Northern Thailand on two wheels


During a recent trip to Thailand I tried out a favourite local type of transport: the scooter. Although I didn't know how much courage it would require, it was remarkably easy to get up to speed. Here's what you should know:

Grit your teeth and go

The worst part was trying to enter traffic for the first time. I made it to the middle of a divided road and hovered there, waiting for a gap. Tuk-tuks and scooters flowed past, around and in front of me. Eventually, a tuk-tuk driver pulled up next to me. He looked over, grinned and said ‘okay, on the count of three, we go’.

True to his word, he counted it down, and we moved forward together into the traffic, which gently absorbed us. From there it was actually pretty easy.

Plan your route

My friend and I did the very popular Mae Hong Son loop in Chiang Mai Province. Starting from Chiang Mai, the loop passes Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai, as well as numerous small settlements along the way.

  • Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang (six hours) is a good start as it’s not overly hilly or curvy. The roads aren't especially busy, either.
  • From Mae Sariang we rode to Mae Hong Son (four hours) and on up to Mae Aw (highly recommended, 1.5 hours)
  • From Mae Aw, we rode back to Mae Hong Son and then on to Pai (5 hours).
  • From Pai, we did an overnight rafting trip through to Mae Hong Son. The rafting company brought us back to Pai, where we recommenced our scooter trip.
  • From Pai we rode back to Chiang Mai (eight hours). Getting back into the city was fairly difficult, so consider doing this trip over two days

Stay cool

The cool season in Mae Hong Son Province is November to March, and this is definitely the most comfortable time to undertake a scooter trip.

Don't sweat the budget

You’ll get by comfortably on about US$35 a day unless you want to stay in top end hotels.

  • Scooter rental: a Honda Dream is about 200B (US$6) per day
  • Accommodation: the cost of accommodation varies, but expect to pay 600B to 1000B (US$16 to $27) for a double with air-con and a bathroom; if you are happy with a fan and shared facilities, 300B to 600B (US$8 to US$16) is reasonable.
  • Food: you’ll be eating at market stalls and small restaurants. Snacks start at 5B (US$0.15), lunch on the road 40B (US$1.10), dinner 50B to 150B (US$1.30 to US$4.20).
  • Fuel: around 35B (US$1) a litre. You won’t use much.
  • Map: the Golden Triangle Rider map is a must-have at a cool 300B (US$8).
  • Flat tyres: towing and repairs will set you back 250B (US$7).
  • Rafting: an all-inclusive overnight trip is 2500B (US$70) per person including insurance, dry bags and a ride back to Pai.

Know the lingo

Scooter - Rot sa-goot deu

Please fill it up -Deum hai dem krap/ka

Can I park here? -Jort tee nee dai mai?

I have a flat tyre -Yahng baan

Can you fix it? -Sorm dai mai?

Get all the info

Need to know more? Start on our detailed Thailand destination page. You'll find links to all the relevant regions. Also check out our best-selling Thailand guide, and bone up on those tricky Thai tongue-twisters with our Thai phrasebook.