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driving northern thailand

Posted by Dutchgirl on 6/6/2010 at 16:54

This year we drove with our rented pickup the MHS loop and we loved it! Loved the driving, the landscape, the towns, the people.
Next year we go back to Thailand and we plan on renting a car once again. This time we focus on the Chiang Rai area, Mekong etc.

Does anyone has experience in driving around this area and in visiting the places on my list? What are the nicest guesthouses (max 1000 bht) and what should we do or see?

This is how I planned it so far, but it al depends on driving times and the time we take for detours:

Day 1: Chiang Rai - Mae Salong - Mae Sai - Chiang Saen - Chiang Khong
Day 2: Chiang Khong - 1093 through the mountains along the border (Phu Chi Fah)
Day 3: Phu Chi Fah - Chiang Kham - Phayao
Day 4: stay around Phayao
Day 5: Phayao - Mai Suai
Day 6: Mae Suai - Doi Ang Khang
Day 7: Doi Ang Khang - Chiang Dao
Day 8: Chiang Dao - Chiang Mai, returning the car

#1 Dutchgirl has been a member since 20/12/2009. Location: Netherlands. Posts: 52

Posted by somtam2000 on 7/6/2010 at 09:17 admin

This story: covers at least part of that route -- I did it by motorbike a few years ago -- Phu Chee Fah is stunning!

The roads are good, little trafficked and the only bit I'm not familiar with is Phayao across to Doi Ang Khang. See the respective sections in Travelfish for writeups on the specific locations and accommodation recommendations etc.


#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,939
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Posted by RotPickup on 7/6/2010 at 18:40

Up on Doi Ang Khang there is either a luxury resort (very nice) or lots of guest houses available. For 400 Baht i got a good room that could sleep about 8-10 people. Just ask around; the village is small.
Try to avoid long weekends or holidays as accommodation fills up very quick and you may be forced to sleep in a shed as offered to me.
The roads up and around are in a good condition; the one up from Fang is very steep!

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Posted by wanderingcat on 8/6/2010 at 00:45

nice GH well within your budget in Chiangrai is Baan Warabordee, just stayed there last Dec. near the night bazaar.

Note: am looking at an old map of Chiangrai province so maybe HWY no.s not accurate...

Chiangrai > Mae Salong :
two routes both with good views. could go up to Mae Salong by the HWY1089 Kiew Satai route & then part of the way down the HWY1234 Ban Pasang route, but instead of returning to the main 'superhighway', turn off to Doi Tung (marked as Mae Fah Luang on some maps). just before Kiew Satai there's the Akha village of Ban Lorcha if you are interested in a 'non-zoo' approach to learning about this hilltribe.

Mae Salong > Mae Sai :
along the aforementioned HWY1234 Ban Pasang route, there's a turn-off at the military checkpoint to Ban Thoed Thai (once home of warlord Khun Sa) & further on by not-so-great road Doi Hua Mae Kham - yet another one of the many 'sunrise over sea of clouds' mountain viewpoints in Chiangrai province (most famous being Phu Chi Fa). around November there's also a sunflower festival like that spot (forgot name) along the MHS loop. HWY1149 between Doi Tung & Mae Sai runs along the Burmese border, supposedly quite scenic with views into Burma, much nicer approach to Mae Sai than the flat boring superhighway.

Chiang Saen > Chiang Khong:
not done this route myself but have seen really beautiful pieces of Tai Lue cotton skirts from villages in this area.

Chiang Khong > Phu Chi Fa:
taking HWY1155 to Wiang Kaen, a few points where you can look across the Mekong into Laos, incl across the Pha Dai rapids. south of Wiang Kaen there's a turn-off into a not-so-great road leading to Doi Pha Tang. like Mae Salong & some other bits of mountainous Chiangrai it has sakura blooming in late Dec/early Jan if the weather gets cold enough, also a landmark called Pratuu Siam (Gate of Siam). Doi Pha Tang also settled by Kuomintang Chinese like Mae Salong. from there to Phu Chi Fa is decent mountain road.

Phu Chi Fa:
accomm there is geared to Thai tourists, don't expect any place with English spoken, & some might be open only during the peak (cold) season (& be fully booked on weekends & public holidays then). most of the accomm places are south of Phu Chi Fa viewpoint towards Ban Rom Pho Thong. the Rai Phu Fa place i stayed at is west of it, closer to Ban Rom Fa Thong. more on Phu Chi Fa (& also Mae Salong) from this post onwards.

