Two days ago we returned from our Mae Hong Son Loop-Trip in northern Thailand. We were travelling for 10 days and it was really cool.
On October 15th we got our rental car at the airport. Because of the left-hand traffic, the first minutes driving by ourselves was kind of strange, but you get used to it quite fast and then it wasn’t a problem at all and the Thais are very reasonable drivers anyway (at least in the rural areas).
The first day we visited Doi Inthanon National Park, where you can find Thailand’s highest peak. It is very easy to reach, because you can drive all the way up on a well-prepared road. The peak itself wasn’t a highlight though, but the nature trail next to it was great. They built a round course path on wooden planks through wild rain and cloud forest with a couple of signs explaining plants and wildlife around. On our way to the peak we also stopped at a very nice and big waterfall and the king’s and queen’s pagodas close to the top. We could have spent some more time in there, but because we hadn’t booked an accommodation for the night we had to hurry to get out of the national park before it was getting dark to find a room for the night. But actually, finding a room wasn’t that hard and we found a nice one (NIDA Rooms Chom Thong, 500 bath/night) close to the main street leading to our next destination: Mae Sariang. We had a buffet-style Thai BBQ dinner, where you can get raw meat, sea food, noodles and some vegetables from a buffet and cook it on your own oven. Now and then we were quite irritated, because there wasn’t a sign what kind of ingredient was in the boxes on the buffet and we had to guess what we were eating. But most of the things we tried were quite good.
The next morning, we headed off to Mae Sariang. Approximately 24 kilometers before Mae Sariang we visited Mae Sawan Noi Waterfall. That waterfall was quite abandoned, but actually a very cool place. We never heard about it and just followed a sign from the main road showing that it should be four kilometers away. The road leading to the waterfall was quite narrow and worn out. So about one kilometer before the actual waterfall we had to leave the car behind because the road wasn’t suitable anymore (at least for our Nissan March). We continued walking for about 20 minutes and finally found the waterfall. At the waterfall there was a picknick area with an abandoned kiosk, a former information booth and toilets. It seems they were awaiting a couple of people in the past, but maybe it didn’t work out and they left everything behind. We found a small and slippery path along the river with a couple of different waterfalls. We hiked downwards for a while which was quite adventurous, because all those jungle plants were overgrowing the path and there were a lot of spiders and other insects.
Mae Sariang itself isn’t a town worth visiting in our opinion. We found a nice guest house at the river (The Good View Guest House, 400 Bath/night), but there are just a few restaurants and during off season the town was quite empty and it seemed that we were the only “farangs” there.
The next morning we wanted to visit Salawin National Park which is known for its nature trail through the jungle which we would have liked to hike. But that didn’t turn out as expected. We started the trail, but after 5 minutes we literally had to flee out of the forest: We were attacked by hundreds of mosquitos and bitten so bad, that we even hadn’t had the chance to put on mosquito repellent. We skipped that adventure and headed off the Mae Hong Son, which is a 165 km drive with thousands of curves through deep forest.
Mae Hong Son itself isn’t very special during the day, but when it gets dark, the town gets more interesting. For example, there is a nice temple area on a mountain which we visited to view the sunset. In the dark they turn on the temple lights and the pagodas look a little bit like cut out from a Disney movie. At the small lake in the city center there is also a daily night marked with great food and there are some nice temples as well. We spent the night in Jonkham Place Guesthouse in a small bungalow (600 Bath/night).
The next morning we visited the local rice paddies with a large bamboo bridge connecting the temple with the village during rainy season, when the water rises. After that break we headed off to Soppong with its famous Lot Caves. We checked in at Little Eden Resort (380 Bath/Night), a little gem in the middle of the jungle with the nicest hosts. The afternoon we spent visiting the Lot Cave. Unfortunately there was just one of three caves open to visits because of rainy season. But the cave was still worth seeing. We had to take a local guide with a lantern to show us around and we had to hire a guy with a small bamboo boat to bring us to the actual cave.
At the evening our host gave us some good advices where we can go for a hike without having to hire a guide and made us the best Spaghetti Bolognese I had in a while, so we decided to stay a day more. The next morning, we started with a nice walk alongside the small river, corn and rice fields to a small hilltribe village. After a lunch break and a refreshing bath in the hotel’s swimming pool we headed off for our second hike to the Coffin Caves. That was a great experience though! These caves seemed to be abandoned some years ago and we first had to find the path leading up to the caves. There were a couple of caves in different sizes. To enter those caves we had to climb up, crawl though small holes, take partly broken ladders and wooden bridges. We also met a lot of bats waiting for sunset. We were really lucky that we brought our head lamps, so we could find our way in and out of the caves.
The next morning we drove to Pai. It was raining like crazy and the road was very steep and curvy. At that moment we were so happy that we rented a car and hadn’t had to take a scooter like all the tourists coming from Pai we met on our way. That is what we figured out a couple of times on our loop: The weather in the towns may be good, but in the mountains the weather changes a lot and we had a lot of rain driving around although we started our trip at sunny weather.
The first day in Pai we couldn’t understand why it is hyped like that. It seems more or less like a tourist town and could be anywhere else. But then we switched our first accommodation after two nights and checked in at fabulous Pho Rak Nah Guesthouse (400 Bath/night) with really nice and individual bungalows. There we got to know how Pai works: You sleep out long, chill at your resort during the day and in the evenings you go out to the night market, the restaurants or one of the bars. Since we were there just at the beginning of main season, it wasn’t too crowded at all. But during main season it must be crazy. Although laying in a hammock the whole day is quite nice, we didn’t want to chill all the time, so one day we did a great hike to a waterfall near Pai. At this hike you have to cross the river about 40 times, so make sure you take the right shoes with you. We didn’t… So Basti had to go on flip flops (and hurt his Toes a couple of times on stones and roots). I decided to do the hike with my mesh sneakers which wasn’t the best idea either. I bet, I will never ever get rid of all the sand in my shoes and the sand was like sandpaper to my bare feet. But the nature was wonderful and the trail itself was lots of fun and so we would totally recommend going there. Another highlight for a lot of people is going to Pai Canyon at sunset.
On October 24th we had to drive back to Chiang Mai to return our rental car. On our way we made a stop at the Bua Thon waterfall, also called Sticky Waterfall. The stones within the waterfall are kind of rough, so you don’t slip while climbing up and down the waterfall, as you would normally expect. We took some time climbing and relaxing in the refreshing water until the afternoon rain started and we went on to Chiang Mai.
Overall the loop itself was very nice and you come across various landscapes like mountains, different kinds of forest, rivers, rice paddies, fields, fruit plantations and small towns where you can meet the friendly people and have great food. But if you are not very experienced in riding a scooter or a motorbike we always would recommend to take a car instead of a two-wheel drive because the streets are steep, curvy and partly wet and we have seen a couple of accidents.
Now we are back in Chiang Mai and we will spend some more time here meeting people, doing some hikes and enjoy some more days of the Thai culture before we will leave for Kuala Lumpur on November 31st.