Mae Hong Son Loop: part 2

The road between Mae Sariang heads north to Mae Hong Son for 166 km and it’s just east of the Burma/Thailand border. The Burmese influence is seen throughout this part of the country: in the food, clothing, and architecture.

Somewhere between Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son Steve and I turned off the highway in a little market town in Mae La Noi and followed a winding road approx. 5 km to the entrance of a relatively newly discovered cave. The Kaew Komol Cave doesn’t see much tourism, photography is banned, and the air is short on oxygen, but the cave is covered in beautiful crystal formations. Steve snuck his GoPro in and was able to take some video. Here are some photos from within the cave:

Down down down...but don't take too only have 20 minutes to climb back out.

Down down down…but don’t take too long….you only have 20 minutes to climb back out.

Calcite crystal formations in

Calcite crystal formations in Kaew Komol cave. No touching!!!!

It's so sparkly!!!

It’s so sparkly!!!

We were pretty hungry in Mae La Noi, so we stopped for lunch at one of the road side stalls and had some delicious spicy curry before continuing up to Mae Hong Son.

mae hong son loop paddy

Terraced fields near the cave.

Mae Hong Son is set around a pretty little lake in a valley surrounded by emerald green mountains. Most of the tourist facilities circle the lake and the local market is also nearby if you’re feeling adventurous.

The view from up high on the hill above Mae Hong Son.

The view from up high on the hill above Mae Hong Son.

mae hong son temple

Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu on top of the hill west of town.

Not surprisingly there are numerous temples in the area to visit; since we had the moto we rode up to the top of the hill to Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu…I think you might be able to reach this one by stairs, but don’t quote me on that. There are a couple of temples near the lake in town and if the fog cooperates you could get some really cool photos.

Zinc metalwork at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu.

Zinc metalwork at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu.

Mae Hong Son Prince Hotel

The Prince Hotel in Mae Hong Son

Our lakeside budget digs at the Prince Hotel were adequate, if not exactly clean. Our room was 200 or 300 Baht with a private bathroom, high ceilings, and a slightly springy/saggy bed.

After a night or two in Mae Hong Son we began the long haul to Pai. The route is approximately 130 km with many opportunities to stop along the way. Before heading out of the Mae Hong Son region we wanted to check out one of the Karen Long Neck Villages. We had heard the rumors that the towns feel more like exhibits at a human zoo, so we went in with low expectations. The Karen are refugees from Burma, and as refugees in Thailand it is difficult for them to attain land, jobs, etc. so one of the ways the community earns money is by showing off their women and selling their handicrafts. We paid our entrance fee and walked down the boardwalk to the “village” which was really just set up as a handicraft market (I assume many of the families live in the back portion of their shops). Here are a few pictures I took of our visit:

Kayen village creek crossing; mae hong son

CREEK CROSSING!!! One of many on the road out to the village.

We had a lot of fun crossing these streams on the scooter…there were many of them and it was sometimes hard to judge the depth. So much fun! The drive from the highway out to the village was really pretty and there were even a couple of different places that gave elephant rides, so no honking your horn!!!

mae hong son kayen village

The road to the village


Mae Hong Son Long Neck

These women oblige camera wielding tourists by the bus loads, fortunately we were there in the morning, so the tourist hoards weren’t there yet.


Another long necked woman

Another long necked woman…she spoke excellent English and was willing to share some of her history.

As you head east toward Pai there are a couple of caves that you can visit, but we skipped them in lieu of a mud treatment at Phu Klon (Pooklon) Country Club. I think our mud facials and foot soak were about USD $5 each (but I can’t remember). To get to the spa it’s pretty easy…just follow the “Mud Spa” signs and memorize the Thai script…once you’re off the highway keep cruising and eventually the spa will be on the right.

mae hong son loop mud spa

MUD!!! Foot soak and mud facial at Phu Klon.

mae hong son loop vista

Jungle view

We stopped in Soppong for a roadside Kaow Soi lunch. We then beelined to hippie Pai where throngs of backpackers keep themselves entertained by cruising walking street every night, listening to live music, buying funky clothes, sipping wacky tea and generally enjoying its chilled out vibe. Pai is a place that encourages you to linger, find your inner yogi, or head out to the hot springs.

pai waterfall

Pretty waterfall just outside of town.

Steve and I soon realized that there isn’t much authentic Thai culture in Pai, so we stayed long enough to listen to some acoustic tunes, buy some hippie pants, and indulge at Spa Exotic. A handful of people in the “know” suggested we skip the sulfuric hot springs and head to one of the hot spring resorts. Spa Exotic caught our eye, and for only 80 Baht each we had access to their beautiful soaking pool almost all to ourselves. It was a fantastic way to rejuvenate our sore muscles.

pai exotic spa hot spring

Spa Exotic’s soaking pool

Our final day from Pai to Chiang Mai was brutal. Not only was my back throbbing at every twist, turn or bump, but I was sicker than a dog. We had to stop atleast every 20-30 kilometers so I could relieve myself….roadside mind you. It was not a fun day. I’m pretty sure at one point I actually laid down on the side of the road.

The trip from Pai to Chiang Mai is just as curvy as the route from Mae Hong Son…and all the war wounds in Pai and Chiang Mai are proof. Do not take a moto unless you know what you are doing…please!!!

Stretching will make me feel better right?

Stretching will make me feel better right? The answer is no, not really.

Anyway, we eventually made it to Chiang Mai, where I laid around and popped Cipro like candy.

Next stop Chiang Rai.

Planning Resources

GT Rider Touring Map This little map was invaluable. We found ours at one of the book shops in Chiang Mai.
Lonely Planet Thailand
Kaew Komol Cave info

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.

mae sariang salawin trek2

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

mae sariang salawin trek collage3

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.

mae hong son loop collage

Scenery on the road to Mae Hong Son

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.