Phu Chi Fa > Chiang Kham :
if you take the HWY closest to the Lao border (instead of the inland route via Ngao), there's a turn-off to the locals-only Thai-Lao border crossing of Ban Huak, on 2 days per month (need to ask around which days) there's a small border market there. further on is Phu Sang waterfall that is fed by a hotspring (i.e. a warm waterfall). in the northern part of Chiang Kham town, on the east side of the main road, is the beautiful wooden Burmese-style temple Wat Nantaram, worth a stop. not obvious from main road so hafta ask around.

Chiang Kham > Phayao:
if you are into scenery & views, at this point would recommend going ~1h southeast from Chiang Kham to Phu Langka & overnighting there, instead of a full day in Phayao. even though am the sort who loves 'ordinary provincial Thailand' i can't imagine spending 2 nights in Phayao town unless i have friends there :P evening stroll by the lake, one morning for the museum & temples...dunno what else. more on Phu Langka (actually the place with those amazing views is Ban Pang Ma O rather than Phu Langka proper) here.

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Posted by Dutchgirl on 8/6/2010 at 03:17

Thank you for sharing your experiences with me! That's really helpfull, especially what Wanderingcat mentioned about Phu Langka. Read the blog, saw the pictures and definitely go there! Stunning!
Thought Phayao might be nice and I just wanted not to be driving every day but have a day of rest somewhere. Maybe I take that extra day at Phu Langka.
I have the GT-Riders map and Phu Langka isn't on it, is it on the 1148 to Nan? (that piece of the map has a advertisement over it).

Also thanks for the tips on guesthouses and for telling me about the amazing story of your biketrip, somtam2000! I wished we go there tomorrow. Unfortunately, we have to wait a while, we're planning to go there the second half of January.

I don't want to plan a lot ahead but I bear in mind that for weekends I might check out a few days before for a place to sleep! Don't like to sleep in a shed!

You think the whole trip can be done in 7 or 8 days without having to rush or drive from dusk till dawn?

#5 Dutchgirl has been a member since 20/12/2009. Location: Netherlands. Posts: 52

Posted by Dutchgirl on 8/6/2010 at 03:20

I mean dawn till dusk... we're not planning on nightdriving...

#6 Dutchgirl has been a member since 20/12/2009. Location: Netherlands. Posts: 52

Posted by wanderingcat on 8/6/2010 at 23:37

see this:
accomm info might not be up to date cos i first came across this file in 2005 & it hasn't changed since. but might help in terms of planning distances & overnight stops.

for Phu Chi Fa & Phu Langka, you can rent tents if the rooms are full. in fact there are Thai tourists who request for the tent option, & the resorts have a space set aside for tents. there are also those (esp college students) who bring their own tents & pitch them near the trailhead at Phu Chi Fa.

Phu Langka Resort location on HWy1148:
taking HWY1092 southeast from Chiang Kham , there will be a turn-off on the left (east) to Phu Langka Forest Park. this is the actual Phu Langka (Langka mountain/hill), but it isn't the place in the photos...only accomm here = camping, though there's a trail or two if you wish to explore. think it's around/after here that the road starts to climb, & then you come to Ban Pang Ma O village, & Phu Langka Resort is on the left. the buildings are hidden from the highway so you'll hafta look out for the small sign. if the road starts to descend into a valley with that 'gumdrop' limestone outcrop then you've overshot. driving time between Chiang Kham & the resort about 1h flat(songthaew speed) on good road.

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Posted by Dutchgirl on 10/6/2010 at 02:16

Thanks for the directions, Wanderingcat, and all your other tips! I'm thinking of extending our stay in Northern Thailand and making it two full weeks. It's too beautifull to just pass by at full speed!

#8 Dutchgirl has been a member since 20/12/2009. Location: Netherlands. Posts: 52

Posted by wanderingcat on 10/6/2010 at 09:22

then shall make things even more complicated - suggest you consider northern Nan province if you like countryside + mountain roads + small towns/communities...can do a loop through Nan, Tha Wang Pha (for Ban Nong Bua & their temple), Pua, Chiang Klang (for Wat Nong Daeng), Huay Kon, Bo Kleua, Doi Phukha Natl Park...or maybe combine this with Phrae province for next next year's northern Thailand roadtrip, no harm planning in advance :P

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