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Northwest Thailand Road Trip

Wat Tham Pha Plong - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Our 2687 KM / 1669 Mile road trip originates in Bangkok and heads north along the Burmese border. We travel the western and northern portions of the Mae Hong Son Loop before heading north through Chiang Dao to the Golden Triangle. We finish our trip in Chiang Rai before returning to Bangkok.

We rented a Toyota Hilux (diesel, manual transmission) pickup truck with high clearance from Budget (1307 baht / 41 USD per day). The roads are very rough and ridiculously steep in parts. Many places would be unreachable in a small car with low clearance. Keep in mind that you do need a Thai driver’s license or International Drivers Permit rated for your vehicle of choice (car or motorcycle) to drive legally in Thailand. If you choose to drive your rental on unpaved roads, you accept all responsibility and your insurance will not cover damages.

This is a great outdoor adventure trip! There are many variations in both activities and routes that you can plan. Depending on the season, your choice for activities will change. If we had done this trip one month later, once the rainy season was in full swing, there would have been lots of rafting and kayaking!

The prices given for all activities are the prices for adult foreigners. If you are a Thailand resident and have a driver’s license, work permit, or health insurance card you may be able to negotiate the Thai price, which can be as little as 10% of the price for foreigners, at National Parks and museums.

Day 1 – Mae Sariang

We left early in the morning to avoid the worst of the Bangkok traffic. The further north we drove, the more beautiful the scenery. Most of the way the road was in terrific condition. About 50 kilometers outside Mae Sariang, our destination for the day, the roads became very bad, with large potholes and some sections that were unpaved.

Mae Sariang - Northwest Thailand

The rice fields in and around Mae Sariang are beautiful!

Mae Sariang - Northwest Thailand

Checked into Tamarind Grand Resort (700 baht / 21 USD per night) – This hotel is in a great, quiet location just outside the city of Mae Sariang. The breakfast that was included was delicious!

Driving Route: Hwy 9 N, hwy 32 N, near Nakhong Sawan hwy 122 bypass N, hwy 1 N, just before Tak hwy 105 W, at Mae Sot hwy 105 N to Mae Sariang. It is not recommended to drive the section of road between Mae Sot and Mae Sariang after dark because it is a sensitive border area.

Day 2 – Mae Sariang

Day trip to Mae Sam Laep on the Myanmar border – The road to Mae Sam Laep is steep, very rough, and unpaved. The town has a very Burmese feel with bamboo stilt houses with teak leaf thatched roofs perched on the cliffs of the river banks. Most residents are chewing betel nut and red splotches cover much of the ground.

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

The Salween River, known as the Thanlwin River in Myanmar, forms the border between Myanmar and Thailand.

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

Keep the small stream that you must ford to get to Mae Sam Leap in mind. If it starts to rain, the water can rise quickly and prevent crossing.

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

Boat ride on the Salween River (600 baht / 19 USD) – We booked a one hour boat ride at the port.

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

It is a large river with very strong currents and whirlpools. We cinched our life jackets tight!

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

While we did not step foot on Myanmar soil, we did get to see a military outpost from the river.

Mae Sam Laep - Northwest Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 1194 S to Mae Sam Laep.

Day 3 – Na Pa Paek

Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall (100 baht / 3 USD each) – This museum, located in Khun Yuam, has many displays and artifacts that document the Japanese occupation. While we knew much about the Bridge over River Kwai area, this introduced us to new information about Northern Thailand during and after World War II.

We drove to the Hmong village of Na Pa Paek. The road is very, very steep but it is paved most of the way. On the way you pass many more rice farms and the scenery is spectacular.

Na Pa Paek - Northwest Thailand

Once in Na Pa Paek the roads get narrow and are unpaved. We wanted to continue and stay the night in Rak Thai, the Chinese border village, but decided against it when it started to rain. The roads turn to mud and it is very easy to get stuck; four-wheel drive and tire chains are recommended. We have seen the road mud described as “glutinous mud.” That about sums it up!

Na Pa Paek - Northwest Thailand

Checked into Banhmong Homestay (500 baht / 15 USD per night) in Na Pa Paek – very nice area next to a grape orchard. Na Pa Paek - Northwest Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 108 N, at Mae Hong Son hwy 1095 N, unnamed road toward Rak Thai (follow signs- left turn is about 10 KM past Mae Hong Song).

Day 4 – Soppong

Mae Hong Son Bamboo Complex (free) – On the way back to the main road from Na Pa Paek, we stopped for a quick nature hike in the giant bamboo.

