Welcome to the true Northern Kingdom.
Visitors usually get their first taste of Mae Hong Son as
they gaze down from the window of their aeroplane. On the
way into the provincial capital, the aircraft glides over
an endless green valley of forest, into a picturesque city
surrounding a large reservoir, bounded by mountains and rivers
with dirt roads that wind away into the void. Mae Hong Son
has a couple of nicknames - "The Land of the Three Mists"
and "The Switzerland of Thailand." Either description
is appreciated the longer one stays and soaks in the scenery
of this romantic hideaway tucked against the border of Myanmar.
The province is only a stone's throw from Chiang Mai,
the regional metropolis and former capital of the Lanna Kingdom.
The easiest and most direct way to get there is via a 25-minute
Thai Airways flight, direct from Chiang Mai. The truly adventurous
can try to navigate the eight-hour winding road from Chiang
Mai to Mae Hong Son, which passes through 1,865 curves before
it finally arrives at the same place.
Mae Hong Son is one of the most forested provinces in the
nation, appealing to those who like their weather cooler and
their terrain a little more mountainous. It is one of the
only places in the country that can reach 0 degrees Celsius
during the cold season evenings, so it is advisable to come
armed with some items of warmer clothing during November-January.
The cooler temperatures are one of the reasons for the aforementioned
mists, which appear throughout the year, most often in the
Most visitors to Mae Hong Son stay within the capital city
area or head to the smaller but lively city of Pai. Both have
excellent dining and accommodations to offer. There are several
large hotels in the main city, but visitors would do well
to head out to one of the outlying resorts either south or
north of town, where they can enjoy a quieter time, often
by a pool, deep in the forest. To the south is the Fern Resort.
To the north are both the Saksuay Resort and the Golden Pai
and Suite Resort. All three of these are comfortable forest
hideaways. In Pai, two of the nicer places for an overnight
stay are the Hut Ing Pai Resort and the Muang Pai Resort.
Pai has a more lively nightlife than the provincial capital
and has become a cultural Mecca of sorts for Bangkokians and
others. It is also a backpacker's favourite haunt and
can get quite crowded because of this during the cool season.
The nightlife in Pai includes a blues/jazz pub (Bebop Jazz
Bar) and several coffee houses and book shops catering to
a more sophisticated crowd. Muslim culture has made obvious
inroads here; one can hear the sound of the call to prayer
at dusk while walking around the main market in town.
For those seeking a sensual release, Mae Hong Son is a favoured
destination. Besides the omnipresent Thai massage places,
there are an unusual number of hot spring saunas. The best
one, Pooklon Country Club, is just south of the capital city,
on the way to Ban Rak Thai. At Pooklon, guests can avail themselves
of the walk-around sauna room (an enclosed wooden walkway
around a steaming sulfurous pond), mineral baths, and face
or body mud therapy, as well as the traditional massage. For
equestrian aficionados, horse riding is available.
For the adventure-seeker, there are a number of appealing
options - visitors can hire a local guide for a short-term
or long-term trek into the mountains and forest, stopping
overnight at hill tribe villages. Similar day or sleepover
trips can be booked for rafting and/or cave exploration. Mae
Hong Son has numerous caves. Tham Lot, near Pai, has one of
the longest caverns in the country. Creativity is the key
to a really exciting trek and incorporating elements such
as rafting, spelunking, and elephant riding can make all the
difference. Thai Adventure Rafting in Pai specializes in two-day
rubber raft trips along the Pai River from Pai to Mae Hong
The hill tribe areas can be visited either by trek or by
vehicle. One village, specifically geared for day visitors
and seemingly on every tour agency's list, is the famous
Paduang "long-necked" hill tribe, located just outside
the provincial capital. Residents of this over-visited group
live in a partly secluded valley, but it has become its own
cottage industry and there's not much to see here. Better
and more natural options exist if you choose to trek into
Adventuring is just one of many opportunities for vacationers.
Sightseeing is plentiful for those who would like to rent
a motorcycle, car or jeep, to travel the winding byways. In
November and early December, the hills south of the provincial
capital become a feast for the eyes, as the annual Bua Tong
Blossom Festival takes place. The hillsides play host to the
golden Bua Tong flower, an oversized sunflower that blooms
only once a year. So many bloom at once that the hillsides
become a sea of yellow for one month.
Other sightseeing opportunities exist on the winding roads
toward the Burmese border. The village of Mae Aw, or Ban Rak
Thai, just outside the provincial capital, is a peaceful Chinese
KMT village, also surrounding a mountain reservoir. The powerful
scent of pine forest greets visitors as they ascend a mountain
into the village, bringing sharply to mind the area's
comparison to Switzerland. The former Chinese rebels now grow
Oolong tea and that and other Chinese delicacies are available
in shops throughout the village.
Mae Hong Son is a melting pot of different cultures, blending
Thai Yai (Shan), Chinese, Akha, Lisu, Hmong, Muslim and numerous
other tribes. Streets are colourful affairs, as people from
any one of these cultures ply their wares on street sidewalks
and from shops. Most of these items are coloured fabric handbags,
hats and purses. Other regional specialties include wood carvings,
Shan woven field hats, Burmese puppets, lacquerware and cigars.
Sightseers familiar with Thai architecture will notice a
difference to the buildings and temples of the area, arising
from the obvious influence of Burma and Thai Yai culture.
Most buildings have a distinctive carved ornamental trimming
around the roof edges and there is a Burmese outline to the
faces of the Buddha images; a white oblong look that is quite
different from the faces of the Buddha figures in Central
Thai temples. Two glittering examples of this, Wat Jong Kham
and Wat Jong Klang, are next to the main city's reservoir.
One of the must-do temples in Mae Hong Son is Wat Doi Kong
Mu, which rises 1300 metres above the town, offering vistas
of both the capital city and its airport and surrounding territory.
Climb the steps during the right time, preferably during the
early morning or late afternoon and you will be treated to
the sound and sight of one of the three flights daily landing
or taking off.
Experiencing all this beauty laid out before you may prompt
you to stay around a bit longer - not a bad option when you
consider all the places you can still explore in the "Land
of the Three Mists."