Touring Overview

Motorcycle Tours, Maps & Touring Information – Northern Thailand

General Overview:

North Thailand is the S E Asia exotic motorcycle touring holiday destination.Just ask the riders from Singapore and Malaysia where they like to ride the most. Up north in the Golden Triangle: the home of colourful hill tribes, magic endless deserted winding mountain roads, warm weather and great Thai food.

The famous R1095, part of the legendary Mae Hong Son Loop.

North Thailand is a motorcycle paradise. North Thailand has a comprehensive network of roads – asphalt & dirt. It’s got scores of attractions: lovely forest, spectacular mountain scenery, pretty waterfalls, steaming hot springs and many different friendly ethnic hill tribe people, all concentrated in a relatively small area. 

Hanging out with super friendly Shan people celebrating the Poi Sang Long festival in Thoed Thai.

Distances: the distances in North Thailand are not that great. From Chiang Mai to the northern most  point of Thailand and the Burma border is only 250 kms, and to the Laos border (entry port of Huay Sai) it is 320 kms.
With only 150 kms maximum between the main towns, you are never far from civilization, so there’s no need to load up with mountains of equipment & luggage (you can leave the kitchen sink at home). Indeed, wherever you are in North Thailand you are only ever a few hours, (maximum 6 hrs) ride from Chiang Mai.

Riding North Thailand the distances are not great but the smile factor is massive.

INFRASTRUCTURE
Fuel: North Thailand has fuel every 60 kms. Laos has fuel every 80 kms.
Food & water: you can get every 30 kms.
Banks/ ATMs are in all the main district centres. ATM cash machines are at most 7-11 24 hr mini marts nationwide in Thailand. In Laos,  ATMs are in all the main towns.
Accommodation: you can find a comfortable clean guesthouse / hotel / resort every 70 kms.
Mobile Phone: there is good mobile phone service  all over Thailand; & in Laos there is excellent 4G phone service everywhere – better than in Thailand.

Bikers enjoying the good life on the Mae Hong Son Loop.

The main up-country towns all have clean, hot water accommodation and good restaurants. The restaurants are often open-air, in lush garden settings, serving delicious Thai food. Thai cuisine is one of the most popular in the world nowadays, and where best to get real home cooking than up-country in the Golden Triangle. 

Good, tasty, fresh food is available everywhere in North Thailand.

Hospitals: almost every district centre has a medical centre, or a small hospital, & most hospitals with X-Ray facilities; so there is medical help at least every 90 kms maximum.

Hospitality: North Thailand’s people are justifiably famous for their warmth, hospitality and beauty.
With so many positive attributes, you can’t but help enjoy yourself touring North Thailand. Do yourself a favour then, and come on over for some easy bike riding in a nice warm tropical environment. The “cold” season is dry, the wet season warm, and the hot season hot. It’s never cold & wet! The perfect two wheel holiday is waiting for you in North Thailand. It is easy, fun and safe.

Tai Lue beauties at the annual Tai Lue festival in Chiang Kham.

WHERE TO GO:
The best place to go is the one where you enjoy yourself the most – you can only decide this after you’ve come back. Wherever you go the first time you will enjoy yourself, and there’s something wrong with you if you don’t. So don’t hesitate – get out there and go.
For bikers North Thailand can be conveniently be divided into two areas
(1) the Mae Hong Son Loop and
(2) the Golden Triangle / Laos border area.
But before you head off up-country try some of the excellent day rides & overnight loops from Chiang Mai.

A royal chedi at Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain. Doi Inthanon can be a day or over night trip from Chiang Mai.

Look at the GT Rider Thailand photo gallery for photos of Thailand’s great motorcycle roads and attractions, or the GT Rider Laos photo gallery for hundreds of photos.

THE MAE HONG SON LOOP
The MHS Loop to the west-north-west of Chiang Mai has the best forest cover, narrower more winding roads, less traffic and is less developed than the immediate Golden Triangle area.  Check out the GT Rider message board for the latest road and trip reports.
For off-road fans it has also North Thailand’s best trail riding. Look here Checking Dirt Trails on The Mae Hong Son Loop
For on-roads fans who like to take their time, look at these Pottering around the Mae Hong Son Loop or Re-mapping towns on the Mae Hong Son Loop or Mae Chaem a meander

Mae Chaem. & Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE / LAOS BORDER
This area to the north and east of Chiang Mai has more hill tribe villages, more loops and choices of places to go, and is more developed than the Mae Hong Son loop. The Laos border region has the best riding on a road bike and is the least touristed area in the North.
Sport riders don’t hesitate to go to Nan, the roads are awesome, & you can’t claim to have ridden North Thailand until you have done either of The Doi Phukha loops in Nan.

