Cycling the Mae Hong Son Loop – Part 2 (Mae Hong Son to Pai)

Day 68: Mae Hong Son to Soppong

Small plot twist alert: we decided to enjoy another rest day in Mae Hong Son. I know – lazy right?! Now we’ve extended our Thai visa and have an extra 30 days in this wonderful country, we knew we could afford another day to rest our legs and do some laptop admin (video editing, visa planning etc). So after 3 much needed rest days in Mae Hong Son, we were definitely ready to get back on the bikes today. We cycled out of the town at 0730, after Adam had got some photos of the sunrise over the lake and, you guessed it, breakfast from 7/11 as usual. 

Waking up early to catch the temple before sunrise was definitely worth it.

I’m not going to lie – today was another tough day of cycling, but also another day of beautiful views. The first 25km or so were steady away: some baby hills to warm the legs up but on the whole, pretty flat (ish!). 

We decided to turn off the main road (the 1095) at about 10km to take a slight detour to a bamboo bridge that Adam had read glowing reviews about. The detour only added a couple of extra kilometres to our day, but it was definitely worth it. Strangely, the charming bridge is not signposted at all, so we (well, Adam) had saved the location on our trusty Maps.Me app and it was easy to find. 

The handmade, bamboo bridge stretched for about 100m across beautiful, golden paddy fields. Local Thais fulfilled their stereotypes by wading through the fields, machetes glittering in the morning sun in their hands and the traditional Thai farmer’s hats protecting their heads from the blistering rays as they hacked down bunches of the long, bright rice grass. The bridge felt a little unstable under our feet, but I marvelled at the careful and thorough construction: the bamboo weaved together over slats of wood. We didn’t stay for too long, mindful of the kilometres still to cycle and the hills that were waiting patiently for us to climb. There was a coffee shop and a few souvenir shops and stalls next to the bridge where, if you had more time, it would be nice to soak up the beautiful views for a little longer. 

Arriving here early meant that we were the only ones here.

Small monk or huge bench?

Taking the detour meant that we had a lovely, quieter section of road through the rural villages, which we always love. The road did eventually lead us back onto the 1095, and the climbs finally welcomed us with open arms. Although technically the gradient wasn’t as high as a previously tough day, it was still a very cheeky day. I would put it up there with one of the hardest days of the trip so far. My legs were burning, knees niggling, shoulders aching and sweat just pouring down every surface: I felt like I had just jumped in a swimming pool. The sun was hot, beating down on us relentlessly. We took our time though, stopping in the shady bits to just let me get my breath back, drink water, eat cheap oreos and just rest the legs a little. 

The hills went on and on in their steep manner for roughly 30km. However, we were treated to about 5 thrilling, steep downhills to break up the relentless climb, which was much appreciated! Just before 1pm we stopped in a cafe for lunch: delicious noodle soup gave us the much-needed energy to keep climbing. I even had a very quick power nap!

Mid-afternoon naps are becoming the norm in Thailand.

As the cycle and the climbs continued into the afternoon, we were blessed with epic views of the lush, green rolling hills. They really do make the physical effort in the fiery Thai sun worth it. The big hills continued until about 53km when we reached a ‘view point’. The views from here were just breathtaking. 

Looking north from Thailand towards Myanmar.

Again, there was a little coffee shop, cafe and stalls selling souvenirs along the side of the road with a few stalls selling fruit and vegetables nestled in between them.

Straight after the view point we had the most epic, steep downhill. Sensational. We naively thought it was pretty much downhill for the rest of the route, or at least flat towards to Sopping, but the hills were not done with us just yet. 

We were 15km from Soppong and the time was 1645. We deliberated whether we should find somewhere to camp as the sun would set in approximately an hour, or we could keep going to Soppong. We chose the latter option as the hills were finally done with us, so we thought we should be able to cycle the final 15km just before the sun sets. Those final kilometres along the flat ground were lovely as the road weaved through the bottom of a valley, green forested hills flanked all sides with paddy fields and the odd wooden house dotted here and there on the valley floor, illuminated by the pink sunset. 

Closing into about 1745 we found the perfect accommodation at Lemon Hill House. There are several hotels and guesthouses in Soppong. This one had a sign advertising rooms for 300 Baht outside, which is a good price for our budget. Adam went to ask at the reception for a 300 Baht room, and luckily they had one available. We sincerely enjoyed a good shower after such a long, hot and sweaty, tough day of cycling. The hotel has a view of the river which we’ll check out in the morning light.

Delightfully, there’s a 7/11 opposite the hotel and a cafe next door where we enjoyed a delicious ‘cow pad moo’ which is fried rice and pork. It came with a fried egg and was so, seriously tasty!! Food always tastes even better when you’ve had a physically exhausting day. It’s an early night for us tonight before we cycle to Pai tomorrow. It’s only 45km but with a big Momma steep hill to climb, again. Bring it on, again! 

