Bua Tong Sunflowers and camping on the Mae Hong Son Loop

(16th November 2019) Having recently recovered from Bronchitis, I was beginning to feel the blues at having been sick for so long. I had already missed out on a fantastic rider Memorial Ride (GT.Rider) the previous weekend, so the doldrums was hitting hard. Feeling a little more improved I decided to get on my bike and visit the Bua Tong Mexican Sunflowers at Khun Yuam, before the bloom ends. Plus it was also the anniversary of my bad scooter accident 7 years ago (which although was many years back, still plays on my mind at this time), so I enjoy being on the bike and conquering fears. I took a tent (bought from Decathlon for 1500 baht) and a hammock (bought from aliexpress.com for 550 Baht (approx $17US/£12.50), and was eager to try them out.

FULL TRIP: (Google Map Link)

Day 1: (Google map link)
Chiang Mai > Bua Tong > Mae Surin Waterfall
Approx 230km

Setting off from my home around 10am, I stopped in for a coffee first at my local coffee place, after which I fuelled up at the PTT and was raring to go. The initial 100km of this route is a little on the tedious side in my opinion, as it is mainly busy straight roads (more fun to take the Mae Wang route). However, once you hit the Doi Inthanon checkpoint things start to improve. (You do not need to pay to enter the national park at this checkpoint, so long as you let them know you are heading left to Mae Chaem).
There are a lot of waterfalls you can visit en-route in this area too, should you wish to.

Interesting temple just outside the Doi Inthanon checkpoint

My first stop of the day was at Hot Coffee to eat lunch and enjoy a cool drink. I confess that I am not a big fan of the food there, but many like it. The atmosphere is lovely though and very relaxing. It was a welcome break.

After lunch I rode directly to Bua Tong.

As I was approaching the Bua Tong main lookout I stopped to switch on my GoPro (which up until then I didn’t bother to use, which is a shame really, because I had a short race with a couple of big bike riders and they were unable to keep up with me on the twisties, haha. Would have been a fun one to have caught on film ;)). Anyway, as I was pulled over on the side of the road I was approached by a rider and asked if I am Zed CM. Turns out he follows my blog and was over from Malaysia exploring northern Thailand. Quite a funny and surreal moment.

What do you think the odds were to be riding to the same place at the same time?! We caught up for a proper chat at the Bua tong lookout, where I also met a lovely solo lady rider from Phayao.

The Bua tong sunflowers. A beautiful sea of yellow!

After enjoying the view I decided to camp in the area for the night, despite it being still fairly early. I was feeling weak after my recent sickness, and needed to rest up. Initially I planned to camp at Bua Tong, but despite having many places nearby to stay or camp, I found it a bit too busy for me. Instead I headed to Mae Surin Waterfall and national park, hoping I could camp there.

I was pleased to find it deserted apart from a couple of ladies working (and living) in a small restaurant on site. At the entrance I was able to get the Foreigner child rate of 100 baht (instead of 200. Local rate is 40 baht), plus 30 baht to enter on my bike. Camping was free as I had my own tent.

You can also buy bottles of petrol there..

It was absolutely silent in the park except for the sounds of nature. The stars were like jewels in the pitch black.

I ate a simple meal of Som Tam that night, washed down with a beer and lots of water to help re-hydrate.

Day 2: (Google Map Link)
Mae Surin Waterfall >Bua Tong > Mae Hong Son > Pai Hot Springs
Approx 213km

I woke up early, but lounged about until the sun warmed the area before emerging, which was around 9:00am.

By the time I was washed and packed up and had visited the waterfall, it was around 10am. I decided to head back on myself and revisit the Sunflowers.

Halfway between Mae Surin and Bua Tong (a short 5 km from Mae Surin and Bua Tong), I noticed a wonderful simple coffee shop and decided it was the perfect place to enjoy my morning coffee. Posaho Cafe’.

