The first thing most new visitors to Chiang Mai do is going up Doi Suthep (Mount Suthep) and visit the Buddhist temple Wat Phra That and perhaps the royal Bhubing Palace. It takes about half an hour to travel up there and Doi Suthep is an obvious goal for a day tour. The gleaming golden stupa of the temple looks interesting through the low morning clouds and it is a quick visit by scooter or by songthaew pick-up.
If you want to do a Doi Suthep tour you can just take a taxi or songthaew up there for the afternoon; there is no need to rent a scooter. If you want to go further, to Mae Rim and the Queen Sirikit Botanical garden the best option is to rent a scooter or motorcycle and go by yourself. Go up north on the 107 highway for about 20 minutes; turn left on the 1095 and follow the signs to Samoeng. You are now driving on the famous twisty Samoeng Loop.
Motorcycle rides - the Busy and the Easy ones.
- The busy road to Pai.
- The Perfect Curve - the Samoeng Loop
- Unexplored: nature trails in Mae Takhrai.
- Other motortour possibilities.
- Motorcycle and bicycle rentals in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai motorcycle routes to national parks.
The highways around Chiang Mai are busy and quite dangerous; many drivers go at speeds of 80 to 100 km/hour and sometimes much faster. Moreover the highways have many U-turn places; sometimes every mile or so - with drivers waiting to make a turn and watching the traffic coming at high speed at them. A motorcycle or scooter is easily overlooked so you have to watch the crossings and U-turn spots very carefully.
1] The busy road to Pai.
Many tourists travel by scooter on their first long motorbike trip to Pai; which is not the best choice if you are an inexperienced driver. The road to Pai (nr. 1095) is a 130 km long drive; it is very twisty with its 762 turns and is a quite daunting mountain road for beginners - and even for experienced motorbike riders it's not a routine ride. There are few viewpoints and there is a lot of traffic; for example the many minibuses travelling to Pai which usually drive at high speed. In short: it is not safe and not for beginners!
The Samoeng loop on the other hand is a much better road which has much less traffic and many interesting things to see: there are for example great viewpoints, elephant parks, and a famous large botanical garden. And there are fewer potholes.
2] The Perfect Curve - the Samoeng Loop
The Samoeng loop is one of the most magnificent drives in Thailand; 100 kilometers of nearly perfect winding mountain road. And for the most part it does not have too much traffic. The Samoeng loop has what drivers call "Perfect Curves". The camber is right, the curve is smooth, the scenery is great; all you have to open up the trottle and let the bike lean into that perfect curve. As fast as possible but not 100% on the limit, with just a nice small safety margin.
So what is the Perfect Curve? It's the one where you feel the bike purring happily below you, you are on top of the world and you hope that there are 20 more curves like this ahead. And then 200 more. That is the Purrfect curve.
Why not start your route in the morning and from Chiang Mai head north on the busy highway 107. The Dara Pirom Palace Museum in Mae Rim is worth visiting, and also in Mae Rim one can have a cappuccino or cake in one of the coffee shops, like the wonderful artsy Wawee coffee shop.
From here the road gets much less busy as it continues west towards Samoeng; you can drive through the beautiful valleys and mountains on a scenic twisty road though the Mae Sa valley dotted with villages, temples and forest. Past a few elephant parks is the Queen Sirikit Botanical garden (QSBG) which is a famous mountainside arboretum and garden. The Glasshouse Complex on top of the mountain is a conservatory for a wide collection of tropical plants, cacti and orchids.
After doing the "Samoeng loop" around Doi Suthep which takes about 3 hours (or 4 hours including a lunch break in Supanee's restaurant in Samoeng) you're back safe and sound in old city of Chiang Mai.
The Samoeng Forest viewpoint on the road to Samoeng village.
3] Unexplored: quiet roads in Mae Takhrai and Chae Son.
To see the best parks and nature of Chiang Mai head east towards Mae Takhrai and Chae Son National Park. In less than an hour's drive you can be in either Mae Takhrai National Park or a bit futher on in Chae Son National Park.
On the bike one can enjoy the beautiful scenery, and get to places that are difficult or impossible to reach by car. You will soon discover very quiet roads, grand forest valleys and vistas and enchanting remote mountain villages. On some routes you'll rarely see other cars - perhaps a villager driving a small motorbike is the only person you will see.
Many National Parks charge entry fees of between 100 to 300 Thai baht, but Mae Takhrai is free and most of Chae Son National Park is free. Chae Son National Park only charges an entry fee at its quite small area around the HQ/visitors center where the hot springs and waterfall are; the entry cost is 200 Baht for foreigners.
The road through Mae Takhrai Park - one visitor a day.
4] Other motorcycle tour possibilities.
- The Mae Tha fault loop, between 110km and 160km through Mae Takhrai National Park on different sections of the Mae Tha fault.
- The Elephant Valley loop, 150km. Drive north to Mae Taeng river valley and have a look at the many elephant camps and parks there. A bit up north is Chiang Dao, the 3rd highest mountain in Thailand. (elephant parks)
- Long off-road rides on ancient elephant trails though stunning landscapes.
