Published/Last edited or updated: 31st July, 2017
This is a great scenic loop to do by motorbike or car during the week as a day trip from Chiang Mai, with plenty of places to stop for a coffee and enjoy the mountain views.
It's probably a trip best avoided over the weekends, when the road gets clogged up with too many tourists of dubious driving abilities. Road surfaces are good and the route is well signposted but these are mountain roads with steep climbs and descents and numerous sharp bends, so it isn’t for novice motorbike riders. Also watch your petrol levels as once past Pong Yang village there aren’t any petrol stations until Samoeng.
Obviously, as is the nature of loops you can go either way but for no particular reason—other than we’ve always done it in this direction—we’re describing it anti-clockwise. So to begin, depart from Chiang Mai in the direction of Mae Rim. If you head up Huay Kaew Road and turn right onto the Canal Road and follow it until it joins Route 107, the Mae Rim highway, it’s an easier and less congested drive to begin with.
From here you have no choice but to follow the major route until you reach Mae Rim town and a turn off on the left indicating Samoeng and Mae Sa (Route 1096). After this you’re on the well surfaced but quieter two-lane rural road heading up the Mae Sa Valley. The valley’s almost non-stop array of roadside attractions is detailed in our Mae Sa valley section; if you stop at too many you’ll never complete the loop. If you do realise you’ve lingered too long or bitten off more than you can chew, then take the shortest route back to the city as you ideally wouldn’t want to be tackling a badly lit, steep and very winding mountain road after dark.
Pong Yang village, at the junction with the Mon Cham turn-off, is a good place to stock up on snacks and importantly fuel, and is the last village of consequence before you reach Samoeng. From here the scenic route climbs round and up eventually reaching a T-junction to the west side of the Doi Pui massif. From here a right turn takes you down a short but steep distance into Samoeng village, while the left turn winds down towards Hang Dong. For map readers the Mae Sa route is 1096, Hang Dong bound route 1296 and the stretch into Samoeng is rural route number 1349.
Samoeng is a cute enough if unspectacular village with a mainly lowland Thai population of farmers; you may be lucky enough to glimpse some hilltribe women in the market. It has in more recent times become popular as a kind of quiet country retreat kind of place so you will see some rather fancy villas among the largely traditional-style village streets too. The village market is also still traditional style but the influx of (mainly local) visitors is responsible for an inordinate amount of coffee shops and the surroundings offer plenty of Thai style “country resorts” for Bangkok weekenders. Overall it is a good spot to grab some lunch, fill up on petrol and stretch your legs in the market before heading back up the hill to the junction.
The return leg then winds down the south side of Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National park so affords great views to the left and though it lacks all the roadside attractions of the outward bound route there are still some strategically placed and very tempting coffee shops on route. You’ll also see a couple more fancy resort style establishments and a one or two still very traditional villages off to the left if you want to have a break.
As the road reaches the Ping Valley and levels out, you’ll have a choice of two crossroads with routes leading back into town. The first is the Canal Road taking you back to the Suthep Road junction and the second is the junction with main Route 108. The first is less busy with better views while the second is more direct but uses a busy four-lane road, eventually emerging past Airport Plaza on the south side of Chiang Mai’s Old City. Turning right at either of these junctions will take you into Hang Dong district and the Ban Tawai handicraft village.
Ignoring any side tracks you may have explored, the actual loop itself is around 70 kilometres. That might not sound a lot but remember these are all very winding, steep mountain roads, so including your stops it is the full part of a day trip. The last thing you want to do is to rush these roads, either from a scenery or safety point of view. Pace yourself and it makes for a great day out.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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