Turned out to have many kinds of blends of coffee and many ways of making it. I choose Hillkoff beans, french pressed (50 baht).

The coffee was delivered by one of several young hilltribe girls, with a smile. I enjoyed the coffee and the view for a while then set off for the sunflowers.

When I arrived at Bua Tong the area was PACKED. The road was lined with trucks and cars and minibuses, and the area filled with people. It was a Saturday morning after all, so I should have expected it. The late bird missed the worm in this case. I decided to ride on through and forget about revisiting.

I got back onto the R1263 and headed to the Khun Yuam junction, with just one stop off to buy some petrol.

As I was riding towards the Khun Yuam junction, I reviewed my route. My initial plan was to go to Mae Sariang, then maybe camp around Ob Luang area. however, I suddenly remembered about the Fish Caves (Thampla) at Mae Hong Son, that I had visited 7 years ago, so had a sudden notion to revisit. At Khun Yuam I took a right turn instead of left, and headed north to Mae Hong Son.

At Mae Hong Son I rode to the Salween River Restaurant, but found it closed.

So instead went to the Sunflowers Cafe…where I had another small world moment, as I saw my friend Duncan and Bo from TBB Tours. They were with a group of men from Adventure Ashram and were six days into an eleven day off-road tour.
The dining company was great, but unfortunately it meant that a large group of people were all ordering at the same time from a small kitchen, which meant my planned quick stop off for lunch turned into a lengthy affair.

I left Mae Hong son later than hoped and headed to Thampla fish caves.

At the fish caves I am happy to report that a Thai Driver’s licence got me the thai rate of 20 baht instead of 100, with no drama. Was an instant discount upon showing. The fish food cost 20 baht and I enjoyed a short visit around the grounds.

These images from my scooter trip back in 2011 (the park has not changed)

Photo below left is from 2011, when I first visited the park, and one day before my accident occurred. I was a skinny thing it seems, haha. My face has changed a little from then, due to two nose surgeries from trying to correct the deviation (still not fixed) and from scar tissue (including inside of my lips). I still have lost the feeling in the tip of my tongue and later my injuries contributed in partial hearing loss in my right ear.
..and some other things, but blah blah blah… ! Time to move along…

I confess that during my visit to the Fish Cave I began to feel very unwell. My energy levels were low from my recent sickness and I wondered if I should stop for the rest of the day/night (it was around 4pm). I made an enquiry about camping in the national park and was informed it would be 30 baht (great value!). However, I just wasn’t in the mood to give up riding yet, so decided to carry on riding as much as I could knowing there were plenty of places to stop off along the route. The great thing about having your own camping gear with you is that you don’t need to worry much about where to stop.

I rode on along the R1095 stopping in at the usual viewpoints.

By the time I reached Doi Kiew Lom viewpoint the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was dropping. I had a sudden idea that a Hot Springs would be lovely to visit in the evening, and remembered my friend telling me about a Hot Spring resort outside of Pai. I wondered if i could maybe camp there too, so I rode off, hoping to not end up riding in the dark.

Which I did end up doing…but only for a few KM’s.

I reached Pai at around 6:30pm, after riding approx 15kms in the dark. I fuelled up first at the PTT in town, then carried on (in mainly pitch black) for around 8km out of town to the hot springs. I was glad to avoid Pai town. I know many people love Pai, but I personally find it a bit too busy for my tastes these days and miss the quieter Pai of previous years back. I just wasn’t in the mood for a party vibe (which seems to be the vibe these days imo) so a quiet soak in a hot springs sounded heavenly.

Pai back in 2008

When I reached the resort I found out that I would not be allowed to camp on site, so negotiated a better room rate with the reception (the original price was 1500, but I noticed on Agoda it was 800, so she allowed me to pay the Agoda rate. It was unlikely she would have gotten anyone else staying at that late hour anyway, so she was happy as was I). Still, I had hoped to camp again, but was nice to get a cozy room and a soft bed… and electricity!