Mae Hong Son Bamboo Complex - Northwest Thailand

Pha Sua Waterfall (free) – Also on the roadside on the way back to the main road. It is just a short walk to the waterfall viewing area.

Tham Pla Fish Cave (100 baht / 3 USD each) – You will come to the Tham Pla Fish Cave not long after getting back onto Hwy 1095. It is a nice place to stretch your legs and feed the large Phluang fish in the small fish cave. It is not a cave that you can go into. There is also a nice nature hiking trail in the park.

Tham Pla Fish Cave - Northwest Thailand

As you head toward Soppong the views continue to impress.

Road to Soppong, Thailand

The number of curves on the Mae Hong Son Loop is debated, but this sign claims 1548! Since we only did half of the loop we decided not to count…

Road to Soppong, Thailand

Checked into The Rock Garden Resort (700 baht / 21 USD per night) – This resort impressed us so much we stayed three nights! Soppong is the place to base out of for caving adventures.

Soppong, Thailand

Driving Route: Returned to hwy 1095, hwy 1095 N to Soppong (Pang Mapha).

Day 5 – Soppong

Tham Lod Cave (150 baht / 5 USD for guide with lantern, up to three people + 400 baht / 13 USD round trip bamboo raft service, up to 3 people) – This is a huge cave that has a river running through it. You cannot enter the cave during the rainy season. Our guide was fantastic! He had very limited English but was very patient and allowed us plenty of time to explore.

Tham Lod Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Lod Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Lod Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Lod Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Phiman Coffin Cave (20 baht / 0.6 USD each) – This cave is located on the west side of Sappong, just outside of town. We were able to walk to it from our hotel. It is an active archeological site. There are more than 60 coffin sites in the Soppong district. The log coffins are from 1200-2100 years old!

Tham Phiman Coffin Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Phiman Coffin Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Tham Phiman Coffin Cave - Soppong, Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 1095 E through Soppong, on the eastern edge of town follow signs to Tham Lod Cave on unnamed road.

Day 6 – Soppong

Mae Lana Cave - near Soppong, Thailand

Mae Lana Cave (500 baht / 16 USD each including the guide for the 4 hour waterfall section) – This cave was the highlight of our 11 day trip. It is a long, strenuous hike. It involves lots of bouldering, wading through water and crawling through tights spaces. Our guide did not speak English but he did a great job through hand signals.

Mae Lana Cave - near Soppong, Thailand

Mae Lana Cave - near Soppong, Thailand

Mae Lana Cave - near Soppong, Thailand

Mae Lana Cave - near Soppong, Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 1095 W, hwy 1226 N, follow signs to Mae Lana Cave on unnamed road.

Day 7 – Pai

The drive from Soppong to Pai is only 41 kilometers, but it is curvy! Drive from Soppong to Pai, Thailand

Checked into Brook View Resort (500 baht / 15 USD per night) – This is a very nice resort with beautiful grounds. It is located on the edge of town, outside of the main party area, and is very reasonably priced.Pai, Thailand

Pai is very much a party town. As much as we liked our hotel, we decided to head to Chiang Dao rather than stay another night.

Driving Route: Hwy 1095 to Pai.

Day 8 – Chiang Dao

Pong Duad Geiser (300 baht / 9 USD each + 30 baht / 1 USD vehicle fee) – This park is clearly marked with road signs. It has a very nice hike and the geisers are awesome! If we go again, we will take eggs with us. They have a hot spring set up just for making hard boiled eggs. This park has very nice cabins and would be a great spot to spend a few nights.

Pong Duad Geiser - Northwest Thailand

Mork-Fa Waterfall and Bat Cave (100 baht / 3 USD each + 30 baht / 1 USD vehicle fee) – Clearly marked by street signs. The road in is very steep. The waterfall is gorgeous and has a nice area to wade. The cave is very dark, so don’t forget your headlamps.

Mork-Fa Waterfall - Northwest Thailand

Checked into Mokluang Resort (1000 baht / 31 USD per night) – Great restaurant on-site. We loved our stay and had a wonderful view of the “Last tooth of the Himalayas.” UPDATE May 25, 2018: It appears that they no longer rent rooms and are now a restaurant only.

Chiang Dao, Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 1095 E, hwy 107 N, hwy 107 bypass N. Side trips are on unnamed side roads, watch for signs.

Day 9 – Chiang Dao

Wat Tham Pha Plong (free) – Breathtaking! 510 steps to get to the top, but so worth it.

Wat Tham Pha Plong - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Stupas of Chiang Dao Cave (free) – Some of the Stupas date back to 191 CE.