A road to ride in Nan: R1080

Check out the GT Rider Motorcycle Forum for the latest road & trip reports.

Check out the Top Ten Roads in North Thailand.

R1155 a top ten road ‘n ride in North Thailand.

Some highlights of touring the Golden Triangle / top North
A Top End Meander
Doi Pha Tang
The Big Dipper
Phu Chi Fah
Waterfalls 

 

Some dirt ride options: a GTR directory of dirt rides in the North of Thailand. 

OTHER THAILAND AREAS
The attractions of the North East
The attractions of the South
The attractions of Kanchanburi

LAOS: the new exciting motorcycle touring destination in S E Asia. Indeed Highway 13 North, the Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang – Boten road is arguably S E Asia’s greatest motorcycle ride. Getting into Laos is relatively straight forward if you have your own legal registered bike, or you can rent in either Vientiane or Luang Prabang. See Border Crossings & the GT Rider message board for more info. Look at the GT Rider Laos photo gallery for hundreds of photos. Use the GT Rider Laos Trip Planner for a general guide to routes / loops / destinations.  Dirt fans check out the GTR Dirt Rides Directory

Laos R13 North & the Phou Khoun viewpoint Phieng Fah

VIETNAM: if you want to ride in Vietnam, we recommend flying in, renting a bike there & riding around. Use the GT Rider Vietnam Trip Planner for a guide on when / where to go.

Sapa Vietnam

GUIDE MAPS
There aren’t many accurate guide maps available for this part of the world, and to find your way around North Thailand / the Golden Triangle / Laos, the best maps are from the GT Rider.

All GT Rider maps have been surveyed using a GPS, so are accurate, reliable and detailed. Don’t ride without one, or you will be missing out on all the good stuff.

  • Golden Triangle Loop Guide map – Two 2 years in the making, this map covers the heart of & best of the Golden Triangle. It has enough detail, tracks & back roads to keep any rider busy for 7 – 10 days exploring the Golden Triangle’s best bike riding & secrets. 2nd edition 2016.
  • Mae Hong Son Loop Guide map – has enough accurate dirt trails for at least a week’s dirt riding to satisfy any dirt fan. Covers the legendary road of a thousand bends. 5th edition 2015.
  • Mae Sa Valley Samoeng Loop – is Chiang Mai’s best day trip & has hours of loops & side roads to explore for both novice & experienced riders. The map to start off your time in & around Chiang Mai. 2nd edition 2014.
  • Laos Guide Map – was the first & still is the only accurate guide map to the country. Surveyed by the GT Rider himself this map took hundreds of hours & thousands of kms to survey to make sure it is detailed & accurate. Now in it’s 5th edition April 2012.

Vat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang

Maps vs GPS – Why you need a map

  • With a map you get the big picture. You can see the network of roads. With a GPS you can only look at a small area on the screen.
  • You can plan your trip with a map.
  • You can open your map out & discuss your route & options with friends over beer.
  • A GPS actually isolates you from other people & interacting more with the locals. It takes a lot of the fun & adventure out of touring.
  • With a map you can interact with locals, checking directions & suggested routes.
  • With a map you can learn something as you go, looking out for landmarks or kms as you go. With a GPS you watch the screen to navigate & don’t necessarily look out for landmarks or kms, route numbers as you go.
  • Navigating with a map is part of the excitement of travel. Blindly following your GPS, letting it lead you round by the nose is no adventure.
  • A map doesn’t have a power failure of lose the GPS signal – it works with you all the time.
  • Lose your way with a GPS; but with a map you can least see the big picture & road network to work out where to go – what the options are.
    Always take a GT Rider guide map with you, even just for a backup.

Ban Phuckkha village somewhere in Laos. Make sure you get the pronunciation right.

MINIMUM TIME
You need a minimum of 2 nights 3 days to see either the Mae Hong Son loop or the Golden Triangle. If you have less, don’t go to Mae Hong Son, but go to the Golden Triangle area, as you will be able to do this area more justice with your time than by riding non-stop to Mae Hong Son and back again the next day.

You can easily spend 3 weeks touring North Thailand (and still not see it all.) Your best bet is to base yourself in Chiang Mai and make easy 4-5 loops from there.
Start with one or two day trips / loops from Chiang Mai to acclimatise, then head off on the Mae Hong Son Loop for a few days, return to Chiang Mai for a break, then head North to the Golden Triangle and a run along the Laos border. Do it like this and you’ll get to know and remember North Thailand well. Come for a ride soon………….you won’t be disappointed.

Go here for more touring tips.

Kayan – “Long Neck” new year, Mae Hong Son.