top of page
  • Writer's picturebella-illenberger

Thailand - Mae Hong Son Loop

We rent a scooter each from the shop down the road and leave out “big bags” with them, taking only our essentials and a change of clothes with us in our backpacks to ride the “Mae Hong Song Loop”, which is a handful of towns all connected by a road which if followed loops up into the mountains of north Thailand and them back down south and up again to Chiang Mai. Each of the towns are a days ride from each other, with other attractions such as waterfalls and smaller villages along the way at which you can stop at.

Lunch stop on the road

Waterfall stop

Our first stop is the very popular town of Pai, which once was described as a low key, laid-back little village. The change in times and increase in popularity (especially on platforms such as TikTok) has changed the vibe from laid-back and low key to wannabe hippy and boozy. One of the main attractions is „tipsy tubing“, for which you rent a tube and float down the Pai river with various beach and jungle bars along the way with tempting offers of cheap alcohol, music stages and foam parties. We are almost interested until we see the advertised pictures of hundreds of tubes floating down the river and meet the clientele that is attracted to this event… we book a quiet bungalow on the other, not-tipsy side of Pai and instead spend a day soaking in natural hot springs, boiling eggs in the 100•C hot pools and attend a cooking class in the evening which is a disaster and leaves me violently sick, either from the food or the emotional trauma of the course itself is unclear.

Eigentlich hat die ‚Mama‘ neben uns und eine Dreiergruppe Franzosen niemanden erwartet, als plötzlich noch eine fünfer Gruppe Israelites dazustösst, die über die Tochter gebucht haben. Damit beginnt das Chaos und allein, bis sich jeder 5 Rezepte zum Nachkommen ausgesucht hat, vergeht über eine Stunde. Schon die Vorbereitung des jeweils ersten Gerichts ist eine riesige Herausforderung und bis „Khao Soi" und „Green Curry“ gekocht sind, ist es schon nach 6 Uhr. Hungrig stürzen sich alle auf das Essen und es ist klar, dass wir mit dieser Organisation niemals alle Gerichte schaffen. Nach den zweiten Gericht sind die Franzosen kurz vor dem Nervenzusammenbruch und jeder Versuch unsererseits, das ganze besser zu koordinieren , scheitert.  Als einziger habe ich mir „steamed Fisch“ mit Ingwer ausgesucht und somit wird jetzt noch ein ganzer Fisch in den Dämpfer gepackt, während daneben noch das ‚Masaman Curry‘ und das ‚Red Curry‘ köchelt. Die Franzosen geben auf und verlassen das Spektakel, die Israelis werden noch zu Spring Rolls überredet und alle zusammen bekommen noch ‚Pad Thai‘ obwohl niemand mehr Hunger oder Lust hat. Zumindest haben wir ein bisschen was gelernt, auch wenn wir die nächsten Tage kein Curry mehr sehen, riechen, geschweige denn essen können.

Pai Canyon

Hot Springs

Boiling Eggs

We leave Pai. Our next destination is a little village half way to Mae Hong Song, the official second stopp on the loop. We book a little farm stay bungalow for two nights and enjoy the remoteness and peacefulness. The view from the balcony looks out over the mountains towards Myanmar, we are traveling along the border.

Am Morgen fahren wir in die Grenzstadt Ban Rak Thai, eine chinesische Enklave gegründet von Soldaten der nationalistischen KMT-Partei, nachdem der Kommunismus in China Einzug hielt. Neben der 93ten Division kamen noch weitere Truppen über die Grenze von Burma und siedelten in der Region. Nach einem Kaffee aus dem Tal sehen wir uns die Grenze an, eine Holzschranke, die mit einem Seil von dem Grenzhäuschen bedient wird.  Das Häuschen ist unbesetzt und die Schranke ist oben, also wagen wir ein paar vorsichtige Schritte nach Myanmar. Mittags essen wir chinesische Nudelgerichte und frittierte Hefebrötchen mit Kondensmilch, beides sehr gut.

View over to Myanmar

Farmstead Bungalow

Ban Rak Thai Impressions

Fabi in Myanmar

We continue to Mae Hong Song. From here we take day trips back up into the mountains where the tribes of the Kayan and Karen people, also known as the „long neck tribes“ are situated. In the late 1980s and early 1990s due to conflict with the military regime in Myanmar, many Kayan tribes fled to the Thai border area. Among the refugee camps set up there was a Long Neck section, which became a tourist site, self-sufficient on tourist revenue and not needing financial assistance.

We are worried that visiting the tribes has become yet another crowded tourist attraction but are presently surprised by the authenticity of our visit. We scramble and bump along a long path and come across only locals and until we arrive at the end of the path where we are welcomed by villagers, kids and puppies playing in the street.

The neck of the woman wearing the brass rings itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the weight of the brass pressing down on the collar bone and compressing the rib cage. The reason behind the woman wearing the brass rings around their neck is unclear. Some of the speculated reasons are that the perception of the elongated, and thus fragile necks made them unattractive as slaves to other tribes, others are that the brass rings protect them from tiger and leopard attacks - none of these are confirmed or denied when asking the women themselves, although they state that wearing the rings is a form of cultural identity and a symbol of beauty. We buy hand made bangles and other trinkets and ask for permission to take some portraits, both on camera and in sketch.

Karen Woman

Kayan Woman

Die Straßen schlängeln sich mit vielen engen Kurven nach oben und viele süßen Cafés mit Aussichtsplattformen laden zu Pausen ein. Insgesamt sind es 1864 Kurven von Chiang Mai bis Mae Hong Son, wofür man sogar für 40 Baht ein Zertifikat bekommt, auf dem ganzen Loop sind es über 4000.

We move on along the loop, trying to avoid the main stops and keep off the beaten track. We are treated with stunning sunrises and crystal clear ponds, delicious roast chicken on the stick and trade strawberries and watermelon slices with a group local girls at one of our waterfall lunch breaks. We take a left turn and slam into 4-lane traffic, we are back in civilization and Chiang Mai. We book a 12 hour night bus back to Bangkok which is more comfortable than many overnight flights we have been on and make our way down south, heading to the island Koh Chang and towards the Cambodian border.

Vista (it's cold for most of the day especially on a bike)

Detour to the top of the highest mountain in Thailand

Interesting perspective, just under the clouds

Another day, another accommodation

Another day, another sunrise

52 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Feb 27

What fascinating glimpses into a culture I know little about. So well written as well as documented both of you, many thanks and safe travels further, Xx


Feb 26

Immer wieder überraschend und spannend, besonders schön die Frauen mit dem Halsschmuck. Und jetzt nach Kambodscha?

Feb 27
Replying to

Erst einmal an die Küste nach Koh Chang / Koh Mak und dann geht es über die Grenze.

bottom of page