Nothing is more heavenly to a motorcycle rider than winding roads, incredible scenery, and days spent meeting locals and tasting authentic cuisine. No wonder the Golden Triangle of Northern Thailand is such a popular route for motorbike travel, because it contains those three points of promise. The famous Golden Triangle region overflows with culture and history, and there are scenic highlights abound. Regardless of when you go or for how long, the Golden Triangle region is the perfect roadway for touring with a motorcycle.
- Days to complete: minimum 3 up to 16 days long or more.
- When to go: November – February (March and April are months of burning rice fields).
- Difficulty: For the average experienced.
- What you could see: National parks, hot springs and waterfalls, the Mekong River, mountains, temples, and so on. You can visit the Three Tribes Village where Eghor, Karin Longnecks, and Musoe reside or check out the longest cave network in Thailand.
- Road conditions: All roads are paved with over a thousand curves on the roadways.
The Golden Triangle Loop consists of roadways travelling from Chiang Mai, Tha Ton, Mae Sai, and rides along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The level of difficulty is less arduous than the Mae Hong Son loop and is ideal for those who enjoy riding on less congested roads in the middle of a week. All roads are paved. There are over a thousand curves on the roadways, but most are easy to lean into. No wonder the Golden Triangle loop has been called “scenic riding heaven.” The Golden Triangle tour also has plenty of stop-off points and attractions. Taking the loop puts you en route for popular national parks, hot springs and waterfalls, the Mekong River, mountains, temples, and so on. You can visit the Three Tribes Village where Eghor, Karin Longnecks, and Musoe reside or check out the longest cave network in Thailand before coming to the point where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar converge.
For preparation, you are going to want protective clothing, gloves, and a nice helmet. You will also want to bring luggage and accessories that can easily be connected to your rental motorbike.
- Motorbike rental: 200 – 1000 bath/ day.
- Accommodation in villages: ca. 1200 bath per night for a hostel room.
- Food and drink: 40-100 bath for dinner.
Motorbike rental is going to be the biggest expense, in total, throughout the loop. Depending on the motorcycle you want, you could be putting out anywhere from 200-1000 baht per day. Therefore, if you plan on trying to fit in the Golden Triangle within 10-15 days, the entire cost of motorbike rental will range from 2000 baht on the low end (old bike, low price) to 15,000 baht (decent bike, high price).
As for your lodgings, there will be a number of villages with hostels throughout the region. You can get a hostel room for as little as 1,200 THB per night in Chiang Mai; and you can assume that cost will be about the same anywhere you go. Of course, there are higher-end hotels available too, but you might wind up spending upwards of 45,000 THB per night.
Lastly, you should have enough money put aside for petroleum, food and drink. There are plenty of cafes and road-side restaurants throughout the Golden Triangle region with decent food and service that can fill you up for anywhere from 40-100 baht.
Depending on how long you want to spend on the Golden Triangle tour, your itinerary could be anywhere from 3-16 days long or more!
Here are some samples of itineraries that will be broken down a little later:
Example #1 – 8 Day Itinerary
There are some breaks built into this itinerary. You don’t have to take these breaks if you don’t want to.
- 1 st DAY:
Depart from Chiang Mai, heading for Nan Province, where you can check out Wat Phumin, one of the most important temples of Northern Thailand. The distance from Chiang Mai to Nan is about 5 hours.
- 2 nd DAY:
From Nan to Phu Chi Fa. This is usually the longest leg of the journey and will take you through regions with fantastic views, steep climbs, and along mountain ridge-lines. The total distance from Nan to Phu Chi Fa is about 350 kilometres and takes around 7-8 hours to complete with minimal stops. (44 miles)
- 3 rd DAY:
Depart from Phu Chi Fa and head towards Chiang Saen. Along this part of the loop, you get to ride one of the steepest roads in Thailand and along the Mekong River. This is where a lot of obligatory photo ops happen. You can either choose to stop in Chiang Saen or continue onward to Mae Sai.In Chiang Saen, there is the Old Opium Museum, where you can learn about the opioid trade that was at the centre of the Golden Triangle during the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also the new Hall of Opium that was completed in 2005 and the Chiang Saen National Museum to visit.
- 1 st DAY:
- 4 th DAY:
If you stayed in Chiang Saen, you can ride to Mae Sai, on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, or you can spend the day in Mae Sai (because there is so much to do here). Near Mae Sai is a 1,800 metre high mountain that has several attractions, such as the Royal Villa, ancient chedi, a landscaped garden, and a small zoo.
