Mae Hong Son Loop
The Mae Hon Son Loop is a comprehensive way to discover one of Thailand's most authentic provinces. For those wanting to get out of the tourist scene in Chiang Mai, and experience authentic northern Thai & Shan minority culture, the Mae Hong Son Loop is the perfect antidote. Mae Hong Son is the most mountainous province in Thailand and receives few visitors due to its relatively remote location and time needed to reach it.
The loop is approximately 600km long and needs a minimum of 4 days to complete, this excludes time for sightseeing and activities along the way, so adding on an extra few days for this is recommended. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a circular route which starts from Chiang Mai and takes you through the Mae Hong Son province ending back up at Chiang Mai. The Mae Hong Son Loop can be taken clockwise (Chiang Mai-Mae Sariang-Mae Hong Son-Pai-Chiang Mai) or anti-clockwise (Chiang Mai- Pai- Mae Hong Son- Mae Sariang- Chiang Mai).
As with anywhere in Thailand, sunscreen and mosquito repellent are musts. If you're planning to do the loop in the winter months (Nov,Dec,Jan,Feb) bring warm clothing (light jacket,sweater,long trousers) as temperatures can drop at night. For those that suffer from car sickness some motion sickness tablets also recommended before the start of the trip.
Day 1 - Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang
Scenic route (via Doi Inthanon National Park) from Chiang Mai highways 108 and 1009 will take you to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon  . The windy road up to the peak of Doi Inthanon 2,500m above sea level is also a national park. There are some remarkable waterfalls along this route including Mae Ya Waterfall and Wachiratharn Waterfall, you will also pass plenty of hill tribe market stands along the roadside selling local produce. Just before the summit there is a worthy sightseeing point with two impressive Royal Chedis. This spot sometimes offers a good view of the valley below, however most of the time visibility is masked by the clouds due to the high altitude.
After descending Doi Inthanon to Mae Chaem, there are 2 routes you could take: 1) the 1263 road to Khun Yuam or 2) the 108 road to Mae Sariang
Mae Sariang town The town of Mae Sariang retains much of the charm, culture, and character that is often missing in tourist areas. A quaint valley town surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery, has seen many bars and guesthouses open up along the riverside in recent years. The trekking routes here are arguably the most authentic in the north and are popular with travelers seeking a less commercialised trek.
Surrounding the town there are many sights to see and day trips to go on, such as Mae Sam Laep, the Burmese style river-side trading village where a long tail boat can be hired for the day to cruise along the Salween river; the Salawin National Park  and Mae Ngao National Park. Near the local Mae Sariang Boripat Suksa School, there is an open-air Muay Thai stadium where you can also take Muay Thai classes. Up the road to Mae Hong Son, there is a cultural center with arts and crafts. You can even learn how to carve wood there. Mae Sariang is a great place to rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding rice fields.
Day 2 - Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son
After Mae Sariang the next destination is the capital of this charming province, Mae Hong Son town, which is also the half way point on the loop. Mae Hong Son town lies at the bottom of a valley amongst the mountain ranges that form the border of Burma and Thailand. Its remote location gives it a secluded and tranquil feel, whilst its proximity to Burma gives rise to the mix of people that reside there such as the Burmese, Shan, Thai and hill tribe groups. This interesting blend of people and cultures gives Mae Hong Son a very distinct feel from other towns in Thailand. The centre of the town is built around Nong Jong Kham Lake and temple where you will find an array of guesthouses and restaurants. A small evening market is also held here daily where locals and hilltribes come to sell their wares, it’s a great place to pick up handicrafts and souvenirs such as woodcarvings, silverware, precious stones and antiques. Mae Hong Son town also boasts numerous Burmese and Shan style temples. The most famous of them and a ‘must-see’ attraction is Wat Doi Kong Mu which sits on a hilltop and offers spectacular aerial views of the town below. Other sights and activities include hill tribe treks, Long Neck Karen villages, elephant riding, bamboo rafting and Phu Klon Country Club a health mud spa.
Day 3 - Mae Hong Son to Pai
The final leg of the loop on highway 1285 from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai via Pai, is arguably one of the most scenic drives in the North, but also not for the faint hearted, this mountain road claims to have over 1,864 curves in it. The jolts and bends on this road make it the fun fair ride of the North but the continuously spectacular views will be worth it. The journey can be broken up by stop-off visits to Pha Sua waterfall , Tham Pla fish cave and Tham Lod. Tham Lod which means ‘coffin cave’ is a favourite amongst tourists and is in the area of Soppong. It is famous for its stalactite and stalagmite formations, ancient wood coffins and thousands of birds and bats flying in and out the cave at sunset. A bamboo raft and guide can be hired to explore the cave.
The last destination on the loop, also worth spending an overnight at is the town of Pai, an unexpected find in a remote mountain valley. Twenty years ago the town of Pai used to be a few dirt roads and shops, as tourists soon discovered the natural beauty of the Pai River and it’s surrounding valley, businesses and development followed not long after and it turned into the little backpacker settlement that it is today. Popular amongst hippy and artistic types both Thai and foreign alike, the feel is very much new age. This small town is filled with bohemian style cafes, restaurants, bookstores and guesthouses. During high season in the months of October until February, the nightlife comes alive and the tunes of Bob Marley can always be heard, during the day visitors take advantage of the hot spring, rafting and trekking opportunities in the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Day 4 - Pai to Chiang Mai
After a relaxing respite in Pai the loop is almost complete. Some 120km back on highway 1095 will transport you out of the rugged mountains of Mae Hong Son and back to the urban sprawl of Chiang Mai. The first part of this road has a lot of curves, but also offers some impressive sightseeing.
Public buses connect all legs of the loop - Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang Or you can hire a car or motorbike For car, driver and guide hire, Thailand Hilltribe Holidays are Mae Hong Son Loop specialists
Due to the number of curves along the Mae Hong Son loop road, only drivers experienced in navigating windy uphill and downhill mountain roads should attempt this. Drivers should also be experienced in Thai driving style. If you have no experience in Thai traffic and/or mountain roads, taking the loop clockwise is the best option, since the last part is also the hardest. The roads are in very good condition and asphalt covered, and extra caution should be taken during rainy season (May-October) when roads are slippery.