Another successful day on the road.

Day 69: Sopping to Pai

The previous evening we had set our alarm for 0500. Well – that didn’t happen! Still exhausted from yesterday – everything ached: our legs, knees, shoulders, backs… we turned the alarm off and silently decided to rest a little longer. We still got up at 0630, which isn’t too late. Our accommodation provided free coffee and toast which we enjoyed overlooking the river. Similar in some respects to our morning breakfast experience at the Riverhouse Hotel in Mai Sariang, but a lot more rustic! We ensured all our water bottles were full (we carry 4 litres each) and made our usual stop at 7/11 for snacks for the day ahead: our favourite chocolate and banana muffins and cheap oreos. Endeavouring to be healthy, I also picked up a huge bunch of bananas for 20 Baht. 

We were on the road at 0800; the sky a pure white with a thick layer of cloud. The air was still quite cool as mist shrouded the top of the forested hills. Just as we were leaving Soppong we cycled past a man who was just pulling up on the side of the road on his scooter. In his hands, he held a huge bag of oranges, of which he held out 3 oranges each to us! We were very thankful to him and gladly added the fruit to our collection of snacks for the day. 

The kindness of strangers continues on an almost daily basis. The green and yellow “oranges” are actually ripe and taste just like a normal orange.

The first 15km or so today were rolling baby hills, again a good way to warm the legs up. It was also quite flat in places. The views today were just STUNNING. As the sun burnt through the cloud, bright blue skies shone down on us in all its beauty, highlighting the vibrant, green fields with banana trees lolling their gigantic leaves and continuous tree-laden hills. Endless bright yellow sunflowers bloomed and smiled at us as they waved gently from the side of the road. We were in cycling paradise. 

Cycling past swathes of sunflowers.

One of the great things about climbing big old mountains is having views like this. You can just see the road we have come up in the middle.

When the big hills started we were pleasantly surprised that although they were ‘steep-ish’, they were actually manageable to climb without zigzagging – which is always a good sign. It still took considerable effort though, especially in the heat. 

Midway through a climb, Adam was waiting for me sat on his stool in a nice shady spot. I pulled up, balanced my bike on my handy stick and pulled out my stool to sit down for a little break. After a couple of minutes, we were joined by about 5 dogs from the little stall up the road. Inquisitively, they came trotting down the hill to see what we were up to. One dog was really whining for attention and jumping up – she was quite sweet; the others just sniffing around us. One particularly mean looking small dirty-white dog with scars across its face took a squat next to Adam and, narrowly missing him, peed on the ground. Another dog sniffed at that spot, lifted a leg and as dogs do, peed over the top of it. Unfortunately, this one did not narrowly miss Adam, and proceeded to spray Adam’s leg and foot with a pungent golden shower. As though he had been electrified, Adam leapt up and cried out, pushing the whining cute dog he had been stroking away from him instinctively. The dogs scarpered. I fell about laughing as Adam attempted to wash away the dog’s selfish secretion, comparing himself to a lamp post. Luckily, I managed to record it – so make sure you look out for the hilarious scene in one of our next videos. 

This is probably the funniest moment we’ve captured on film yet.

We continued on with the breathtaking views, the climbs also almost taking our breath away! However, the steepness of the hills seemed to level out slightly: they actually looked relatively flat but we were definitely still gradually climbing. The crazy steepness came at the bends. We usually cycle over to the wrong side of the road if there’s no traffic, where it’s less steep. So the stretches of ‘almost flat uphill’ would act as a recovery before the next insane, sharp, steep bend. We kept stealing glances across the side of the mountain at the valley spread out below us: we couldn’t believe how far we’d climbed! 

More aggressive zigzagging.

It won’t come as a surprise that Adam is always in front of me on hill climb days such as this, so as I rounded one precipitous bend I saw him chatting to two westerners who had pulled up to chat to him on their scooter under the shade of a tree (Adam had been getting his drone out). We ended up talking to this lovely German couple for about an hour! Vroni and Jonas were actually bicycle tourists who were having some rest days off the bikes and exploring this region on a scooter. They are called ‘ONION Adventure’: they left Germany in January 2017 and since then they have cycled around New Zealand for three months, spent one year in Australia cycling and working and currently they are exploring South East Asia. We realised that we both have very similar plans to cycle through China and central Asia at a similar time, so we shared lots of ideas and as they also have a drone and make videos, there was lots of techie talk too. We are hoping to see them in Chiang Mai to maybe even hatch some plans to possibly cycle together! Who knows…

With our new cycle touring friends, Jonas and Vroni. You can check our their website at https://www.oni-on-adventure.de

After finally saying farewell to Jonas and Vroni, we just had 2km left of uphill climb to get to the ‘View Point’ at the top of the mountain. It was such an amazing feeling when we eventually summited. The top was busier than we expected: stalls selling food, the usual souvenir shops and even a crazy wooden swing type contraption that scared the living daylights out of me when we went on! The views from the top were, once again, totally worth those few hours of sweaty uphill cycling. There were many people enjoying the views, and we seemed to attract a lot of attention arriving there on bicycles rather than the usual transport of car, motorcycle or scooter. I even had an Asian lady ask for a photo with my bike: she struggled to hold it up with the weight of it as she posed seductively with the bike. Even worse, Adam had to shoo another woman away who just began to try to mount Adam’s bike without asking permission. “I don’t just climb into your car without asking!” he told her. She almost dropped his bike as she wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy.