Also had some unexpected company…

I unloaded my gear into the room, took a quick shower, bought a bottle of beer and some ice from the restaurant on site, and went straight to the Onsen hot spring. I had the entire hot spring to myself and it felt wonderful!

After a good long soak I went back to my room and chilled out, and fell into a long deep sleep.

Day 3: (Google Map Link)
Pai > Wat Chan > Samoeng > Chiang Mai
Approx 190km

I woke early and went back into the Onsen hot spring. I then cleaned up and took a walk around the grounds, enjoying the early morning misty view.

That is also when I noticed some tents across the river, so good to know there are camping areas nearby for future reference. I also saw a very brave couple messing about in the really chilly river. Haha.

I ate a buffet breakfast provided by the resort (with a nice view of the river area). The buffet had a good selection of food and was included in the price.

(I had one stupid moment of thinking the whole eggs were already boiled, and began to crack one open on my plate, only to have the uncooked egg white run onto my food. The staff noticed and took the egg away to my embarrassment. All I could do was laugh).

I packed up after breakfast and was on my bike by around 9am. In the resort carpark I spotted an elephant passing, so went up to take a video. I then followed them for a short while to watch the elephant being bathed.

After that I headed to Thom’s elephant camp to feed the elephants (20 baht for a bunch of bananas). This camp apparently promotes ethical treatment of the elephants, so I hope this is the case.

After feeding the elephants I rode to the Memorial Bridge and carried on until I reached a rural road junction, which provided me with a nice wiggly detour before connecting up to the R1265 to Wat Chan. I passed by a hot spring geister (where you could by fresh eggs to cook) and passed a couple of boys who had been on a refreshing river swim.

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Hot Spring Geyser.  Pai. . . . #pai #thailand #hotspring #nature

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It was around 12 midday by then and I was heating up fast. So I figured the boys had the right idea and I would look for a good place to have a swim myself whilst riding along.

Spotted a great little area to have a swim HERE, so parked up my bike and got into the river. It felt wonderful!

I cleaned up and ate some snacks (pilfered from the breakfast buffet earlier) and enjoyed sitting in the quiet area with nature for a while.

Back on the bike it was a quick ride to Watchan Coffee, where I enjoyed an ice coffee for 40 baht and the company of some tiny puppies.

I continued along the 1265 only stopping to fill up at a small town garage, and to enjoy a couple of viewpoints.

This road used to be partial dirt, which I rode back in 2016 (trip report HERE), but is now 100% tarmac (my previous ride report HERE). There are some gravelly sections however, and pot-holes on the older areas of the road. There is also a fair amount of inconsiderate drivers coming along blind corners on your side of the road, so watch out for that!

Also, these common road hazards from time to time..lol..
When I reached Samoeng it was around 4pm and there was a little bit of rain coming down, which was rather refreshing.

I rode to the Samoeng Lookout and bought some delicious bamboo sticky rice from a local vendor.
A little hilltribe boy at the Samoeng lookout. 
Mum seemed a little harsh, but he might have been a pain in the butt all day..who knows!

At the lookout  I bumped into a local foreigner who mentioned that he knows my blog etc, so that was a surprise for me (and a little awkward, for although I enjoy writing about my trips I am very introverted).

After a chat I rode directly home…but, although tired, I was not in the mood to rest. As this day was the anniversary day of my accident I wasn’t in the mood to sit and ponder. Instead I cleaned up and went for dinner and drinks with my friend, which turned out to be a great evening.

Little Miss Fuzzy Pants wasn’t so pleased that I went back out though, and I got a scolding. Apparently she missed me being away (although she was looked after by friends).

Now, despite being almost fully recovered from my illness, I feel like I’ve been hit by a brick! Zero regrets though and was a fab trip.

Looking forward to more with the great riding season now in full swing.

Thanks for reading.
Hope you enjoyed!
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