Welcome to the BEST Motorcycle ride in Thailand: The Mae Hong Son Loop. This guide covers everything you need to know about riding the loop with links to more in-depth guides if you fancy digging deeper.
Thailand is a phenomenal place to ride a motorcycle. It has both insane off-road riding and incredible tarmacked roads. But there’s one route that sits high above the rest – literally: The Mae Hong Son Loop. Not only is this mountainous paradise one of the best riding roads in Thailand, the Mae Hong Son Loop is one of the best motorcycle rides in the world.
Seriously, it’s that good. The sheer amount of twists, turns, twirls and curls are ridiculous. It makes Germany’s B500 look like the M4 from Swindon to Heathrow. Over 400 miles of non-stop sweepers and switchbacks through Thailand’s lush north is pure motorcycling bliss.
The road carves its way through overhanging forests and lures you in with superbly crafted corners. You’ll only remember where you are when it allows you to pop out for a gasp of air and a quick mountain vista before you to take a deep breath and burrow back in for more.
Sold? Awesome! Here’s everything you need to know about riding the Mae Hong Son Loop!
If you have any questions on riding in Thailand, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page or ask in the Mad or Nomad Community Forum.
Where: Mae Hong Son is the most mountainous region of Thailand
Start and end point: Chiang Mai
Miles: 400 approximately
Minimum time: 4 days
The Mae Hong Son Loop Instructions
The Mae Hong Son Loop’s start and end point is Chiang Mai. This makes life easier as it’s one of Thailand’s best cities, a good place to rest up and easy to rent a motorcycle if you don’t have your own.
The main destinations are Chiang Mai – Wat Chan – Pai – Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang – Mae Chaem – Chiang Mai.
The BEST Mae Hong Son riding route
Google the Mae Hong Son Loop and you’ll find about four million guides (slight exaggeration) from tourists who have rented scooters and written reams of info on their daily itinerary, hiking routes and caves along the way. They’ve also missed out a few of the best roads. This guide doesn’t list a day-by-day what to do or sights along the way – it’s purely a route to take in the best motorcycle riding.
It doesn’t really matter if you go clockwise or anti-clockwise. If you’re not after doing the loop, but are just touring through Thailand, then we suggest going anti-clockwise and continuing your journey in whichever direction from Mae Sariang.
Here’s our downloadable Google Map route below and here’s a link to the route on Google Maps if you’d prefer.
When you reach Mae Hong Son, there are a few Long Neck villages close by. Visiting these places is a catch-22 and moral dilemma. Take a look at the Stuck in Thailand blog post as we detail our interview with the women and thoughts on the subject. If you do decide to go, then we recommend the Huai Suea Tao village. The women there are struggling since a Long Neck Tribe was moved closer to Chiang Mai, which means that less people travel so far out to see them.
If you aren’t heading back to Chiang Mai, then we recommend heading south from Mae Sariang to Mae Sot. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that hugs the Thailand/Burma border. You will also pass by the Mae La refugee camp, so take food and supplies to pass to the kids between the barbed wire fence. Go to our Thailand blog post for more info: Stuck in Thailand.
When to ride the Mae Hong Son Loop
Thailand’s busiest months are December and January. If you’re on a fly-and-ride trip, then these are the most expensive months to fly into the country.
November, December, January, February: Winter months, cool, dry and the best time to visit.
March, April (hot), May, June: Hot season and less rain. It’s also the time of year that people light thousands of illegal fires in the north. The entire north is engulfed in smoke and smog and the pollution levels are extremely bad.
July, August, September, October: Monsoon season. Take care of slippery asphalt and pack waterproofs.
Choosing Your Adventure Riding Gear
Motorcycle gear and clothing
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a fast road with many bends and tight turns. It is definitely worth wearing proper motorcycle gear. You can rent or buy cheap and decent kit in Chiang Mai if you don’t have your own.
We recommend mesh lined kit. It’s best not to go for gear with inner liners and especially nothing pro laminate as it won’t be breathable. If you have a motorcycle adventure suit with removable waterproof and thermal liners, just throw those away as your’re not going to want to your jacket off, zip a liner inside it and then put it back on in a rainstorm.
Go for cheap meshed jackets and trousers and carry a cheap and cheerful set of throw-over waterproofs in case of bad weather.
Here are a bunch of guides that will help with picking the right motorcycle gear.
The right motorcycle
You can ride the Mae Hong Son Loop on any motorcycle you like – anything from a Harley-Davidson Sportster to a Yamaha R1 to a 50cc Chinese scooter. The roads flit between sweepers and a thousand tight twists. So, a bigger bike like a cruiser would make turns harder and you’ll go slower. A scooter is fine too, but you won’t get the most out of the actual riding experience if that’s what you’re after. A sportsbike would be exceptionally fun, but you’d need to be a very experienced rider to use a high capacity sportsbike on these types of roads.
A lightweight, mid-capacity twin or single would be your best bet to get the most out of the turns.
If you’re renting a motorcycle, then you don’t need an off-road bike with big 21-inch wheels as that will hinder your turning. A 17- or 19-inch front would be perfect with road going rubber.
Rentals and Tours
There are plenty of rental and tour companies in Thailand who cater for motorcycle travellers. Make sure you check the bike over well, test the brakes, be sure there’s enough life in the tyres, the levers work and the bars are aligned. The Fly and Ride guide listed below has loads more info on renting bikes abroad.
It’s always worth taking out additional motorcycle insurance, make sure the company you’re renting from offers it. Bear in mind that they won’t offer personal travel insurance. Be sure to get a policy from your home country before you travel.
If you’re not comfortable renting a bike and going alone, there are many reputable companies who offer brilliant tours along the Mae Hong Son Loop as well.
Check out our recommended rental and tour company pages for more info.
To ride your own bike in Thailand you will need a temporary import, Thai motorcycle insurance, International Driver’s Permit, driver’s licence, passport and visa.
To ride a rental motorcycle in Thailand you will need all of the above apart from the temporary import. Make sure you get additional motorcycle insurance to cover your motorcycle in case of damage as well as third-party insurance and also personal travel insurance from your home country. Our Motorcycle Travel Guide for Thailand lists the paperwork requirements in more detail.
Motorcycle Travel Guide: Thailand
- Be careful on Thai roads. There are plenty of blind bends and, Thai drivers are fast, often erratic and cut corners into the oncoming lane.
- Carry waterproofs if you’re riding in monsoon season. The rain is torrential!
- You don’t need to book accommodation in advance, but bear in mind that it can get busy in the hotter months.
- Carry your International Driver’s Permit and Thai motorcycle insurance at all times
- Get a Thai SIM card in your phone just in case of emergencies.
Read more on Motorcycle Travel in Thailand and Southeast Asia
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START: Check out this packed Motorcycle Travel Database
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DESTINATIONS: Comprehensive Country Guides for motorcycle travellers
FORUM: Advice, chat and travel info on the Motorcycle Travel Forum.