If you like driving and exploring spectacular scenery, along with cultural diversity, read this blog. Please don’t follow our itinerary, unless you modify it accordingly. Let us give you a flavor. Our first scheduled stop, after leaving Chiang Mai, taking the 600 Km, Mai Hong Song loop anti-clockwise, was Pai, an estimated three and a half hours. To our amazement, we arrived in Pai, taking the loop clockwise, via Mai Hong Son! Wikitravel estimates a minimum of three days to reach Pai travelling clockwise – we arrived in under nine hours!
Here are some stunning photos of the Mai Hong Song loop in the public domain. The best of our photos will follow later.
With our friends, Leo and Paula, we hired a comfortable Toyota 4X4 at Chiang Mai Airport. The previous evening, we had all met with Janet and Tony – the six of us were friends from the Phoenix Walking Group in Cyprus; we were all in South East Asia at the same time and planned to meet in Chiang Mai. We had dinner together and enjoyed exchanging our travel experiences.
Hertz only had city maps and no regional maps. So we asked the nice Hertz man how we get on the Mai Hong Son (MHS) road. He said that there are two routes and directed us to one them. Once we got out of the city, we stopped at a gas station and bought a map, with Leo taking over the driving from Alf. We should add that Marilyn and Alf had explored the MHS area three years earlier, hiring a car with an experienced Thai driver. Leo relaxed into the driving and Alf, Paula and Marilyn helped with the navigating. Both Alf and Marilyn kept saying that they did not remember the route. Also the routes numbers didn’t seem to match the map.We were hoping to make a stop at the hot springs that Marilyn and Alf remembered as so lovely; however, it did not appear and we all assumed that we must have passed it. But we were following signs for MHS, so assumed all was OK.
Five hours out of Chiang Mai, Paula was driving and decided that a coffee/comfort stop was needed. We started chatting to a man from Chiang Mai, asking him how far to Pai? He replied that, ‘We were on the wrong road!’ Marilyn decided that this guy was an ‘idiot’ and Paula agreed, then the cafe’s owner pointed out where we were on the map. Oh dear! We were nearer to the Myanmar (Burma) border than Pai. We quickly asked this proprietor the drive time to Pai; he replied three hours to MHS and a further three and a half to Pai. It was 1.30PM and coffee ordered, we drank it so fast that it barely had time to wet our lips as we calculated that we’d be driving in the dark, not a good idea at all! It was Marilyn’s turn to drive, but she happily passed the keys to Alf as she was well aware that he was more comfortable driving quickly on the mountain roads.
We ruled out travelling anticlockwise and going back via Chiang Mai. Alf drove to MHS and Leo to Pai – we travelled fast but safely and to our amazement arrived in Pai with an hour’s daylight to spare. The scenery was breathtaking -but you had to look quickly, or miss it; there were hundreds and hundreds of sharp bends and the road surface was very mixed. Part of the route to MHS travels due north about 2 Km from the Myanmar (Burma) border. As Alf was driving, looking at the scenery, he commented that this was one of the few areas of Thailand with malarial mosquitos – just one for challenge.
According to Wikipedia, Mae Hong Son is a remote, mountainous province in northern Thailand, bordering Myanmar (Burma). Though sparsely populated, it is ethnically diverse and home to hill tribes such as the Shan and Hmong. The capital, also called Mae Hong Son, is a gateway to the region’s hills.
We arrived in Pai exhausted, happy and in surprisingly good spirits. We were staying on a farm in wooden chalets, overlooking a fishing lake. That evening, we ventured into Pai and Alf chanced a recommendation to a restaurant that he remembered. We all had a lovely Thai meal, washed down with wine or beer and slept well that night.
We quickly observed that Pai was still a modern-day hippy hangout for young people, many favoring dreadlocks and no shoes despite the cold evening – no doubt they needed to be part of the scene. We were conspicuous as once again that we were the oldest swingers in town and certainly no dreadlocks!