Mae Hong Son Loop

Day 1 – To Pai

I awoke to a cloudy dull gray canvas of a sky hoping it would not do as it threatened. I readied myself to undertake the first leg of my long awaited journey, the 762 curves leading up to Pai from Chiang Mai. I stepped outside in the quiet streets of the old city and started my motorcycle pulling into the light rain that fell from the bleakness above. More of a heavy mist that blanketed the air, not really feeling like it was falling, but slowly saturating my clothes as I drove through it. As I left the city limits on highway 107 the clouds cleared halting the rain as if wishing me well on the rest of the drive.

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WWII Memorial Bridge

 

Passing through a handful of small villages the mountains seemed to rise to the west as I approached the singular turn required. Left onto highway 1095 and it was a ‘straight’ shot, yet anything from straight. I remembered the road from a couple years back on the mini bus. It was like a mythical snake from an age of legends winding as it slithered up and around the mountains. Riding yourself was a whole other beast. Feeling every curve, I was trying to both hurry as the dark clouds reformed sending down short bursts of heavy rain and enjoy the scenic drive. 4 hours and a sore ass, the sun reappeared welcoming me into to Pai as I crossed the World War II memorial bridge and made my way to the Circus School yet again.

Day 2 – To Mae Hong Son

I left Pai quickly the following morning before most things stirred so as not to get trapped like the many souls stuck there. The skies clear, gas tank full, I was back on highway 1095 and making my way into uncharted territory (after Tham Lod Cave, which is about half way between Pai and Mae Hong Son). The first third of the ride was primarily up hill. Constant bending around 180 degree curves on a steep incline watching for the minibuses that ride both lanes flying around the bends. Anything smaller watch out.

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Wall of fog

 

About an hour in I reached a viewpoint I had been before. Last time the view extended for miles overlooking the mountains. This time the morning mist enshrouded the land so dense I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of me as I drove through the wall of fog. It didn’t take long to descend below the fog and before I knew it the Mae Hong Son gateway passed over head. I hadn’t realized how quickly the 2 hours had passed as lost in the scenery as I was. I checked in and took advantage of the afternoon I had left exploring the town and night market.

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Mae Hong Son from above

 

Day 3 – To Ban Rak Thai

I wanted to stay in the area for at least a day, more if time permitted, but unfortunately I knew it didn’t so I took what I could. 45 kilometers north, right at the quiet border to Myanmar lay Ban Rak Thai. The ride itself was worth coming here alone. One of the most beautiful lengths of road I had ever had the pleasure of driving along. Passing through small rural villages I stopped for a breakfast of Khao Soi in one and then a local coffee in the next. Climbing steeply into the mountains they gradually changed from rice fields to tea plantations.

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Entering town, it was a place few people frequent. Joy riding around along the thin paths more than roads I ended up right to the border. I think very few actually use this crossing as the military barely even seemed to take notice of me. After a picnic of sorts amongst the tea fields I lounged around the market and had a few cups of local tea. I slowly made my way back before darkness settled in for the night trying to remember as much of this road until the next I was able to come here.

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Ban Rak Thai border crossing

 

Day 4 – To Mae Sariang

I had just made it out of town on highway 108 when the rain started. A complete downpour for a solid hour while I was lucky enough to find a café along the road to wait it out. When I saw the first signs of sun, I dried my seat and began to make up time. The road at this point comparatively to the other sections was much straighter. A smooth drive of about 4 hours, my luck though was used up when it came to the rain. I expected worse considering it was the wet season and today began to prove that to me. Coming down in bouts, I became drenched once, then the sun and wind dried me as a teaser before soaking me a second time just as I entered town.

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Mae Sariang from above

 

With little to do and see here opposed to a few temples, the draw here is in the extreme beauty of the surrounding countryside. After changing and waiting out the rain, I just cruised the area at complete random getting a lot of looks from the locals. They must have thought I was utterly lost. As the sun set I found myself a place bar side for the evening and settled in.

Day 5 – To Chiang Mai

Settling in a little too well to the bar, I woke up later than planned and really not in the mood to take on another long journey. With a hazy disgruntled head I hit the road anyways. Staying on highway 108, which leads right back to the Old City of Chiang Mai, it also passes the road to go to Doi Inthanon. The tallest mountain in Thailand, it is possible to drive right up to the summit. Not having time as it adds a few hours to the journey, it left me with something to add to the loop the next time I rode it.

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One of the many hairpin turns

 

I wasn’t left without any surprises for the day though. Of the almost countless unmanned checkpoints, one was bound to finally stop me. A license check. Something I’ve never even considered before this was the need of an international license. A 400 Baht fine and them telling me it’s a once only fine, that if I got asked again just to show the ticket and say I’ve already paid. This just alleviated all concern for that license (in Thailand anyways). Tired and stiff from riding so much I was excited to see the outskirts of Chiang Mai, barely even noticing the rain as it fell. I pulled back into my hotel, nearly stumbling off my bike, happy to be finished on one side, but even more excited for the next time I rode Mae Hong Son with more than 5 days at my leisure.

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