We enjoyed a makeshift lunch, shoving hot meat-on-a-stick into buttered bread that we had brought with us from 7/11 that morning. Unfortunately, as we were enjoying our little picnic under the shade of a wooden shelter, I got eaten alive by horribly biting midges! I noticed I had some blood dribbling from my ankle and presumed I had cut myself before I noticed red bleeding dots all over my legs. We packed up our picnic sharpish and got out of there as quick as we could. 

Hopping back onto our bikes to escape the midges and hoards of people, we wholeheartedly enjoyed the most EPIC downhill of the trip so far. It just filled my heart with so much joy! Gliding down the smooth tarmac, those heart-stopping views continued and plastered the biggest smile on my face. I put some 80s tunes on and sung my heart out as we descended. Then without warning, we were faced with a little disrespectful uphill! What?! I thought it was downhill all the way! How very dare it. 

So much downhill 👌 

I couldn’t quite believe it when we began cycling into Pai: we had made it so far! Remembering how frightened of this route I had been back in Mae Sariang, I felt really proud of myself for making it up all those difficult hills. We do still have some more hills to come when we leave Pai, but I know I can do it now. I’m so glad I didn’t give up: it’s made me a stronger person both physically and mentally. 

So arriving into Pai on the outskirts it seemed like a normal town at first. Then the relentless hotels, guesthouses, coffee shops, tattoo parlours and gift shops just exploded along the high street. Countless numbers of them. We were also taken aback by the huge number of white western faces we saw. It almost felt like we had arrived into a different country, it was so unlike any other area of Thailand we have been to on our trip so far, as we hadn’t been to the islands or Bangkok. It wasn’t unpleasant however, we felt almost excited to enjoy some western luxuries and to immerse ourselves in the hustle and bustle for a few days for a change.

The previous evening we had booked accommodation for two nights in a guesthouse about 1km from the main street. It’s called ‘Easy Guesthouse’ and has been a pleasant place to stay. At 350 Baht per night, it’s not the cheapest but by far not the most expensive place we have stayed. The room is fairly basic and there’s a nice-ish chill out area at the front. Across the road is the ‘Easy Cafe’ which is quite trendy, with big wooden tables in front of a wooden bar, relaxing music and the best fresh bread we have had in a long time! What makes this place great is the breakfast included in the price of the room, including the aforementioned amazing bread. They also serve seriously scrumptious smoothies, delicious coffee and other options for breakfast and lunch. 

We are looking forward to spending two rest days in Pai, experiencing this eclectic and vibrant town in all its hippy glory. 

6 comments

Michael Lees

Guys, Thank God for 7/11’s. Lucia I think you should consider writing a book, when you get back home, it would make very good reading. Well done for capturing the dog peeing up Adams leg, bring on the next vlog, so funny. Lucia nice to see your confidence is growing and you now have a P.M.A. towards those hills, and I am sure Adam feels relieved you can now cope fantastic. Guys enjoy everyday as its your last, for one day you will be right, keep the faith, happy cycling.

Hi Mike! Lucia here – sorry for the late reply. Thank you for your lovely comment re. writing a book. It is definitely something I’m considering and will be a great project for when we return to the UK. There’s such a sense of achievement after completing the hills in the Mae Hong Son loop, and I now feel confident for future hills and hard roads. It’s all step by step goals and facing challenges makes us stronger! Case and point. 💪😊 But I know I still have lots to learn and to improve on. Thank you for your continued support and kind words. All the very best.

Again very interesting and informative. The episode with the dog will go down in history 😀😀

Hahah – it certainly will! And glad you enjoyed it. 😊 xxx

Michael Lees

Hi guys, Strange left a reply yesterday looks like its disappeared.

Hi Mike, we’ve got a spam checker on our comments (we unfortunately get lots of casino adds) so we have to manually approve the comments and we’ve been away from the internet for a couple of days. We have approved your comments now. It’s Adam here, I’ll let Lucia reply to you previous comment.

I’m a bit behind with the videos but we’ve now arrived in Chiang Mai and we are planning to spend a bit of time here. I should be able to catch up with the videos. The dog wee incident will be in a couple of videos time.

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