With such a varied terrain in the Golden Triangle and a land so sparsely populated, there is virtually unlimited off-road riding —just point your motorcycle in any direction and go.
But the trick is, since you are coming to Thailand on a holiday, to work out a tour that does a lot, sees a lot, rides a lot, yet combines it all with the wonderful après-bike amenities found here, all within a reasonable riding distance of Chiang Mai.
ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES has put together such a tour, and it lasts 5-days, starting and ending in Chiang Mai. But this is not your average off-road tour by a long shot. Please read on…
(View video from an Old Elephant Trail Tour.)
THE OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR ITINERARY
ADVISORY: This motorcycle tour is not for beginner riders. You must be an experienced off-road rider to participate. Please heed this warning seriously. You do not want to get hurt in the places we are riding through.
The Old Elephant Trail is the longest dirt road left in Thailand: 160 kilometers in total length (95 miles) and nearly continuous dirt for 105 kms. / (65 miles).
The Old Elephant Trail got its name because ages ago it was part of a network of long-forgotten caravan routes that criss‑crossed Asia freighting trade goods between India and China. But unlike in the Middle East where camels were the beasts of burden, in the Golden Triangle elephants were used.
But a word of warning is appropriate here: you better come ride the Elephant Trail soon because there is serious talk of turning it into a proper highway. Aiyaa! Joni Mitchell hit it right on the head when she sang: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
The FIRST DAY of this tour is devoted to negotiating the Old Elephant Trail to its conclusion. The Trail actually starts around fifty kilometers / 30 miles outside of Chiang Mai. Another fifty clicks / 30 miles after that, once we are in deep mountains, the pavement peters out and dirt takes over.
The Old Elephant Trail cuts diagonally across the central cordilleras of the Golden Triangle and runs pretty much through primary forest, an ecosystem exceedingly rare on our planet. The spectacular views are unmarred by any accoutrements of modern living. Except for a single town in the middle of the route, the only habitations we pass are scattered Karen hilltribe villages mainly constructed from bamboo and thatch.
The Elephant Trail tour is definitely not for beginners. A participant must be in good enough physical condition to ride an off‑road motorcycle for an entire day for several days in succession. You should not be shy about heights either, because we will attain an altitude of 1,650 meters and stay above 1,000 meters for most of the ride. At these levels, the climate is cool and refreshing, even in the hot season, something you will appreciate considering how hard you will be working.
Some sections are extremely steep and covered with loose rocks and gravel, and all of that is covered by a deep layer of bull dust that is as light as talcum powder and as slippery as ice. This results in extremely poor traction. So if you sign up for this tour, you better know how to handle yourself off-road. This is one long and tough ride.
But when it is finally over, we arrive in the 2nd-most popular destination in Thailand’s north, Pai.
Pai has become a fashionable and popular place to visit and there are dozens of boutique shops and eateries, but none better than the place we take you for dinner – a hundred-year old restaurant still in the same building, still run by the same family (fourth generation), and still serving the same famous Shan noodle dish from the time when they were a caravan stop on The Old Elephant Trail.
Total length of ride: 170 kms. / 100 miles
Length of dirt riding segment: 75 kms. / 45 miles.
Driving time: Most of the day.
If there is anyone on the tour at the day’s end who still have energy and want to ride more dirt, this is possible; Pai has dozens of great riding trails just outside of town.
On DAY #2, we finish up the Old Elephant Trail segment mostly through impressive forests and past bucolic Karen villages. When it is finally over, after an exhausting ride it will be a race to see who makes it into the swimming pool first.
The pot at the end of the rainbow for us is the FERN RESORT, an award-winning ecotourism bungalow resort that sits at the tail end of the Elephant Trail. Fern also boasts an award-winning restaurant and tonight we shall feast northern-Thai-style.
Expert massage is a godsend after a ride like today. Plus the Fern Resort Restaurant prepares some of the best food in the north. Everyone gets their own cottage where you will be lulled to sleep by the chirrings of nighttime insects and the murmurings of a small brook just outside your bedroom window.
Total length of ride: 165 kms. / 95 miles
Length of dirt riding segment: 120 kms. / 80 miles.
Driving time: 5 hours.
On DAY 3, before starting out to Mae Sariang, since elephants are so much on our minds, if you can tear yourself away from the dirt riding for a moment, we can all go for an elephant ride through the forest. Elephants are fantastic creatures and really seem to enjoy human contact. And just like us, they enjoy nothing more than a stroll through beautiful countryside — I strongly believe that we are actually doing the elephants a favor by hiring them out.
Today’s motorcycle ride is mostly sealed road with a few off-road segments interspersed. But at least the road you will be riding is none other than the most famous road in Thailand – The Mae Hong Son Loop. And the segment of it that we ride today, many consider to be the sweetest portion of the over 700 km.-long Mae Hong Son Loop.