- 5 th DAY:
Leaving Mae Sai, you continue through the Karst limestone valley and along back country roads. Along the banks of the Thaton River, you will find some lodgings and restaurants to rest. If you do plan on crossing the border to visit Tachilek, do bring some extra cash for cheap DVDs, CDs, and other handmade goodies.
- 6 th DAY:
You will be riding through the Mataeng region on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, near the Mae Ta Man Rivers. In the surrounding areas, there are dozens of activities you can partake in, such as elephant rides, white water rafting, zip lining, and nature walks.
- 7 th & 8 th DAY:
The Mae Hong Son Loop. This is a daring piece of asphalt that extends over 300 kilometres and has dozens of hairpin turns. It can be quite challenging, so take your time. Eventually, you will end up back in Chiang Mai.
Example #2 – 15 Day Itinerary
- 1 st DAY:
Chiang Mai: You will most likely be flying into Chiang Mai this day or preparing for your journey around the Golden Triangle Loop. Stay overnight, gather up some supplies, and buy yourself an updated map from the local tourist information office.
- 2 nd DAY:
Chiang Mai to Sukhothai: There are a lot of secondary roads leading towards Sukhothai Historical Park, where you will find a UNESCO Heritage Site, the remnants of the Sukhothai Kingdom from the 13th and 14th centuries.
- 3 rd DAY:
Sukhothai to Chiang Khan: Travelling along the Mekong River, there is a lot of mountainous regions to see. Stay overnight in Chiang Khan.
- 4 th DAY:
Chiang Khan to Vientiane: Wake up early and continue along the Mekong River, towards Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai. From here, you leave Thailand to venture in Laos for Vientiane.
- 5 th DAY:
Vientiane to Vang Vieng: Enjoy the morning in Vientiane before continuing onwards towards the famous rock formations around Vang Vieng, on the shores of Nam Song River. You can stay in Vang Vieng.
- 6 th DAY:
Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang: The road to Luang Prabang is full of hairpin turns and steep, mountainous roads. There are also dozens of historical temples leading to the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City known as Luang Prabang, also the “best preserved city in South East Asia.”
- 7 th DAY:
Day in Luang Prabang: Here you can visit the temples, spend time with the monks, visit cave formations, ride elephants, check out the night market for street food, and soak up some French colonial history.
- 8 th DAY:
Luang Prabang to Oudom Xai: The road takes you through rural villages and rice fields. Rest in Oudom Xai, a small but charming Laotian village.
- 1 st DAY:
- 9 th DAY:
Oudom Xai to Chiang Khong: Before crossing the Mekong River back into Thailand, you cut through more Laotian countryside. Expect to stop and take a number of photographs. Also, anytime you are around the Mekong River, don’t forget about the opportunities to take a long, leisurely boat ride.
- 10 th DAY:
Chiang Khong to Thaton: Now you enter the famed Golden Triangle, where opium was once harvested. Nowadays, there’s dozens of tea plantations and twisty roads to travel. Stay overnight in Thaton.
- 11 th DAY:
Thaton to Pai: This section of the road has 1864 curves—a veritable zig-zag along the border of Myanmar. In Pai, you can sample the famous street food, pick up some souvenirs at the night market, and stay overnight for a low price.
- 12 th DAY:
Pai to Ban Rak Thai: Welcome to the most famous region of the Golden Triangle. The views will be splendid for most of the day, especially as you reach the Mae Hong Son Loop area. You may choose to stay in Ban Rak Thai after exploring the countryside (and to rest up for Mae Hong Son).
- 13 th DAY:
Mae Hong Son: Since this part of the journey can be difficult for novice bikers, you might want to take it slow. There are hundreds of curves to tackles, as well as climbing the highest mountain in Thailand.
- 14 th DAY:
Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai: Finish up your journey by rolling back into Chiang Mai around early evening.
- 15 th DAY:
Free day. You can choose to add in another day between two legs of travel (for example, spending more time in Vientiane or Chiang Khong) or spend the last remaining day in Chiang Mai, enjoying the atmosphere of the city.
The Golden Triangle tour is more than a single point on a map, it is a vast region full of natural and human-made wonders. Whether you spend your time on the roads, marvelling at the beauty or zip through it for more fun in Chiang Mai, there’s boundless chances for combing forests, riding elephants, eating delicious food, and experiencing the best of what Northern Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar have to offer.
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