Mae Hong Son Covers some 13,232 square kilometres, is bordered to the west and north by Myanmar (Burmar), and exhibits considerable Burmese influence in its religious architecture and rural lifestyles.
Some 920 kilometres north of Bangkok, the petite and sleepy provincial capital is most conveniently visited from the Thai capital by a daily Bangkok Airways flight. Thai Airways International also operates daily flights from Chiang Mai. Those who opt to travel by road from Chiang Mai, particularly from Chom Thong and Hot, will discover the journey entails negotiating many hairpin bends through forested mountains, and passing through much of the most enduringly spectacular scenery in northern Thailand.
The provincial capital nestles in a valley sheltered by jungled mountains. Besides being a dormitory town, with airconditioned resort hotel accommodation, bungalow complexes, guest-houses and spartan native-style hotels to suit every budget, the capital is the major provincial shopping centre for souvenirs -- which include hilltribe handicrafts and textiles, and a broad range of exotic traditional headgear. The capital also contains several noteworthy temples.
The most prominent, the hilltop Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, dominates the capital. The temple offers an exhilarating view of the provincial capital, its verdant valley and mountain surrounds, and was constructed by the first Mae Hong Son ruler during the mid-1800s.
Other Burmese-style temples include the lakeside Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham in the town centre which houses glass paintings and Burmese puppets, Wat Hua Wiang, and Wat Phra Non which contains a 12-metre Burmese-style reclining Buddha image.
Thai International flies daily to Mae Hong Son from Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Buses also serve Mai Hong Son from both cities. From Bangkok the bus trip takes 17 hours. Motorbike can also be rented in Chiang Mai. Traffic is infrequent but watch out for trucks on bends.
BY ROAD FROM CHIANG MAI
The scenic route from Chiang Mai via Hot and Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son passes several noteworthy attractions. Some 25 kilometres before reaching Mae Sariang, the wild sunflower fields of Doi Mae Ho provide a colourful sight during November and December. A large Karen village, Pha Ma Lo, some 3 kilometres from the Mae Sariang market, is renowned for reasonably priced hand- woven fabrics. Village maidens are distinguished by their white apparel.
Mae Sam Laep, a picturesque Salawein River hamlet some 46 kilometres south of Mae Sariang, on Highway 1085, is a popular venue for rafting along local stretches of the river dividing Thailand and Myanmar. North of Mae Sanang, on Highway 108, are the Mae Ha Cave and Mae Na Hot Springs, both a popular with local tourists. At Km 220 on Highway 108, the Mae Surin waterfall, are in the Namtok Mae Surin National Park, is believed to be the highest waterfall in Thailand. Nearby, the 250-acre wild sunflower fields of Doi Mae U-Kho are in full bloom between November and December.
One of the most exotic sights in Mae Hong Son is that of the Pa Dong Karens, a hilltribe community farming rice, tea and tobacco. Certain Pa Dong females 'elongate' their necks from an early age with brass which is coiled around their necks to give a brass ring effect. The greater number of coils is believed to enhance physical beauty and increase aesthetic appeal. Older women wear as many as 20, or more, brass coils around their necks. Pa Dong Karens can be seen in their natural environment at Ban Nam Phiang Din near the Thai-Burmese border, which entails a 45-minute longtail boat ride through scenic country, or a 36-kilometre drive through rugged landscape.
REVERING & ROAD ADVENTURES
Four-wheel-drive vehicles or track motorcycles are the best ways of exploring Mae Hong Son's country roads, which perpetually twist and turn around mountainsides, edging the Thai-Burmese border.
Those who enjoy revering exploration can enjoy the Pai River. Some 180 kilometres in length, and an average of 30 metres wide and 7 metres in depth, the river offers several opportunities for adventurous raft, boat and trekking trips.
Mae Hong Son, Thailand's second northernmost provincial capital, is sheltered by several high mountains and enjoys a cool climate almost all year round. In the past, the town was isolated from the outside world for lack of good transportation and communications. The province is bordered by Myanmar to the North and West, and a strong Burmese influence can be seen in the provincial capital's temples and buildings.
Mae Hong Son is administratively divided into 6 Amphoes and 1 King Amphoe namely: Muang, Mae Sa Riang, Mae La Noi, Pai, Khun Yuam, Sop Moei and King Amphoe Pang Ma Pha. With an area of 12,681 square kilometers, Mae Hong Son can be reached from Chiang Mai either by Highway No. 108 via Mae Sa Riang, or Highway No. 1095 via Pai which shortens the distance to some 274 kilometers.
Muang Sam Mok Festival
Feb 1-7: Mae Hong Song, the City of Three Mists.
Hilltribe Friendship Festival
Feb 14 Cultural and Kantoke evening at Huay Mae Sai, Mai Hong Song, Call: ( 66-53-611 198 ).
Phra Buddha Chinart Fair
To honour one of Thailand's most sacred Budhha image enshrined at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat in Phitsanulok. Features assorted entertainment such as folk theatre and ran-wong dancing.
Boi Sang Long
Mar-Apr, Mae Hong Son. Photogenic ordination of novice monks in make-up and costume carried on shoulders through town in a procession by the local Thai Yai ethic group. Call TAT: ( 66-53-248 604, 248 607, 241 466 ).
In The City
Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu is a Burmese-style temple which dominates the provincial capital. Constructed by Phraya Singhanatracha, the first King of Mae Hong Son, the hilltop temple affords a wonderful view of the capital and surrounding mountains and valleys.