In Mae Sariang, a lovely riverside hotel becomes our base for the next two days as we explore, in depth, the Thai side of the Salween River basin. There is an excellent restaurant within walking distance of our hotel, plus a couple of “decent” bars. And Mae Sariang has the best massage practitioners in the Golden Triangle, something you surely will be taking advantage of over the upcoming days.
Length of ride: 195 kms. / 120 miles. Driving time: approximately 3.5 hours.
We take a ride down to the Salween River on DAY #4. In this region, The Salween is the border between Thailand and Burma. It is one of the longest rivers in Asia and here it runs strong and narrow through a rocky gap in the Thanon Thongchai mountain range.
The riding possibilities are infinite for all levels of ability in and around Mae Sariang, and today we do our riding in Salween National Park. Unfortunately, due to a recent enforcement of a law covering river traffic, the boat ride with our motorcycles up the Salween River is suspended, probably only temporary. We will inform right here, of any changes in the present situation.
Today’s ride takes us past scattered small Karen villages along the Salween River and if lucky, we might catch one of their festivals or ceremonies. One interesting stop on today’s route is a Karen refugee camp in the bottom of an isolated valley. These displaced people have fled into Thailand to escape the insurgency battles on the Burma side.
Working elephants hauling lumber on the Burma side is not an uncommon sight.
Mid-day break is a picnic lunch in deep forest. Then we start traversing up and over another mountain, and another. Very little in the way of humanity will you see along today’s route. Just forest, river crossings – up to 60 of them in a day – and nature the entire way.
Back in Mae Sariang, cold beers, hot showers, therapeutic massages, and great food await us, as well as a comfortable bed for an excellent night’s sleep in air-conditioned comfort. Off-road riding doesn’t get much better than this.
Length of semi-sealed road ride: 80 kms. / 50 miles. Driving time: approximately 1 hour.
Length of off‑road ride: 45 kms. / 27 miles. Driving Time: approximately 3.5 hours.
DAY #5: Another 100 kilometers of great trail riding through the lofty interior mountains remain before we finally hit pavement. And then we do nothing less than climb up and down Thailand’s highest mountain. On our way down, we stop off at a spectacular waterfall where we eat lunch in the swirling mists stirred up by the turbulence of the cascade.
We are only about ninety-minutes out of Chiang Mai at this point, so we tone down our riding a notch, ease into town, and a most memorable five days of motorcycle touring has come to an end.
Length of ride: 250 kms. / 150 miles. Driving time: approximately 5 hours.
SPECIAL – 7-DAY OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR: If you are a group of four or more fanatical off-road riders, you can extend the OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR to 7 days.
The 2 extra days include a five hour boat ride with your motorcycles up the Salween River, an overnight stay in a remote Karen hilltribe village, and another exceptional off-road ride on primarily single-track trails through seldom-visited Oro Forest.
Contact us for details.
PARTICULARS OF THE OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR
- This OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR is primarily an off-road tour.
- The OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR is a luxury tours as much and wherever the conditions allow.
- The OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR is a group tour.
- Participants must have medium-to-advanced off-road riding skills. If you are unsure of your own ability on dirt, this tour is not for you.
- Starting and ending point is Chiang Mai.
- OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOURS all start on a Monday and end on Friday.
- A participant’s meeting is scheduled for early Sunday afternoon the day before the tour starts. All participants are expected to attend.
- The OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR does not include a rest day.
- Everyone gets a private hotel room for the duration of the tour.
- A support truck, tour guide, and mechanic accompany each tour whenever and wherever the terrain permits.
- Use of motorcycle, all meals, petrol, and entrance fees are included in the tour package. Hotel lodging the Sunday night before the tour starts is also included.
- Not included are alcoholic beverages, visa fees, and items of a personal nature (such as laundry, massage, etc.).
- Also not included is your hotel lodging on the night of our return to Chiang Mai. This is because many participants fly out of Chiang Mai on Friday. If you are going to hang around after and if you would like us to make reservations for you in our usual Chiang Mai hotel, please advise us in advance.
- If for some reason this Old Elephant Trail tour does not interest you, or perhaps does not fit into your schedule, plenty more off-road riding possibilities exist in the Golden Triangle. We can suggest several other alternative off-road tours for whatever duration and degree of difficulty / ease you desire.
- Custom tours and private group tours are our specialty. Please contact us so we can work out the details for whatever type of tour you have in mind.
- There may be an open seat in the support vehicle for those who want to accompany a biker but cannot ride a motorcycle. Contact us for availability.
5-Day OLD ELEPHANT TRAIL TOUR DATES and RATES.
Read about our other MOTORCYCLE TOUR OFFERINGS.
Back to ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES HOME PAGE.
Questions / requests / feedback: Send us an email.
Click to view GOLDEN TRIANGLE map.