The Chiang Mai to Mae Sai Loop
Part 1 - Setting off for Mae Sai
There are several ways to get to Mae Sai, arguably the easiest and the fastest is via highway 118 and then north on highway 1 and back by a different route than the one you took to get there. It's hilly and there are some mountains but it's pretty straight forward and scenic enough.
The other way is to head north on highway 107 to Fang, from there head east on highway 1089 to join highway 1 and then a final stretch north to Mae Sai.
It will take you about 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours to get to Mae Sai depending on how fast and how many rest/food stops on the way you take. It cost me about 200 baht in fuel (as at January 2008 prices) using a CBR 150 on a one-way journey. This is roughly 1 tank worth.
Some trail-blazers like to set out at really early in the morning and get back to Chiang Mai on the same day. For us though it's more of a route-tour journey/adventure than a trail-blazing record blast there and back. Still it's wise to hit the road at about 8 o' clock in the morning, you really do want to get out of Chiang Mai early. The traffic and heat will really take it out of you if you leave later on in the day.
Once you get about 15 km from the city north on Highway 107 the traffic is really light and you can enjoy the sights more.
Roadworks are ongoing at various stages of the highway 107.
There's not much to write home about when you reach Chai Prakon. The highway runs through it like most of the other small towns on the way, but I'd say by this stage you've reached the 'real' parts of Thailand away from the touristic zones that litter Chiang Mai Province.
After that town a few low mountains mark the start of the challenging sections of the Mae Sai Loop.
A handful of sharp roads, curves and bends with a police checkpoint at the highest point.
We caught a glimpse of elephants wading through the valley floor river and took a look from a nearby cliff edge....
It turns out it's a elephant camp river trail for the gawping tourists! As we were out on a journey so were they. we watched them for a few minutes and then both went our separate ways
Once you clear the mountains it's back to normal terrain and paddy fields.
The turn-off for Chiang Dao is here, just hang a right if you fancy checking out the cave that the tourist office keeps ranting on about...
There is a notable straight to highway 107 (pictured above) it looks like Thailands answer to the route 66. You can really hammer it going down here so open your throttle and let rip! Be aware of the minor crossroads about 3/4 of the way on in and keep on screaming up the rise.
At Fang the highway 107 bypasses around the town. By this point though we were hungry as hell so grabbed a quick bite to eat. I expected the place to be farang-free but there was some aimless hippy-type girl walking up and down the road.
After that it was back on the road again.
After Fang the road runs along the flatlands. A few picturesque rice paddies with buffalo stomping about can be seen in this area.
After the break in Fang you might be all revved up now and feel like giving it full throttle and ready let rip here, take our advice and let off the speed as there are two hump-back bridges to cross with police check-points alongside them. The bridges were undergoing construction work so might be in better condition in the future.
After this the mountain roads cometh!
Maniac minibus drivers and coaches come hurling along here so keep a sharp eye at all times if you're planning on overtaking.
A true winding mountain road, you can't appreciate it from the small photos I usually upload, here's a full sized shot...
The swooping vistas, lush valleys and break-neck turns are exhilarating if you gauge your need for speed with reasonable caution.
Eventually the mountains will drop away behind you and the going is more straight and narrow.
You rejoin highway 1 at Mae Chan here.
From here on in it's plain riding up to Mae Sai!
You'll know when you're at Mae Sai because a lofty and impressive border control center will loom up ahead of you in the center of the road. You can just see the tower building in the distance dead-ahead.
To continue to Part 2, click here