- And many more trips and loops are possible; to hot springs, ancient cities (Wiang Kum Kam, Wiang Tha Kan), waterfalls, botanic gardens.
Remote route through the villages around Chiang Mai.
5] Motorcycle/motorbike Motorcycle and bicycle rentals in Chiang Mai
A motorcycle ride can be done with a scooter, for example a Honda Click 125cc or a Honda Wave 125 cc. If you prefer a zippier dirt bike like a Honda CRF250 (Enduro or dirt bike) is also possible. And you can also rent a larger bike like a Phantom, a Honda CB500F, a Kawasaki Ninja 650 or Kawasaki Versys 650.
Most motorbike and scooter rental places in Chiang Mai are close to Tha Phae gate (Thapae gate) like Mr. Mechanic motorcycle Rental, C&P Service, Dang Bike Hire, Tony's Big Bikes, Mister Beer and Pop Motorbike. Pop Motorbike has several locations throughout the city but is not the cheapest; walk around a bit away from Tha Phae gate to find a cheaper rental office.
Larger motorbikes are quite expensive; a trail motorbike (Honda CRF250) will cost about 800 THB a day (At Pop's motorbikes a CRF 250 is 800B/day but 700 for a few days) and the fast big road bikes like Kawasaki Ninja 650 or Kawasaki Versys at least 1200 THB. They will keep your passport as safeguard; some motorcycle rental shops also to take a deposit of 3000 to 5000 baht for a scooter. An international driver's license is also a requirement but is not checked when renting a bike.
There are lots of scooter rental places in Chiang Mai all over town; and most are small shops. On Moonmuang Road, the street along the moat at Taphae Gate there are quite a few. The Honda Click, Honda Scoopy en Yamaha Fino are common scooters for rent; the cost can vary widely but most are in the range of 150 – 250 baht a day. The more powerful 120CC scooters will be over 200 baht a day. The longer you rent a bike, the cheaper the daily rate can be ... negotiate!
When renting your scooter you can also buy additional insurance. In Thailand all motor vehicles and scooters have by default third party insurance (damage caused to OTHER vehicles in case of an accident). The damage to your own bike can be covered by this additional insurance which is around 100 baht a day.
The regular police check in Chiang Mai. Notice the old blue helmet.
Motorcycle helmets and license
Scooter rental is very easy and scooters and motorbikes can be rented at almost every corner; helmets however are a problem.
Motorcycle helmets are usually free with a motorcycle rental; however they are also nearly always low quality and may not fit very well. Many people in Thailand wear horribly bad helmets and almost usless ones. Take your time to find a good one. Wearing a helmet is compulsory and carries a fine of 500 baht. (* Read the warning below)
* The last winter season (2016/2017) the Thai police have set up daily checkpoints in Chiang Mai where all foreigners' licenses are checked. Motorcycle and scooter drivers need to show a valid motorcycle license.
In many European countries one does not need a motorcycle license for mopeds: small bikes of 50CC. This is not the case in Thailand where scooters are more powerful.
Most scooters for rent in Thailand are 100 to 125CC and can easily do 80 to 100 km/hour (50-60 miles/hour). Therefore all scooter drivers need a valid Motorcycle license and an International Drivers License.
+MORE (International Drivers License / IDP).
Note: An International Drivers License
is required for motorcycle driving in Thailand but this is not checked when renting a bike. The International Drivers License or International Driving Permit (IDP) is NOT a license to drive, only a translation of your countries license. If your home driver's license is not in English, an International Drivers License will be asked for at the Thai police checkpoints.
Most travel insurance companies have in the fine print that you must have an International Drivers License in the event of a claim for accident damages or medical costs. You are also not covered if you rent a scooter without a proper motorcycle license.
Bicycle rentals shops in Chiang Mai
There are many bicycle rentals shops but most of them rent really basic bicycles; these cost 50 - 80 baht/day. A better quality bicycle or mountainbike is surprisingly difficult to find and goes for 120 - 300 baht/day. That is about the same price as a scooter rental - Thai people like motorized transport better then bicycles. The rentals shops usually prefer to keep your passport but sometimes also accept a deposit.
Bicycle and walking tour suggestions.
A bicycling trip around the Chiang Mai moat is only six and a half kilometers and can be done in half an hour - the average bicycle rider can do about 15km per hour. If you go on the inside of the moat you can also stop at the park in the SW-corner.
Bicycling around the old town inside the moat is enjoyable because there is not much traffic, but outside the moat there is a lot of traffic At the Taphae gate road there is usually a small traffic jam. The road on the western side of the old town also has a lot of traffic coming from the airport to the Nimmanhaemin area. If you want to see the Kamphaeng Din walls then the problem is figuring out which parts remain. Of the original 5km long Kamphaeng Din wall between 1300 and 1600 meters remain; so roughly about one-third is still traceable, the rest has completely gone. The Kamphaeng Din road followed part of the old dirt Kamphaeng Din wall.
Links on Wikipedia and Wikivoyage
Any comments or improvements? Please mail me at : bytelife AT gmail.com
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All foto's copyright © 2016 Rolf Schierbeek, Netherlands.