Wat Hua Wiang contains the image of Phra Chao Pha Ra La Kheng a replica of one in Myanmar.
Wat Chong Klang, Wat Chong Kham houses glass paintings and woodcarvings brought from Myanmar some 100 years ago.
Wat Phra Non contains a huge Burmese style Reclining Buddha image of about 12 meters long. The temple also houses ashes of Mae Hong Son kings. Two massive stone lions guard the temple staircase.
Pha Bong Dam about 12 kilometers outside Mae Hong Son, has been constructed across the Mae Ra Mat River for generating electrical power.
Pha Bong Hot Spring and Nam Hu Hai Chai Spring is located nearby Pha Bong Dam.
Along Highway No. 108
Wat Muai To in Ban Khun Yuam houses a huge and beautiful northern-style pagoda.
Namtok Mae Surin National Park which is believed to be Thailand's highest falls, is located at km. 220 on Highway No. 108, some 30 kilometers from Amphoe Khun Yuam.
Wild - Sunflower Field Doi Mae U - Kho Covers the area of 1,000 rais of Wild Sunflower, all are in full bloom between the month of October and December which make the hills and surrounding areas look like plated with gold.
Tham Mae Hu and Tham Mae La Ka at km. 108, between Amphoe Khun Yuam and Mae La Noi.
Mae Hu and Mae La Ka Hot Springs Both have water hot enough to boil eggs.
Wat Kitti Wong is another temple worth visiting. It houses Lord Buddha relics brought from Chiang Mai, and manuscripts discovered in Tham Phra Daeng recounting the history of relations between Myanmar and the Lanna Kingdom.
The Tribal Development & Assistance Centre-Doi Mae Ho at Km. 84 is administered by the Public Welfare Department. Most of the hill tribe people in this centre are of Karen ancestry. The scenic area is noted for colourful flower plantations.
Karen Village Pha Ma Lo Located from Mae Sa Riang market about 3 kms., the villagers have a very interesting way-of-life with handicrafts for sale to visitors.
Along Highway No. 1095
Tham Pla Forest Park where numerous fish live peacefully in streams inside the cave, is located at Km. 17.
Namtok Pha Sua Forest Park is located in the Forest Park of the same name, 18 Kms. from town a lateral road branches off for about 10 kilometers to the park. The 7 - level cataract is huge and picturesque. The best time to visit the falls is between early August and late September.
Meo Tribal Village is a peaceful tribal village, located about 35 kilometres further up the track to Namtok Pha Sua, near the Thai - Myanmar border.
Tham Lot Forest Park some 60 kilometres from Mae Hong Son town, a laterite road to the left runs a further 8 kilometres. It is a place where antiques and pre-historic remains were found. This huge cave is beautifully decorated with colourful stalagmites and stalactites.
Lisu Tribal Village at Pang Paek is another tribal village worth visiting, located some 30 kilometres before reaching Amphoe Pai.
Wat Nam Hu about 3 kilometers from Pai Market contains a sacred Chiang Saen Buddha image, 24 inches wide at the base and 30 inches high. The image's topknot can be opened. Inside is holy water revered by local folk.
Namtor Mo Paeng Located from Amphoe Pai about 8-9 kms., and can be reached conveniently by car. The surrounding area is shady and beautiful. Nearby is a peaceful Muser tribe village.
Muang Paeng Hot Spring
Located from Amphoe Pai about 35 kms., with water heat 90 °C.
Huai Nam Dang National Park is covered the area of Amphoe Mae Taeng, Chiang Ma and Amphoe Pai, Mae Hong Son. It is located at Km. 66 on Highway 1095 and turn left for about 66 kms. It commands a breathtaking view of sea of mist. flower beds and Lisu tribal people.
Rafting Along Pai River
With its approximately length of 180 kms., 30 m. width and 7 m. depth, the Pai River is the biggest and longest river in Mae Hong Son. This challenges the adventurous lover to raft along this river, and three most suitable points are recommended. They are:
- Source of the River to Amphoe Pai: Starting from Hua Chang Kaeo, 16 kms. Amphoe Pai to Wiang Nua Bridge or Ban Chumphon near Amphoe Pai, taking about 6 hours. Most suitable time to raft is between October - March, and 2 weeks prior contact for the raft is recommended.
- From Amphoe Pai to Amphoe Muang: Starting from Ban Mo Tang, 30 kms. from Amphoe Pai to Ban Pang Mu in Amphoe Muang. The distance of this route is about 70 kms and takes at least 5 days of rafting, and dug to much difference in water level at one point of the Pai River along this route therefore, two rafts setting are required to change at this mentioned point. More information of rafting along this route can be obtained from official at Pai District Office.
- From Amphoe Muang to Thai - Myanma Border Starting from Ban Huai Dua, Tambon Pha Bong, about 6 kms. from Amphoe Muang, to the border at Ban Nam Phiang Dir. Normally this section of the Pai River is more enjoyable to cruise along by the long - tailed motor boat which only takes 2-3 hour returned trip or trekking on elephant back instead of rafting since the nature and scenery are fascinated and beautiful.
Long-necked Karen (or Pa Dong tribe) is a hill - tribe living deep inside Myanmar border with Thailand's Ban Nam Phiang Din. Women of this tribe wear brass rings on their necks and limbs. The number of the rings increase according to their ages. Their shoulder blades are pressed lower and lower while their necks seem to be longer and longer.