Getting around the north of Thailand by motorbike can be one of the most amazing ways to see the countryside. Feel the cool mountain air rush up against your face, stop along the roadside to admire breathtaking views or pull over to just chat with a few locals.
Thailand is a big place, and so too is Chiang Rai for that matter once you are moving around on a 100cc motorbike that averages 50 kilometers per hour. With so much to see it can get a bit confusing choosing which way to go around this Northern Province. To make things a little simpler here’s my ideal 3-day motorbike itinerary for Chiang Rai.
Pack the bags and depart Chiang Rai early as there is a long day of riding ahead. On this first day, we are heading for the town of Phu Chi Fah, home to the iconic cliff top lookout which stands high above the clouds in the valley of Laos below.
Heading out of Chiang Rai we make our way east along route 1152 towards the village of Wiang Chai. Wiang Chai is a rural village surrounded by small lakes and roadside fresh produce markets. It is a great place to stop to snack on some fresh fruits and laze around watching the local Thai’s fishing by the lake.
From Wiang Chai continue east along route 1152 for the next 55 kilometers. This weaves through rice farms, green pastures and a collection of small scattered rural villages. It is out there that you truly feel in the countryside of Northern Thailand. Eventually, this small road comes to an end at a large T-intersection with highway 1020. From here we travel north along the highway for a quick 10 kilometers before making another right back to the comforting small winding roads on route 1155.
Figure 1: A pit stop along the rural roads of Wiang Chai district
From here the road takes a steep turn as the ascent up the mountain begins for the next 60 kilometers to the quiet town of Phu Chi Fah. Heading higher and higher up into the mountains the air grows progressively cooler and the roads provide amazing views over the landscape below.
After a thousand photo stops this small winding route took us into the sleepy town of Phu Chi Fah where there are a handful of budget guesthouses available to choose from starting at about 400thb per night, twin share. You don’t have to book in advance, many of these options are not available online, and better prices can be secured in person mid-week when the Thai tourists are not around. To get an idea of rates for Phu Chi Fah accommodation click here.
Figure 2: The early morning lookout at Phu Chi Fah
The morning of day two starts with an even earlier wake up about one hour before sunrise. Throw your jacket because the ride up the mountain in the almost pitch black of night, up to Phu Chi Fah is a cold start. Following the well-signposted route to the parking area, it’s another 15-minute climb to the summit where we wait for sunrise.
After watching the sunrise and returning to the town for breakfast the ride continues north towards Chiang Kong via Doi Patang. The ride along Route 1093 is almost invisible to google maps. Getting lost is also part of the fun out here.
Following the road markers carefully, this route along the mountain ridge provides some of the most amazing landscape scenery in Thailand. The lookout from Doi Patang for example: offers an almost unobstructed 270-degree panorama view of the Mekong River snaking its way through the valley of Laos below.
Figure 3: Panoramic views over the mighty Mekong River
Descending down the mountain on the northern end is probably one of the scariest motorbike rides in Thailand. The mountain at times seems to be steeper than the old drum brakes on the motorbike allow stopping power for. Slow and steady.
Figure 4: My little Kawasaki GTO 125cc motorbike
After another long days riding we end up in the border crossing town of Chiang Kong. I hadn’t found a great deal to do here other than enjoy a long shower and sitting by the pool with a really cold beer and saddle sore body.
Continuing north from Chiang Kong we head to the ancient city of Chiang Saen in the Golden Triangle along route 1129. This road from Chiang Kong to Chiang Saen traces the northern end of the mighty Mekong River which, some 1,700 kilometers away, flows out of Vietnam to the ocean via the Mekong Delta.
Chiang Saen is a smaller version of Ayutthaya with ancient temples more discretely scattered around the town in amongst jungle growth. In a similar layout to Chiang Mai, the old city here is also surrounded by an ancient brick wall protecting the temples within.
Chiang Saen is a great place to spend a few hours exploring the old city and to make a visit up to the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
The final ride from Chiang Saen to Chiang Rai is covered in a quick ride south along the main highways. There isn’t a huge amount to see on this final leg of the 3-day adventure, unless perhaps for stopping off along the roadside for a late lunch break.
Josh Shephard is an independent traveler, motorbike enthusiast, and freelance photographer. Having traveling Southeast Asia out of a backpack for a year non-stop he is now based in Thailand aiming to discover new and exciting destinations. Head to his travel blog for more of his journeys around Southeast Asia.This post may contain affiliate links, see our disclosure