Stupas of Chiang Dao Cave - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao Cave (40 baht / 1.25 USD each) – If you want to use a guide to go deeper into the cave past the lighted area there is an additional 100 baht / 3 USD lantern fee plus a recommended 100 baht / 3 USD guide fee.

Chiang Dao Cave - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao Cave - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao Cave - Chiang Dao, Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 107 bypass S, follow signs to Chiang Dao Cave on unnamed road.

Day 10 – Chiang Rai

212 House of Opium Museum (50 baht/ 1.5 USD each) – This privately-owned museum has a large collection of opium paraphernalia and informative displays on the production of opium and heroin.

Golden Triangle, Thailand

Golden Triangle (free) – Great photo opportunity where Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos come together.

Golden Triangle, Thailand

Hall of Opium (200 baht / 6.25 USD each) – This is a Royal Project that was built to educate people about the dangers of opium. This museum is absolutely amazing. One of the best museums we have visited, anywhere. We spent 2-3 hours in our visit and did not even realize it. I highly recommend it.

Golden Triangle, Thailand

Checked into De Hug Hotel & Residence (27 USD/night) – Nice hotel in a good location.

Driving Route: Hwy 107 bypass N, hwy 107 N, hwy 109 E, hwy 118 E, hwy 1 N, at Mae Chan hwy 1016 E, hwy 1290 N. After the Golden Triangle we returned to Chiang Rai by continuing west on 1290 to Mae Sai, Hwy 1 S.

Day 11 – Bangkok

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) (free) – This is a very new temple (still under construction). It is very photogenic and based on the number of tour buses pulling up, very popular. It was on the way out of Chiang Rai on the way back to Bangkok and worth a 15 minute stop. As with other temples, dress modestly.

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) - Chiang Rai, Thailand

Driving Route: Hwy 1 S, at Nakhon Sawan 122 bypass S, hwy 32 south, hwy 9 S.

We loved this amazing road trip! Having a car allowed us to take it at our own pace and to get a little further off the beaten path. It is nice to have the flexibility and freedom to take a side road or detour when you see something that interests you. It makes you feel a little more like an explorer than a tourist!

Trip Details

  • Time of Year: June 2015
  • Length of Stay: 11 Days, 10 Nights
  • Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 1188 USD*
  • Cost Per Day / Per Person: 54 USD*
  • Visa Information: Thai Embassy, U.S. citizens carrying a tourist passport and in possession of an onward or return airline ticket do not require a visa to enter Thailand. The passport must have at least six months validity remaining to be allowed entry.

*Excluded from the cost analysis:

  • International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
  • Travel Health Insurance – Travel health insurance is not included because we have health insurance valid in Thailand.

GPS Coordinates:Click to expand

Day 1
Trip Start – Suvarnabhumi Airport @ 13.693281,100.750802
Tamarind Grand Resort @ 18.155905,97.92955

Day 2
Mae Sam Laep @ 17.980246,97.739119

Day 3
Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall @ 18.83049,97.93287
Banhmong Homestay @ 19.53622,97.92417

Day 4
Mae Hong Son Bamboo Complex @ 19.504566,97.949692
Pha Sua Waterfall @ 19.490949,97.957353
Tham Pla Fish Cave @ 19.424602,97.986964
The Rock Garden Resort @ 19.521766,98.242982

Day 5
Tham Lod Cave @ 19.572374,98.280261
Tham Phiman (Coffin Cave) @ 19.526392,98.238237

Day 6
Mae Lana Cave Guide Service @ 19.591439,98.215193
Mae Lana Cave @ 19.565912,98.215313

Day 7
Brook View Resort @ 19.36299,98.439988

Day 8
Turn to Pong Duad Geiser @ 19.201533,98.680733
Pong Duad Geiser Park Fee Booth @ 19.240378,98.688466
Turn for Mork-Fa Waterfall and Bat Cave @ 19.115657,98.784938
Mork-Fa Waterfall and Bat Cave @ 19.112614,98.774685
Mokluang Resort @ 19.383348,98.94978

Day 9
Wat Tham Pha Plong @ 19.402443,98.917974
Stupas of Chiang Dao Cave @ 19.39363,98.929389
Chiang Dao Cave @ 19.394621,98.928036

Day 10
212 House of Opium (Museum) @ 20.351457,100.081859
Golden Triangle @ 20.352799,100.083062
Hall of Opium @ 20.363154,100.072832
De Hug Hotel & Residence @ 19.902564,99.814806

Day 11
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) @ 19.824269,99.763189

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You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.

*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.