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.
The Mae Hong Son Motorcycle Guide
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. We’d love to hear from you.
Mae Hong Son quick info:
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 route
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.
What to see on your Mae Hong Son motorcycle trip
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 for Thailand
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 for Thailand
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.
Mae Hong Son 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.
- 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
We hope you enjoyed this Mae Hong Son Loop Motorcycle Guide. Here’s some more articles on Thailand, Southeast Asia and Travel Guides that you may find useful.
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Are you planning a motorcycle tour in Thailand or Southeast Asia? Ask us any questions in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
9 thoughts on “The Mae Hong Son Loop Motorcycle Guide”
Hi Andy and Alissa! I found a guide to this route on another website too But I can’t decide how to make the trip because in this guide they mention that Thailand is the most dangerous country in the world for motorcyclists. Did you encounter any problems on the roads during your trip? Are there any nuances that I should pay attention to?
Hi, thanks for your comment.
Yes, I’d agree with them, I’ve heard many times that Thailand has an extremely high fatality rate for motorcyclists.
We encountered lots of bad riders and drivers.
Standard safety riding advice for travelling abroad applies, such as not riding at night, keeping an eye on your speed, being watchful of blind corners, be vary wary of other road users, expect that wildlife can cross the road at any second, keep good breaking distances, wear full gear all the time etc.
Unfortunately, I can’t advise you on whether or not you should do the trip because it is at your risk. It’s completely your decision if you are going to ride there and what you feel comfortable with.
Hi Andy, I’ve just had a thought…
I assume you’re planning on renting a motorcycle? If you’re concerned about riding conditions and safety, perhaps an idea might be to join an organised tour? You’d then be with professionals who know the route, roads and environment. Of course, this is still at your risk and completely up to you. But it may be worth looking into. We have a rental and tour page for Thailand with some great companies on it for you to check out Thailand Rentals and Tours
Best of luck and let us know how you get on,
Hello! A few friends and I are very interested in doing the loop. I’m the only one with any experience with motorcycles so I think the small scooters would be the best bet for the rest of the group. Can you give me a little bit of information on how you packed for this loop? We are all carrying larger backpacks to travel with full time, but not sure that riding with a 65L would be the best option. Second, I know that you said there’s no need to book accommodation in advance, can you elaborate on that? Where did you stay? What was the cost when doing so? Thank you for such a well thought out post about this, I look forward to hearing back from you!
Hi Parker, thanks for your comment.
First off, it’s awesome that you’re considering doing the loop, it’s one of the best road rides in Southeast Asia.
However, bear in mind, Thailand isn’t a safe country for motorcycle riding and riding in a group has its own challenges, especially if you’re adding inexperienced riders into the mix. So it may be worth getting some practise in beforehand if possible.
Okay, back to your questions…
Packing – this is a tricky one to answer. My wife and I are on a round the world trip and rode to Thailand from the UK, so we didn’t pack for the loop as such because we have all of our stuff on the bike all the time. So we have camping gear, pots and pans, winter clothing, everything. However, if I was just flying into Thailand and doing that loop and would start and finish at the same hotel, which is what i’m assuming you’re going to be doing, then i’d take a tiny wash kit, flip flops, trainers, a few change of clothes, cheap throwover waterproofs (separate jacket and trousers), my own helmet and gloves and whatever electronics i’d need along with a couple of other small bits and bobs like sunglasses etc. This would all probably live in a 10L rucksack or waterproof duffle that i’d strap to the back seat. Something like this 15L Lomo (that I recently took all of my gear in on a 2 week ride through northern Nepal) or this 20L Lomo . But you can find these types of bags all over the place. It is easier to have a rucksack for when you’re off the bike and if you want to walk about and not leave your gear on the bike, but then just make sure you have a waterproof throwover, again, you can just buy one of those in Chiang Mai.
A 65L rucksack would be rather large and you won’t need 3/4 of what’s in there. I would leave it at the place you’re staying or hiring the bikes from and put it all in a small rucksack that you buy from a local market. I would also advise using Rok Straps whether or not you are going to take the 65L or a rucksack, it’s so much safer and easier than using bungees.
Accommodation – Again, as we’re on a rtw trip, it gets super tiring looking for places to stay all the time and booking in advance, so we tend to just pull over in a small town and ask for a local guesthouse. Dependent on what time of year you’re going it might be busier up there, so to make life easier for yourself, just use booking.com. In the morning as you have your breakfast, think about how many miles you’ll do that day on Google Maps, then type where you think you’ll end up that evening into Booking.com and search for and book a hotel for that night. I wouldn’t book it all in advance, especially as your group is inexperienced, it’s going to be hard gauging how many miles you’ll cover in a day or when someone might want to stop. Book in the morning for that night. As for cost, I can’t remember exactly, it was two years ago we were riding through there so prices will have changed and it’s dependent on the time of year, i’d expect to pay 15-20 quid per night though absolute max for a room.
I hope all of this helps and you guys have an amazing trip! Please do let us know how you get on,
Cheers and all the best,
Hi all, I am an avid bike rider and looking for places to stay while doing the Mae Hong Son Loop in Feb 2023. Any recommendations are welcome.
Thanks for your comment. You will find so many places to stay along the Mae Hong Son Loop.
We rode it before Covid, so it’s hard to say if the places we stayed are still open today. So, just check out booking.com and see what’s available along your route. Maps.Me and Google Maps will also give you a pretty decent idea of places to stay. You can then find accommodation that suits the amount of mileage you’re aiming to do per day.
Are you looking to rent a bike in Chiang Mai? If so, this page might help: Recommend Thailand Motorcycle Rental Companies
Hi, I just need to say thank you so much for your Google Maps link for this loop. I am half way through (added stop in Bak Rak Thai) and the ride from Chiang Mai to Pai was an absolute dream on top of the mountain and away from the bus route. The views on your left and right were just incredible.
When getting to Pai I couldn’t believe how many tourists / travellers were not wearing a helmet and can totally see why the fatality rate is so high. You have to respect the roads and expect a car cutting the corner on every bend.
What i did:
Day 1: Chiang Mai to Pai – i set off at 11:30am and i do not recommend this late as there are so many opportunities to get off your bike and take in the beauty. I definitely wish i had more time.
Day 2 (current): Pai to Bak Rak Thai – stopped off at Nam Lod Cave and went on an hour tour of the caves for 600 baht (worth it) for a bit of exercise. Then took a detour to this cute little Chinese village on the border to Myanmar.
Thank you very much for your comment! And for adding your current route so far in here, that’s brilliant! Once you’ve completely finished the loop, please add another comment on this page with your full loop, and any current info as I’d love to see which route you went – and I’m sure other readers will find it very useful and interesting too. Would really appreciate it, thank you 🙂
And yeah, you’re right on the tourists! It’s mad. A few months ago we were riding in Koh Samui, Thailand and the most dangerous thing about it were foreign tourists wobbling about and crashing into each other with no gear on. A lot of them don’t know how to ride and somehow manage to rent scooters. The amount of people with nasty gravel rash is crazy. So yeah, I agree – you have to respect the roads, watch out for other cars – and for tourists!
All the best and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!