Looking for an escape into the mountains not too far from Chiang Mai? Head to the Mae Sa-Mae Rim - Canal Road loop, or the “Samoeng loop” as it is affectionately known by residents of Chiang Mai. Popular for a day trip amongst residents and tourists alike, the 100 km round trip is a favourite of tour groups, cyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts keen to navigate the road as it twists and turns through beautiful mountains and forest.
Named after the town of Samoeng (a sleepy town 5km off the main route), the loop winds it way from Chiang Mai, through the regional centre of Mae Rim through the mountains and back down to Chiang Mai. Head north up the 107 from Chiang Mai, and then west on the 1096 just after Mae Rim. The junction is hard to miss, with a large gas station on the left just before the intersection. The route used to be a mecca for predictable tourist attractions before Covid 19, it now looks more like a trail with peaceful nature spots, beautiful resorts and some nice activities that can be done with children.
Continue further and you start to get the feel of country living, as the road starts to wind through small country towns and onwards into the mountains. Should you feel like a few nights break out of the city you could also check in Sukantara Resort. This luxury eco-resort and spa lies on the sloping bank of a mountain stream.
If you are an independendent traveller with a car or a motorcycle there are many attractions and ways to experience this beautiful part of Northern Thailand. Bring your driving skills (!) as the second half of the road is the most picturesque and serene, however it has a few difficult hair pin turns and occasionally an elephant on the road. This part of the trip is also less touristic with small cafes, local restaurants, organic communities and plenty of nice spots to stop at.
First stop along the road is the Elephant POOPOOPAPER Park, an eco-friendly, naturally built, outdoor museum park that introduces and explains the unique steps involved in making their much talked about paper products from elephant poop fibers! And it is a great place to go with kids.
Next is the majestic Mae Sa waterfall. Worth a day trip itself (see article in pages 36-37), pack a picnic, your swimming gear and some walking shoes for a relaxing time in nature. This waterfall has an impressive 10 cascades and it is is one of the most beautiful in Chiang Mai, just be careful of sleepery floor during rainy season.
Then, there is the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden which is best visited in the morning or late afternoon as there is not much shade cover. Walk (or catch a bus) around the grounds, take a stunning tree top canopy walk and head into the green houses, there is so much to do!. The various green houses showcase beautiful flora from tropical flowers to dry zone plants.
If you are hungry or thirsty, it’s a good time to stop off at one of the restaurants, cafes or resorts overlooking the valley. “Pongyan Angdoi” is an idyllic restaurant, located in a large wooden house next to the street. Stop in for some lunch or dinner and enjoy walking in their beautiful garden.
Mon Jam is another great place to visit.The turn to this beautiful place is located on the right hand side, passing the village of Pong Yaeng (watch for Aura Drinking Water sign). Mon Jam is part of the Royal Project, it is located about 10 kilometre from the main road but is worth the trip up there. It is a wonderful place where to have lunch or watch the sun set, it offers a unforgetable view point on the hill and beautiful nature (sometime foggy sea as well). You can enjoy the restaurant and also stay overnight in one of the VIP tent (about 1,000 Baht) with breathtaking view over the valley.
As it twists and turns the road itself now becomes a tourist attraction! Breathtaking mountain ranges and forests are a feature of the second half of “the loop”. There are many well situated view points for photo opportunities. This part of the trip is also strawberry farm territory where you can taste strawberry from November’s on.
As you come towards the end of the trip, slow down and have a wonder through “Bann Kwan Khiang Dao Bamboo House resort”. A nice organic farm and resort with very affordable accommodation, organic meals and jazz nights. Only a 25 minute drive from the Chiang Mai city centre (very easily found with GPS), it is a very chilled place to hang out, walk amongst the fields of organic produce, and end your trip around the loop, or have another overnight stay!
If you are interested in sustainable farming, look out for the Nong Hoi Royal Project on your way around the Samoeng loop (turn of at Ban Pon Yaeng). Set up over 40 years ago by His Majesty the King of Thailand to combat opium production in the area, the Royal Project encourages the production of pesticide free vegetables. The Nong Hoi Royal Project welcomes visitors and has a small restaurant where you can sample and buy produce.
Your last stop should be at Ton Kwen temple. This temple is one of the finest example of Lanna style architecture and one of the few remaning wooden temples. It was built in 1858 and is now under the care of the Thai Fine Arts Department. Nowaday, it is a favorite temple where Thai people enjoy the quiet atmosphere and beautiful architecture; it is also famous among photographer, especially pre-wedding photographers.
Whether you are looking for a day trip or a few nights away, this Samoeng Loop is close to Chiang Mai and has a lot to offer for everyone! From waterfalls, to five star resorts, great activities in nature and mountain peaks, pack your day (or overnight) bag and head off for an unforgettable experience in the stunning forests of Northern Thailand.