Mae Hong Son Loop: part 1

After hearing about our friends’ epic Mae Hong Son Loop adventure over a pre-trip dinner, Steve and I knew that we wanted to do the loop. We began and ended our trip in Chiang Mai and decided to skip Doi Inthanon and head straight for Mae Sariang.

We knew it was going to be a good trip when we got a flat tire 50+ km outside of Chiang Mai. And amazingly it was right in front of a moto repair shop.

Route 108 from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang, at approximately 180 km was a good warmup for the roads ahead; the roads only got steeper and curvier as the week progressed. Two people on one scooter for over 600 km and 3000+ curves is absolutely grueling and this is probably not the route for a novice. I didn’t realize just how hard the loop was going to be until we’d completed the first day’s ride and I stumbled off of the scooter hardly able to walk.

As soon as we arrived in Mae Sariang we ducked into the Riverview Hotel, which was way too posh for us to stay (1000 Baht/night), but the beer was the right price and the view of the river was superb.


View of the Yuam River from the Riverview Hotel in Mae Sariang.

Mae Sariang was our favorite place in Northern Thailand…a small town, a lazy river, and a barely perceptible trickle of tourists.


View from the Good View Guesthouse

To break up the monotony of our loop we arranged a trek with “Mr. Salawin” of Salawin Tours. You can find him at the Good View Guesthouse. Steve and I wanted an “off the beaten path” trek…and that’s exactly what we got…for better and worse. We hiked down steep ravines, scaled waterfalls, swung on vines, crossed streams and encountered leeches. Our homestay was superb; the family was friendly and we were provided with plenty of bedding…although Mr. Salawin’s cooking was a little boring.

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Impressive scenery along our trek.

We had plenty of company for lunch and everyone was curious about the “farang” that had spent the morning trekking to their village. The kids were especially curious and after they warmed up it was hard to get them to settle down again.

mae sariang salawin trek collage

Lunch stop at a Karen village

mae sariang salawin kids color

New friends

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Last day of the trek…couldn’t be happier.

mae sariang salawin grandma

Grandma smokin’ her pipe

If you book with Mr. Salawin don’t expect very much….he’ll probably wing fact I know he’ll wing it and the food won’t be that great, but you’ll have an epic story when you get finished and the villagers along the way will make up for Mr. Salawin’s devil may care attitude.

Also, on the last day, when he was falling far behind us and we were having to wait for him to catch up he informed us that he is diabetic….luckily we had a couple extra snacks with us….oddly enough he couldn’t survive on coffee and cigarettes.

The drive from Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son was stunning…super green rice paddies, a fun cave and winding mountain roads.

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Scenery on the road to Mae Hong Son

Food Coma

Steve and I stuffed ourselves silly during a full day cooking course at Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School. We ate so well in Chiang Mai….mostly we ate tons of Khao Soi (Khow Soy), a delicious yellow curry with egg noodles, chicken, fresh red onion, crispy noodles and lime.

Between stuffing ourselves to oblivion we enjoyed plenty of mojitos at Griffin Bar. I have a sweet spot for Griffin Bar…Egg and his friends are always welcoming and they don’t mind practicing their English. They’ll help you plan a moto trip, whip up a mean mojito (for only 50 Baht), and if you’re lucky they’ll treat you to some live music. Griffin Bar’s street front is completely nondescript and without their sign advertising 50 baht mojitos you probably wouldn’t give it a second look(on Soi 7 off of Moonmaung). Before you know it you’ll be helping Egg hold up the bar and you’ll be many mojitos deep…and each one is stronger than the last.

Mojitos, reggae and impromptu jam sessions

And about that cooking school induced food coma….or maybe it was a mojito induced coma…

Sawat, our cooking instructor at Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School, was AWESOME!!! He was hilarious, his english was nearly perfect and he was patient…far more patient than I would have been. They had a menu of about 18 different dishes so we could choose our favorites to learn how to make. Everything was delicious. For about $30-35 a person we each learned how to make 6 dishes including how to make our own curry paste and Sawat made one of our favorites….green papaya salad.

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From the top left: curry paste at the market, my homemade curry paste, yellow curry ingredients and the finished product.

We were stuffed after the first three dishes. Steve made: green curry (the paste and the dish), tom yum soup, chicken basil stir fry, fried spring rolls, and bananas in coconut milk. And I made chicken coconut galangal soup, yellow curry (the paste and the dish), cashew chicken, fried big noodles, and mango sticky rice.

