Sawasdee Torn Chao (good morning) krub everyone! Again, we would like to wish you “Sook San Wun Phee Mai” (Happy New Year).
A New Year means potential and more opportunities. It is a fresh reminder that we can always start again, do something new, and explore more.
So for those of you who may not have gone far beyond the concrete jungles of Bangkok, and/ or looking for something different from the beautiful islands in the South. We recommend you try… the North.
For those of you who have a week or two and are experienced in riding motorcycles (we recommend big bikes), you may be interested in creating your own motorcycle diaries adventure in the North.
Embark upon the classic “Mae Hong Son Loop” which will require you to ride from:
- Chiang Mai to Pai,
- Pai to Mae Hong Son town
- Mae Hong Son town to Doi Inthannon/ back to Chiang Mai.
But have no fear, if you do not possess such skills, there are shuttle busses which can take you to different towns for competitive prices.
*Another city that is not conveniently on the Mae Hong Son Loop that you should explore is Chiang Rai.
- Chiang Mai
The capital of the north and the second biggest city in Thailand. Chiang Mai is rich in the Northern Culture and full of temples. In the old days, the Northern part of Thailand is a separate Kingdom called Lanna. Lanna literally means a million fields with Lan meaning millions whilst na means farming paddocks/ fields.
The culture and nature of the northerners are known to be relaxed, polite and especially inviting. This is even prevalent in the speech of the Northern dialect, with tones and polite endings to sentences that the drag on longer than the “middle” Thai language (although krub is the same for men, Ka which is for women is replaced by Jao). Although, Chiang Mai has been bombarded with tourism, the essense of the true northern culture still lingers within the city structures, museums and of course existing in the more local areas, shying away from the major touristy parts of town.
With regards to the Mae Hong Son Loop, we recommend you hire motorbikes from Chiang Mai as it is your starting and return point of the trip. There are motorcycle hiring shops all over town, you won’t miss them. Depending on the model, scooters usually go for about 120 baht a day whilst bigger bikes could be up to 300 baht a day. Nonetheless, if you are hiring for a longer period of time, it may be possible to bargain a cheaper price.
Tip: unless you don’t mind the risk of paying fines, please be sure to have motorbike licenses from your respective countries as the law enforcement has become much tougher over the years.
While for those that prefer to take the shuttle buses, there will be travel agents throughout Chiang Mai, perhaps check with your hostel first for the ease of doing business.
If you are looking for a small town in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature, a dash of the free spirit/ hippie vibe, then Pai is must visit for you. Pai is located about 135 km north of Chiang Mai in the mountains of northern Thailand, approximately 762 turns on the long and winding roads through the mountains, farmland and miniature local communities.
Although Pai’s walking street does have some mainstream “Khao Sarn” touristy feel to it, it does not justify Pai’s relaxed nature as a whole. Pai is full of cool and unique guest houses (some are just simply small wooden Thai huts surrounded by mountains for just 200 baht per night), funky cafes, hippie bars with fire shows, raggae concerts by the rocky Banks of Pai river and of course, like everywhere else in Thailand, cheap and decent food.
Nature wise, Pai is surrounded by trekking opportunities, water falls and hot springs. For those of you who are up for a big hike and a big adventure, we recommend you try the Mae Yen Waterfall trekking route. Mae Yen is a secluded waterfall at the end of the trek (technically half way) with a refreshing small pool for you to relax in. However, it is not an easy walk, taking up to almost a full day as it is 7km one way to get to the Mae Yen waterfall plus another 7km to get back to the starting point (located slightly out of the main town area of Pai). Many people give up half way as it is a semi-uphill hike which requires you to simultaneously cross over shallow river streams and large rocks along the way.
- Tip: A little Bamboo Forrest at “the end of the tunnel” will signify that you have almost reached the waterfall.
We recommend you leave the Pai town around 9am with a small backpack with a phone (for GPS) with pre-downloaded map, a decent amount of water, a torch and some food for lunch. With the canopies above the track, you would not want to be hiking back in darkness when the sun goes down. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful hike.
Start and end point* of the hiking trail.
The waterfall’s location
Location of Pai:
- Mae Hong Son Town
Mae Hong Son Town is another remote and chilled out town in Northern Thailand, bordering Myanmar, also full of hot hot springs and waterfalls to visit. Mae Hong Son Town is beautiful. What is special about Mae Hong Son is not only its unique structure of having a small lake (Chong Kham Lake) in the middle of the main town area, but also the fact that it is the slightly untouched by tourism in comparison to Pai and Chiang Mai. Many believe that it still possess the romanticism and essence of what a Northern Thai town truly is. The Chong Kham lake is surrounded by Mae Hong Son’s small town structures with quiet bars, live music, mini street (with lots of food) surrounding it as well as a Wat (temple). We highly recommend you visit this place, it is only an hour drive from Pai.
Location of Mae Hong Son Town:
- Coming back to Chiang Mai and Doi Inthanon
If you are riding south from Mae Hong Son Town, on the 108 route, taking the 1263 route will take you back towards Chiang Mai. But along the way you’ll be given the opportunity to visit Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon is an ultra-prominent peak, meaning that it is at least 1,500 metres above sea level. It is highest mountain point in Thailand. En route to Doi Inthanon and its peak, other places you should visit are as follows:
4.1 Kew Mae Pan
If you are up for a nice short 2-3 hour hike with an amazing panoramic view of the mountains of the north, then this is the place. You and your group will be accompanied by a local guide which will required to pay 200 baht per guide. Unfortunately, it is compulsory as the system is designed to conserve the authenticity and cleanliness of the area.
For pictures and location via Google Maps:
4.2 Phra Mahatat/ The Great Holy Relics Pagoda
If you love Buddhist temples and structures with beautiful scenery, these Pagodas are a must visit.
For pictures and location via Google Maps:
Alternatively, if you are only visiting Chiang Mai and the north for a shorter period of time, you can also simply take a day trip via the shuttle to visit Doi Inthanon and its surrounding attractions.
Although, the Mae Hong Son Loop does not cover all the attractions of the North, it is still packed with adventures. Besides one of the rules of traveling is to enjoy yourself and the environment that surrounds you. This is for the reason that if you explore and rush too much, not only will you miss out on the details, but there won’t be much left for you to enthusiastically discover next time you visit the area!
There will be more specific articles on the Northern Culture, Cuisine, hiking trails, waterfalls, towns and cities to come so be sure to stay tuned to our blogs and updates on the Chao Hostel Website or Facebook page.
Happy exploring guys!
From all of us at Chao Hostel, Sawasdee krub.