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The Mae Hong Son Loop

The Mae Hong Son Loop covers over 600km (373 miles) and sweeps around almost 2,000 bends as it heads through the rugged hills northwest of Chiang Mai to the well-loved tourist destinations of Pai and Mae Hong Son, then continues south to out-of-the way Mae Sariang and returns to Chiang Mai via Hot and Chom Thong on H108. For anyone wary of Thai traffic, going by tour or a hired car with driver is recommended -- but a self-guided tour means freedom to take side trips and explore at one's own pace. Give yourself at least 4 days to do it, preferably more, staying 1 night at least in each town. The road, especially on the northernmost points, is serpentine and precipitous, particularly dangerous after rain, and calls for good driving skills. Traffic is normally not too heavy, but drivers must be on the alert for everything from water buffalo to slow-moving, smoke-belching trucks and buses.

The most useful resource for a self-guided tour by car or motorbike is the map titled Mae Hong Son, The Loop (published by Golden Triangle Rider and priced at 200B; www.gt-rider.com). The GT-Rider map gives exact details of even the smallest dirt track as well as useful site maps of each town. You can pick it up in many bookstores, guesthouses, and restaurants in Chiang Mai. The TAT offices in Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son are also good resources for maps and advice on side trips.

Getting There & Getting Around

By Plane -- Regular flights by Nok Air (tel. 1318; www.nokair.com) and SGA (tel. 05328-0444; www.sga.co.th) link Mae Hong Son, Pai, and Chiang Mai daily.

By Car -- This is certainly the best option for doing the "loop" or even just touring the hills around Pai and Mae Hong Son. Travel agents and hotels can arrange a car with driver for about 2,000B per day.

By Motorcycle -- Though an increasingly popular option, this mode of transport is recommended only for experienced riders. Motorcycle travel around the Mae Hong Son Loop means less traffic than your average Thai highway, but the same warnings apply as anywhere: Wear a helmet, be defensive, and remember that there's not much between you and the road. A variety of good rental bikes is available in Chiang Mai.

By Minivan -- A number of travel agents in Chiang Mai arrange group tours here by minivan.

By Bus -- Regular public buses ply the winding tracks between all towns on the loop (Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son, and Mae Sariang), but bus travelers are limited in their exploration of the countryside.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.