Here are some more pics from our day of cooking class.

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From top left: Sawat (our cooking instructor), Minced chicken for Steve’s Chicken Basil, Cashew Chicken, and sauces and seasonings from the market


Steve’s Tom Yum Soup


Chicken Basil Stir Fry


For all of our dishes we used super fresh ingredients from the market and their garden.


Roselle at the cooking school’s garden.

If anyone is interested in any of the recipes just shoot me a message and I’ll forward a copy to you.

Getting Off The Beaten Path in Chiang Mai

Just beyond the tourist trap of Doi Suthep is another tourist trap catering to busloads of tourists…a Hmong village (Ban Doi Pui)….selling more of the same tourist crap. Okay, that’s not nice….it is beautiful and I regret not buying some of their beautiful embroidery, but they sell it everywhere in northern Thailand, so it loses some of it’s originality.

I was starving and my blood sugar was plummeting so we stopped for a chance to stretch our legs, use the loo and grab a bite to eat. One of the women was serving up some piping hot Khao Soi (one of our favorite foods) with all of the goodies, so we stuffed ourselves silly and hopped back on the bike.

Delicious Khao Soi

Delicious Khao Soi…probably should have taken a pic before I devoured the chicken…I was just so hungry!!!

YUM!!! Super strong black coffee!!!

Me at the little cafe in the jungle enjoying a cup of super strong black coffee!!!

With a map in hand we headed out through the Doi Pui National Park and to the Chiang Mai University Coffee Farm. The farm and cafe are run by CMU students and local villagers  and it overlooks a beautiful valley where it’s possible to enjoy a cup of coffee while you wander the grounds.

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Looks like spring!!! There were beautiful blossoming trees everywhere. Apparently the trees blossom annually in December and January during the Thai winter.


Cute little bungalows, unfortunately I think they are for students and not guests.

If I remember correctly there was another village (Baan Khun Chang Kian) not much further than the coffee farm. The “road” beyond the village deteriorated quickly and I don’t recommend it unless you have experience on rough, rocky roads. There were multiple times where I had to get off of the scooter while Steve half-rode half-walked the bike through rough patches. We did run into a couple of guys that were on big dirt bikes who said the route was popular among dirt bike “enthusiasts.” Unfortunately I had my camera put away for most of the crazy part and I only dug it out to take a picture of the view once.

Steve on the little scooter that could.

Steve on the little scooter that could.

The road winds down the hill through groves of lychee (I think), but there wasn’t fruit on any of the trees to confirm.

The view.

The view.

After a fun day of motoring around the countryside, that left my behind and back throbbing, we returned to our favorite Chiang Mai dive (Griffin Bar) for mojitos….



Buddha Disneyland

After the long bus journey from Ayuthaya to Chiang Mai Steve was itching to rent a scooter, so I obliged and we decided on a route up to Doi Suthep and beyond. We were surprised by the presence of so many hawkers selling trinkets, scarves, snacks and drinks and children demanding baht for photos. Lines, lines and more lines….it’s slow going and you’re constantly being bumped and jostled. Tourists pay a fee (I don’t remember how much) and if you’d like you can buy an offering from one of the vendors.

Doi Suthep...just a few kilometers outside is sheer madness...yes, it's a holy place, but it's a profitable racket too....Hurry up and line up!!!

Doi Suthep…just a few kilometers outside is sheer madness…yes, it’s a holy place, but it’s a profitable racket too….Hurry up and line up!!!

Even though the hawkers tainted our first impression of the temple the architecture was beautiful and it was interesting to see people practicing their religion, but it was also disturbing to see all of the camera wielding tourists taking their pictures.

Just as guilty as the others I also snapped a few pictures.



Architectural detail at Doi Suthep.


Just a few of the many Buddha statues at Doi Suthep.


Remember that reference to Buddha Disneyland I made earlier….you better get in line to say your prayers and make offerings…and don’t forget to walk in the correct direction!!!


I was trying to get a picture of the interior of the temple, but it’s quite difficult to take pictures when a monk is blessing you with holy water by flinging it in your general direction and this monk (out of the picture) must have thought I needed a lot of blessing because it kept coming my direction.

You can only take my picture if you give me candy....or Baht...naughty little girl!!!

You can only take my picture if you give me candy or Baht…naughty little girl!!!

After spending the morning at Chiang Mai’s equivalent of a Buddhist Disneyland, complete with child hawkers and the occasional hustler, we were tired of the tourist trap and decided to make for the hills.