The Mae Hong Son Loop is a really popular route in Northern Thailand. Many travellers do the loop by motorbike or scooter and get to see stunning scenery as well as rural towns. My boyfriend Brad has done the Mae Hong Son Loop by 125cc scooter and will share his experience with you. Read more about if it was possible doing the loop by scooter and what to expect from this adventure.
I’m very happy that I have a guest in this blogpost who I interviewed a little bit about his trip: Brad, 26, loves traveling and riding scooters. Before he decided to go on this adventure there were some insecurities and worries as he didn’t have any experience in riding motorbikes. Most of the articles online were about doing the loop by motorbike. There weren’t many helpful ones that talk about doing the Mae Hong Son Loop by 125cc scooter. Some people stated that the roads are too windy and steep to make it.
Nevertheless Brad started the adventure and can happily confirm: It is possible doing the Mae Hong Son Loop with a 125cc scooter. So if you’re thinking whether you should go on this adventure, I really hope this blogpost encourages you to do it!
About the Mae Hong Son Loop
If you travel Northern Thailand you will definitely hear about the Mae Hong Son Loop. It leads you through small towns, along ricefields and stunning mountains. Twisting roads, steep climbs and crazy minivan drivers on the road make this journey quite challenging. Therefore it is recommended to be an experienced scooter or motorbike driver.
Having a look at the approximately 600 km long route you can either do it clockwise or anti-clockwise. The recommended starting point is Chiang Mai. It’s best to take at least four days for the whole loop. Just to have enough time to enjoy the scenery and have some rest between the rides.
Always remember: What makes the Mae Hong Son Loop beautiful is not getting to the destinations, it’s taking time along the way and enjoying the journey.
The route: step by step guide
Day 1: Chiang Mai
Give yourself at least one full day in Chiang Mai. If you have more time why not two days (or add one more at the end of the loop)? You can explore the temples, go to food markets, drive around to see some ricefields and go to a jungle cafe or join a cooking class to learn more about the Thai cuisine.
Day 2: Chiang Mai to Pai
After spending one or two days in Chiang Mai it’s time for the first leg of the journey. The way from Chiang Mai to Pai is 129 km and takes around three hours (driving only). There are some shops and cafes along the road where you can take breaks. Lots of corners, steep and windy roads describe this route best.
Pai is a lovely town with many cozy restaurants, lots of vegan places and a fantastic night market. Again, if you have time I highly recommend to take one more day to explore Pai and its surroundings. You could for example do tubing on Pai river, see the waterfalls, climb up the stairs to the White Buddha or watch the sunset in Pai Canyon. Definitely check out the cafe Fat Cat!
Day 3: Pai to Ban Rak Thai
Today’s route is 118 km long and you’ll sit on the scooter for another three hours. Ban Rak Thai is a bit of a detour from the loop, which would usually have you going directly to Mae Hong Son. On this route there will be beautiful ricefields along scenic hills, and is a lovely ride.
Along the way is Nam Lod, which is a cave system and is very interesting to explore. The are three main caves you can visit – the first requires just walking around with a tour guide armed with a gas lamp, and the second and third require taking a bamboo raft inwards. These will be closed during periods of heavy rain. Try to get here for dawn or dusk for an amazing show from a flock bats in the cave mouth.
Eventually you’ll reach Ban Rak Thai, which is a small town on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Walking around the town, you’ll almost forget you’re in Thailand due to the heavy Chinese influence – such as the fields of tea leaves, offerings of floral tea tastings, and the restaurants. On the way back down to Mae Hong Son, check out Namtok Pha Suea waterfall and Fish cave. Both are on the way and are worth visiting.
Day 4: Ban Rak Thai to Mae Chaem via Mae Hong Son
The journey from Ban Rak Thai to Mae Hong Son can be divided into two parts. Make your way to Mae Hong Son in the morning, which is around 50 km away from Ban Rak Thai. It gives you the chance to have a nice breakfast there and explore a bit. Another 157 km and you’ll arive in Mae Chaem on the same day.
The route yesterday was supposed to go all the way from Ban Rak Thai to Mae Chaem, but there was a collapsed bridge just over halfway that could not be surpassed. Therefore Brad stopped in Mae Hong Son for the night. Mae Hong Son itself is also largely a Chinese tourist destination, as opposed to Pai which is more Western. That said, there are a number of nice restaurants and temples to look at.
After that, the route to Mae Chaem. Before you turn off 108 to the 1263, check out Dad’s Garden. Lovely cafe with an amazing scenic view of rice fields. The 1263 is where the roads get more fun – you’re still more than capable of doing them on a 125cc but this is where you might wish for some additional suspension. There’s a large raised bridge between two hills in the middle – stop here for some cool shots.
Mae Chaem is a nice little town in the shadow of Thailand’s tallest mountain – Doi Inthanon. The food markets are great for exploring and tasting some traditional Thai snacks. Doi Ithanon itself was closed during this trip due to Covid, but the roads surrounding it were lovely, windy and smooth, with multiple waterfalls close to the road.
Day 5: Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai
Day 5 marks the last day of the Mae Hong Son Loop. From Mae Chaem it takes around 4 hours to get to Chiang Mai. I do not recommend to drive up north on the 1284 and then east-bound through Mae Wang. The roads were not as well-kept as the rest of the trip. This part isn’t worth doing unless you have a better bike with some decent suspension. Instead, think about driving due East from the mountain down the 1009 and rejoin the 108 North all the way back to Chiang Mai.
As you can see the whole journey took around five days. We recommend to take this time to not have a too stressful journey. And to have time to process all the stunning scenery you’ll see along the way. If you add a few more days you can spend more time at the different stops as well. All in all you’ll be rewarded with scenic views every day.
Highlights and Q&A
Last but not least we want to share the highlights of the Mae Hong Son Loop as well as some simple questions you might ask yourself.
The highlights were definitely the whole drive itself and seeing scenic views. There are viewpoints along the way you normally wouldn’t see. Also Pai was a highlight due to the many restaurants and the rafting.
| How often did you refuel?
I refueled every day but only to be confident. Each refuel cost around 100 baht.
| How much did you pay for the scooter?
I paid 150 baht per day for the scooter from Cats Bikes in Chiang Mai.
| What should I bring?
All in all it’s best to only bring what you need and leave you’re bags in a guesthouse or somewhere else. I made a list with the most important things: long sleeve shirt and trousers, sneakers, sunglasses, sunscreen, big refillable water bottle, some snacks, helmet.
| What would you do different next time?
For next time I would probably invest into getting a real motorbike license. It was completely doable on a 125 cc and I would recommend anybody to try it if you don’t have any other motorbike license. With more bike experience I think it’s even more comfortable.
| What’s the biggest advice you want to give your successors?
Definitely be careful while driving and always drive very far left. Sometimes you go around the corner and someone on the other lane is coming at you. Also don’t drive too fast and don’t cut corners. This trip is about the journey itself instead of the destinations – always keep that in mind while driving. You’ll have a fantastic time!
Now? Your turn!
We hope this blogpost gave you courage to do the Mae Hong Son Loop with a 125 cc scooter. It’s completely doable if you’re an experienced scooter driver and totally worth it.
If you want to extend your visa on the way check out this article where I explain how to extend your visa in Pai. Interested in exploring the south? Click here to read about a tour through Khao Sok Nationalpark or find more inspiration about another scooter tour in Thailand here.