Beyond the crowded beaches and the bright lights, there’s another side to Thailand that few outsiders get to experience. Adventure Biking Asia’s Shane shares some of his motorcycle adventures to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of Thailand.
A motorbike tour in Thailand is the best way to get to see places far off the beaten path, remembering as well, that the destination is a fraction of the overall journey, and the adventure is in riding to these special places on epic roads and soaking up the scenery.
Chiang Mai city makes an excellent base, and all my adventures commence from here. It is the northern capital, home to several million people and has its own distinct Lanna culture. Situated in the north of Thailand near the borders of Myanmar and Laos, it is surrounded by wild mountains with a network of roads and trails just waiting to be explored. In some of the bars in the old town you may meet other fellow bikers ready to set off on an adventure too.
Samoeng – Easy chilled out riding
Getting to and around Samoeng is a nice easy ride from Chiang Mai once you exit the highway. There are many different routes to take and it is perfect for just exploring around and checking out the little villages.
There are many superb coffee shops and restaurants along the way. Make sure you try out some of these along the way. The quality of coffee is excellent with many using locally grown arabica beans. There is also no shortage of great food options on this leg of your motorbike tour.
Umpang – The “death highway”
Umpang is in a very remote part of Tak province. There is only one way in and one way out along a road known as the “death highway”. It has 1,219 curves so your stomach and nerves will need to be tough. One of the main highlights is the waterfall called Thi Lor Su. It is supposed to be the largest waterfall by volume in Thailand.
Baan Sop Moei – A Karen village
This sleepy little village on the confluence of the river Moei and the Salaween river is in a beautiful setting. It is situated in on the banks of the river only metres from the Karen state of Myanmar and is about as remote as it gets. Most of the inhabitants of the village are Karen who migrated from Burma.
The journey to Sop Moei is for a seasoned adventurer or an off-road enthusiast. The motorcycle ride takes a few hours from the nearest town, and the road is a rough dirt trail. If you are considering this motorbike tour, make sure to take some additional food and water just in case.
Khun Yuam – sunflower fields
Khun Yuam is best known for the Thung Bua Tong sunflower fields. During December the sunflowers come into bloom and the whole mountainside is covered in a yellow hue. It really is a very unusual and beautiful sight indeed.
There are several ways to ride to Khun Yuam. One of my favourites is the route 1263 coming from Chiang Mai direction. The road weaves through some spectacular mountain landscape and passes through many Hmong and Karen villages along the way.
Baan Rak Thai
The town of Baan Rak Thai is a quaint little town with stunning scenery situated right on the border with Myanmar (Burma). Once a frontier town for controlling the jade trade, it was settled by ethnic Chinese whose influence is still evident in the décor and food. It makes a great spot to stop for lunch and to sample the local tea.
Riding to Baan Rak Thai, you turn off the main 1095 north of Mae Hong Son town and follow a small steep winding road until you nearly reach the Burmese border. The road passes lush green rice fields and climbs a steep mountain. If you chose to cross the border into the Tai Yai village on the Burmese side, you will have to leave your motorcycle with the order guards and walk across.
Doi Angkang is a monster of a mountain with steep roads and gnarly hairpin turns. Situated on the Burmese border, it offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Further along the ridge at the top is a military base with spectacular views out into the Shan State of Myanmar.
There are a few ways to ride up Doi Angkang…. all of them steep, and all of them twisty. An adventure motorcyclist’s dream. My favourite approach is from the Chiang Dao side which passes through a few Chinese villages established by former Koumintang soldiers.
This is a Chinese style town established by former Koumintang soldiers. It was once a hotbed for producing heroin. Back in the day the beautiful surrounding mountains were filled with poppies. These days the poppies are gone, and the town is best known for its Oolong tea and Chinese dumplings.
The roads leading to Mae Salong are windy mountain roads that offer superb scenery along the way. The surface is excellent for the most part. It takes about two hours to get there from the city of Chiang Rai.
Chiang Khong is a sleepy town on the banks of the Mekong, a gateway to Laos. There are lots of nice restaurants along the waterfront where you can get great views of the river and the Laos town on the opposite side.
The ride into Chiang Khong, ‘Paradise Road’, is a beautiful road rolling through the hills that line the banks of the Mekong river. It offers spectacular views the whole way into the town and should definitely be included on your motorbike tour.
Nan – Motorbike tour paradise
Nan is all about the motorbiking. It is probably one of the least visited regions of northern Thailand but possibly one of the most rewarding for the motorcycling enthusiast. What it lacks in tourist attractions, it makes up for in quality of roads.
It is known as biker paradise, with epic rolling hills, excellent tarmac roads and a never-ending supply of curves that seem to go on forever. The famous route 1148 is a classic route for a Thailand motorbike tour and it offers dramatic scenery all the way. The less known 1081 is a beautifully paved road that carves its way through the ridges of the mountain range bordering Laos. It gets hardly any traffic and is a true real hidden gem.
Phu Chi Fah
Home of the legendary sea of fog. Phu Chi Fah is one of the best places to see this natural phenomenon. The best time to see this is at sunrise when the fog rises and flows majestically from the valley below.
Phu Chi Fah is located in the mountainous border region in the Phu Sang national park. There are many ways to get to Phu Chi Fah. All of them are steep and twisty. The views from the roads leading there are stunning and are almost as good as the views from the top.
Thailand has much more to offer than just the usual tourist hotspots. Getting off the beaten track is where the adventure begins, and a motorbike tour is the best way to explore.
The above places are only the tip of the iceberg. There are still countless other really cool places off the beaten path, however I don’t want to give away all the secrets. If you want to know more, you’ll have to buy me a beer or join me for a motorbike adventure tour.
For more information about Thailand Motorbike tours, and the full version of this article, visit Adventure Biking Asia.