Mike had heard about the Hong Son loop from a friend, and decided that he wanted to do it. So we rented a 125 scooter in Chiang Mai and set aside 6 days to explore this northern part of Thailand. Our version of the loop consisted of 6 days, 600 km, 4 towns and 1864 turns in the road.
We started the loop, setting off from Chiang Mai, by going a bit out of our way and up to Chiang Dao. This little village is located at the bottom of a beautiful mountain. It felt really nice to get out to the countryside – everything was so quiet, except for a lot of crowing roosters – and the air felt really fresh after being in the city for so long. We stayed on a little farm/micro brewery.
We got there quite late in the evening and decided to head to the local tourist attraction before it closed. One of the things the town is known for is a network of 12 km of caves underneath a mountain, some of whom contain shrines. We got a local guide to take the two of us around with a gas lamp. It was completely dark, and the caves just go on and on forever. We could have gotten lost so easily, and it would have been impossible to find your way out!
Afterwards we drove into the ‘town centre’. The village of Chiang Dao consists of only two roads. One of the roads was filled up with food stalls for the evening marked. We happily walked up and down, trying a little bit of everything.
The next morning, after being woken up continuously during the night by crowing roosters, we visited a local temple/monastery. There was quite a lot of stairs to walk up to get to the temple on the side of the mountain, and there was lots of mindfulness quotes on signs along the way. It was really peaceful and beautiful, almost no-one else was around. We both agree that Chiang Dao is one of the nicest and most surprising places we have visited so far.
We got on the road to Pai, stopping once because Mike insisted on visiting a waterfall.
Everything was going really well, the road went over the top of a really high mountain, the view was amazing, and the road full of turns. Then Mike suddenly informed me that we were almost out of petrol. We hadn’t driven past a petrol station in a long time at this point. Luckily we were going downhill by then, or we probably wouldn’t have made it. After 30 min, at the foot of the mountain, we finally found a place that sold petrol.
We made it to Pai just as the sun was setting. Pai is lovely, we stayed for two nights and visited as many of the sights as we could. I especially enjoyed all the really amazing street food! Our first morning we watched the sunrise over the Chinese village.
It was really really cold, and very very early, but beautiful. Then we visited the white Buddha, the big tree, the memorial bridge and another waterfall.
We were going to watch the sunset at the canyon with some guys from the hostel, but we got there to late and missed it. We stayed at the canyon for a while anyway and watched the stars instead.
We really enjoyed our time in Pai, and Mike especially wished we had more time so we could have stayed longer.
Mae Hong Son
Next stop was Mae Hong Son. Again we drove over some beautiful mountains with really nice views. Outside town we stopped at the national park to visit the fish cave, Than Pla. The fish, in the carp family, are considered holy. We fed the fish with nuts and cabbage. They are really huge, and there’s loads of them!
Then we watched the sunset at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, the most famous pagoda, before we had dinner at the night market.
Mae Chem & Doi Inthanon
This little village is the last stop before driving over Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, and back to Chiang Mai. We didn’t realise we were there at first, the village is that small and average. We stayed in a nice homestay, and it was nice to relax a little before the last day of driving.
The next day we got up early and drove up the mountain. We were wearing all the clothes we had with us, and it got colder and colder the higher we got. At the top of the mountain there are two beautiful pagodas built to celebrate the king and queen’s 60th birthdays. The view of the surrounding countryside was nice, but quite a lot of it was covered in clouds. The rest of the drive back was uneventful, and we caught our night train back to Bangkok that night – we thankfully managed to get a proper sleeping berth this time.