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8 days Mae Hong Son & Chiang Rai

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This article is an itinerary.

This itinerary starts in Chiang Mai and takes you through Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai province. A comprehensive way to cover northern Thailand


This travels through the most mountainous part of Thailand where ethnic minorities and hill tribes live. The main roads on this route are in good condition but can be very windy. You could actually spend weeks doing this itinerary, venturing off the main route and discovering villages and soaking up the atmosphere in this cultural and naturally verdant part of Thailand.

Mae Hong Son loop road


  • Infrastructure is good here and any essentials you may need can be picked up on the way.
  • Many of the small towns on this route have ATMs and convenience stores such as 7/11 for any essentials or travel supplies
  • Credit cards will not be widely accepted so be prepared with cash
  • If travelling by car make sure the vehicle is in good condition for mountain roads (good brakes, tires) and a driver experienced in mountain driving
  • Understand Thai mountain driving, which will involve oncoming traffic venturing into your lane frequently to cut a corner or pass a slow-moving vehicle. Take it slow.
  • If you are planning to get off the main road or discover remote areas, a 4wd car is recommended especially during rainy season (May-Oct)

Get in[edit]

This itinerary starts in Chiang Mai.

To Chiang Mai[edit]

By plane[edit]

There are regular and daily flights from Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui to Chiang Mai International airport. Airlines operating domestic flights include; Air Asia, Nok Air, Kan Airlines, Bangkok Airways, ThaiSmile (Subsidiary of Thai Airlines)

By train[edit]

Several overnight trains depart from Bangkok's Hualamphong station. Trains are often very delayed and arrive long after the estimated arrival time.

By coach/bus[edit]

There are many private bus companies operating the Bangkok (Mochit station) - Chiang Mai (Arcade station) route. Be careful of travel agents/touts on Khao San road in Bangkok selling cheap tourist bus tickets (only foreigners can take this bus, not local Thais). They will drop you off on the outskirts of Chiang Mai city, where there is no public transport, and so you are forced to take one of their taxis who will take all passengers to the same guesthouse and try to sell you their tours. Theft is common on these buses and valuables should be kept with you at all times on any bus/coach/train journey


To complete this itinerary private transport is recommended as there are no public transport options for days 5-8 (Pai -Chiang Rai). The entire route can be done by car and main roads are in good condition. For car/driver/guide hire [1]are specialists on this route

Elephant road sign

8 Days Outline Itinerary[edit]

Day 1[edit]

  • Depart Chiang Mai for Mae Sariang (via Hod). O/n Mae Sariang

(Optional scenic route via Doi Inthanon Mountain & National park and Mae Chaem)

Day 2[edit]

Spend the day exploring hill tribe villages and local life in Mae Sariang. O/n in Mae Sariang, a small town nestled in a scenic valley, popular amongst independent travellers looking for an authentic alternative to Chiang Mai and Pai. Here you can find hill tribe villages scattered around the valley, some of which are still quite traditional and others more developed.

Day 3[edit]

  • Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son (via Khun Yuam). O/n Mae Hong Son

Enjoy local sights of Mae Hong Son town, including Wat doi gong mu temple and local evening market by Jong Kham lake. There are also many daytrips and overnight treks into the surrounding hills available for 1000-2000THB per person per day.

Day 4[edit]

  • Mae Hong Son to Ban Ruam Thai/ Ban Rak Thai (formerly Mae Aw village).

Ban Ruam Thai and Ban Rak Thai are best visited during the winter months of Nov-Feb, however they are also inundated with Thai tourists then. Ban Rak Thai borders Myanmar (no official border crossing), and is an old Chinese Kuomintang outpost so it resembles a rural Chinese village. A few kilometres away, Ban Ruam Thai has a scenic evergreen lake and Karen hill tribe village.

Alternative option: Spend the day enjoying Mae hong son town, or head straight from Mae hong son to Pai

Day 5[edit]

  • Mae Hong Son to Phangmapha to Pai. O/n Pai

Enjoy the mountain vistas on the 1095 road from Mae Hong Son to Pai. There are several stop off points for views, coffee and Lisu hill tribe roadside vendors selling souvenirs and local snacks. ‘Tham lod’ or ‘coffin cave’ is halfway, open to visitors who can take a bamboo raft through the cave to see the limestone formations.

Day 6[edit]

To Doi Angkhang via Mae Taeng and Chiang Dao. Upon arrival in Doi Angkhang mountain, visit Ban Khop Dong(Lahu hill tribe) and Ban Nor Lae (Palong hill tribe) villages. There is also a Royal Agricultural centre here, a project initiated by the royal family some 30 years ago to help wean hill tribes off growing opium and grow substitute cash crops such as coffee and strawberries instead.

Alternative option: Spend the day sightseeing in Pai before heading to Doi Angkhang

Alternative alternative option: You can also cut your loop short at this point and return to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai

Tea leaf plantation Mae Salong

Day 7[edit]

  • Doi Angkhang to Thaton to Mae Salong. O/n Mae Salong

Descend Doi Angkhang for Mae Salong (via Fang and Thaton). In Thaton, visit Thaton temple which has sweeping views of Thaton valley. Mae Salong is another former Chinese Kuomintang outpost, perhaps best known for its local produce of high grade oolong tea and terraced tea plantations on the mountainside. Mae Salong also has a sizeable Akha hill tribe population who can be seen selling their produce at the local morning market

Day 8[edit]

  • Mae Salong - Mae Sai - Golden Triangle - Chiang Rai - Chiang Mai

Descend Mae Salong to Mae Sai. Visit ‘Wat Tham Pla’ (Fish monkey cave). Side trip: Mae Sai border town, an official border crossing to Myanmar

After Mae Sai, head south to the Golden Triangle (Chiang Saen)and Opium museum, then onto Chiang Rai, stopping off at the famous White temple (Wat rong khun) before heading back on the main highway to Chiang Mai.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Get off the main road and explore some of the villages in outlying countryside to get a feel for what is really going on in the area. Consider hiring a local guide to help you do this as they could be difficult to find, you will almost certainly receive a better welcome and cultural experience this way.
  • Sample regional food, specific to each of the areas; For example, Chinese tea in Mae Salong, Shan food in Mae Hong Son.
  • Catch a sunset from the mountains. This area is blessed with beautiful sunsets year round. Watch the sun go down behind the mountains on any of the scenic points along this route. Some ideas; sunset from Wat doi gong mu temple (Mae hong son), Mae salong temple.
  • Remember this itinerary is about the journey not the destination or stopover towns.

Stay safe[edit]

This part of Thailand is relatively safe and crime is low, however all normal travel precautions should still be taken. Protect yourself from insect bites by covering up or using repellent. Local food and street-eats are a big part of this experience and most local food outlets are safe to eat at.

Go next[edit]

Chiang Mai is popular hub for travel around northern Thailand and the rest of the country. Head overland eastwards to Nan, Phrae or Isaan, or southwards to the central plains of Ayutthaya and Sukothai.

To enjoy the beaches and islands in the south, there are direct flights from Chiang Mai to Phuket and Koh Samui

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