my trip through the Mae Hong Son Province. More information about Pai here.
Second Stop: Mae Hong Son – 107 km
Being on my own was a bit strange in the beginning but quite funny in the end.
I wasn’t sure what I’ve actually expected from this stop but I was a bit surprised. Not really in a good way. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem just wandering around in Mae Hong Son and look for a nice hostel to stay for one night. There are a bunch of accommodations but they are not really cheap or even not available any more.
I would recommend to book a room in advance if you know you will stop in Mae Hong Son. I finally found a place to stay with a nice view on the Nong Jong Kham Lake.
Phra That Doi Kong Mu
This is a nice viewpoint close to the city of Mae Hong Son. It only takes about 10-15 minutes by scooter to get up there. It’s definitely worth a stop!
Third Stop: Mae Chaem – 148 km
After Mae Hong Son a stop at Mae Sariang is most likely. I decided to skip this stop due to the distance and to go straight to Mae Chaem. I am really happy about the decision to stay in Mae Chaem for one night!
Warm welcome in Mae Chaem
Luckily I found a great homestay owned by lovely open-minded locals. As soon as I’ve arrived at KwanLah Homestay I joined a group heading to a secret local sunset point. After driving 150 km that day the way up there was really exhausting. But finally the bumpy and life-endangering route (it seriously was!!!) was worth the thrill. The view was just breathtaking!
After this adventure the guys from the homestay – a young couple – took us for dinner to their favorite restaurant nearby. We had a great buffet – a mix of grill and pot so you can boil some noddles and vegetables as well as grill your meat, fish or tofu. Very delicious! As I mentioned how much I love morning glory we got a perfect Thaistyle breakfast the next day. I can warmly recommend this homestay to everyone and I will be back for sure.
Final Stop: Chiang Mai – 165 km
The last part of the loop was definitely the hardest. Not only because of the distance but also because of the moment getting back to the city. After driving through the pure nature and staying in small towns for 5 days it felt like a shock to get back to the big roads, the traffic and the crowds of people. While having the jungle around and the breathtaking views ahead you totally forget about stress and hurry.
Wait, there is something missing…
Between Mae Chaem and Chiang Mai is another possible stop on the way: Doi Inthanon. I’ve already been there last year so I’ve decided not to do this again. Some more information about Doi Inthanon.
Get off the road
My advice: Most of the time there is only one way to take to get to your next stop. But sometimes it’s better to take a turn and to drive a few kilometers off the planned route. I did this on my way from Pai to Mae Hong Son. Without any specific reason I turned right at one crossing and followed the road. Best decision! I finally ended up having a great and cheap lunch at an amazing viewpoint at Ban Jabo.
I really enjoyed my trip through the highlands and I can warmly recommend this tour. Adventures guaranteed: Cows will force you to stop while crossing the road, trucks will splash mud on you while trying to pass them, monks might stop you on the way for some drinking water and kids will smile and wave at you totally delighted. Moments like this let you forget about being soaked from the rain and freezing in the wind!