Bikers from around the world have discovered for themselves the beauty of Thailand’s mountainous north-west and central areas, where single lane roads hug the rolling contours and run through hill tribe villages and their long-forgotten lifestyles.
Well-equipped, professionally guided tours have matured in the Kingdom, offering trips that range from single day to month-long excursions through the highlands, exploring ancient temple sites and natural wonders in groups large and small. The best of them include support teams and stays in luxury resorts high in the forested mountains or on the banks of winding rivers, blending long days of riding with pampered evenings of eating, drinking, and sharing anecdotes of the road.
Chiang Mai and the Mae Hong Son Loop
The Northern Province of Chiang Mai is a hub of motorcycle touring in the surrounding countryside. Here both on and off road trips are available throughout the greater area with longer tours crossing into neighboring Laos and Myanmar.
The mountainous geography of the region is crisscrossed with twisting, climbing roads that delve deep into the verdant valleys of the Ping and Fang Rivers and climb to the top of Doi Ithanon, Thailand’s highest peak at 8,415-feet (2,565-meters). Even in Thailand, one might find the mornings here a bit frosty in the colder season.
Companies based in the northern capital offer a multitude of package tours using bikes up to 1,200cc. This region starts the most famous motorcycle route in Thailand, known as the Mae Hong Son loop. This 692-kilometer trip follows the 1095 highway, known as the road of 1,864 corners. The journey is normally completed in three days, with overnights in Pai for its eclectic nightlife and stays in Mae Hong Son’s quiet charm. Possible for novices but technically challenging enough for old pros, this run epitomizes motorcycle touring in Southeast Asia.
The Golden Triangle and Beyond
Chiang Mai’s sister city Chiang Rai is a popular starting point for tours exploring the Golden Triangle area where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. Highlights of the area include Wat Tha Ton, riding above the cloud line in Doi Mai Salong, following the upper Mekong, and visiting Phu Chi Fha Forest Park for its famous sunrises through a sea of mist.
Though Chiang Rai is a much smaller city than Chiang Mai, there are still outfitters who provide well-equipped tours on bikes up to 800cc ranging from single day excursions to days-long tours taking in the entire province and even crossing into both neighboring countries.
Nan’s New Frontier
Becoming ever more popular with motorcyclists and tour providers, Nan province has all of the cornering, curves, and twisty mountain riding that the Chiang Mai area offers, but being further off the tourist map, cultural experiences tend to be purer.
The towns and small cities in this region see few foreign tourists so riders can expect a genuine reception from locals while taking in scenery that is as spectacular as anywhere in the north.
One five-day package loops 1,200 kilometers through Nan on sports tourers set up to take advantage of the long sweeping bends of the surprisingly well-kept roads.
Further south and in a different range of hills, Kanchanaburi province has become a favored weekend getaway for residents of Bangkok seeking a quiet, natural alternative to their hectic metropolis.
Among the weekenders who flock to the riverside resorts and national parks of one of the country’s largest western provinces are bikers yearning for a combination of challenging hill riding and abundant high-end accommodations.
By far the most diverse and popular ride is the Nang Prue – Si Sawat loop which covers 300 kilometers on rural roads running through farmland, dense jungle, and old growth forest.
Hours of tight turns, waterfall pit stops and mountaintop vistas of the Srinagarind reservoir are just some of the reasons that locals rate this route among the best in the kingdom.
Operators in Bangkok offer tours that take in both the historical sights, like the world-famous Bridge on the River Kwai, as well as hot springs and the famous caves and waterfalls of the area.
Exploring the South
Phuket Island is known as the pearl of the Andaman for its beaches and picturesque limestone karsts, but it is also a great base to explore the west coast on two wheels.
For something different, there are overnight trips from the tropical island to Ranong city 300 kilometers away on Harley Davidsons.
The ride combines the joys of riding along beach roads with the challenge of taking on twisties through the jungle-covered limestone hills that make up the coastal region. 600 kilometers return with a night in a four-star resort to rest sore muscles from guiding a truly big bike all day.
As the boarders of Thailand become less restrictive, multi-country motorcycle tours from Thailand will expand to explore previously forbidden areas. In Thailand, bikers know that the journey is as important as the destination.