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Mae Hong Son Province

Travel Guide Asia Thailand North Thailand Mae Hong Son Province

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Introduction

The mountains of Mae Hong Son

The mountains of Mae Hong Son

© All Rights Reserved BramRamaut

Mae Hong Son province, which lies to the north west of Chiang Mai, is a rugged, green and mountainous part of the country that borders Burma. In the past it was known as the ‘Siberia’ of Thailand due to its far flung location in the wilderness backwaters of this country.

The province is heavily influenced by its dominant population - the Shan or Tai Yai as they call themselves, an ethnic minority who originate from Southern China. This influence can be seen in the architecture, cuisine and traditional dress. In particular, temples in this part of Thailand look distinctly different to the rest of the country due to their Shan and Burmese design.

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Geography

Most of Mae Hong Son Province contains mountain ranges of the Thai highlands, parts of which are still covered with rain forest. The Daen Lao Range is located in the northernmost part of the province and marks the northern boundary between Thailand and Myanmar and the Dawna Range in the west is a boundary betweeen the two countries as well. The Thanon Thongchai Range in the east of the province serves as the broder between the provinces of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. The highest point of the Province is Doi Mae Ya in the Pai District in the northeast of the province, at 2,005 metres above sea level.

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Cities

The capital of Mae Hong Son province, Mae Hong Son town lies in a mountainous valley. Its remote location gives it a secluded and tranquil feel, whilst its proximity to Burma gives rise to the mix of people that reside there such as the Burmese, Shan, Thai and hill tribe groups which make Mae Hong Son distinctive.

A pleasant and quaint town with a charm of its own, for many its appeal lays in its tranquil setting that remains relatively unchartered by mainstream tourists. It still caters very adequately for its visitors though with numerous classes of guesthouses, hotels and sightseeing options.

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Sights and Activities

The centre of Mae Hong Son town is built around Jong Kham Lake, with the exquisite looking Wat Jong Kham (a 200-year old Shan style temple) as a backdrop to the lake. This is the signature picture of Mae Hong Son you will see on many postcards. The area comes to glow at night when it is illuminated by lights and the daily evening market which sells local food to take away, souvenirs and hill tribe products. Highly recommended is a visit to the morning market on Phanitwattana Road. A bustling and colourful affair, it offers a great introduction to the sights and smells of local produce and foodstuffs. It's also a great place to pick up handicrafts such as woodcarvings, silverware, precious stones and antiques. Mae Hong Son town also boasts numerous Burmese and Shan style temples, the most famous of them and a ‘must-see’ attraction is Wat Doi Kong Mu which sits on a hilltop and offers spectacular aerial views of the town below.

View of Mae Hong Son valley from Wat doi gong mu temple

View of Mae Hong Son valley from Wat doi gong mu temple

© All Rights Reserved MaeHongSon

Wat Doi Gong Mu

A 'must see' whilst you are in Mae Hong Son is Doi Gong Mu Temple, which sits on a hilltop on the edge of Mae Hong Son town. This old temple in ornate Shan style architecture is exquisite, but the main drawcard has to be the spectacular viewpoint it offers of Mae Hong Son town and its surrounding mountain valley.

Jong Kham Lake and temple

The centre of Mae Hong Son town is built around Jong Kham Lake, with the exquisite looking 200-year old Shan style temple (Wat Jong Kham) as a backdrop to the lake, this is the signature picture of Mae Hong Son you will see on many postcards. The area comes to glow at night when it is illuminated by lights and the daily evening market which sells local food to take away, souvenirs and hill tribe products.

Winter Morning at Mae Aw Lake

Winter Morning at Mae Aw Lake

© All Rights Reserved MaeHongSon

Mae Aw and Ban Ruam Thai

Just one hour north of Mae Hong Son by the border of Burma, are the old and rural villages of Mae Aw and Ban Ruam Thai. Most of Mae Aw’s inhabitants are descendents of former soldiers from the KuoMinTang party in Southern China who fled Communist rule in the 1950s. A visit to this village will make you feel as though you’re not that far off from being in a real village in Southern China. Most of the village is made up of earth houses and local shops sell a variety of Chinese teas and wares, here is also the place to sample traditional Chinese Yunnanese food. You can also take a mule ride through the surrounding countryside which lies close to the border of Burma.
Ten minutes from Mae Aw is the picturesque village of Ban Ruam Thai, often called the ‘Switzerland of Thailand’ due to its likeness to scenery in Switzerland with panoramic views of Ruam Thai Lake and its surrounding mountains.

Wat Tham Pla

Although there is no actual cave you can go into, there are plenty of fish of the carp variety who like the cool waters of a natural stream that emerges out of a hill where this national park is based. It’s not a huge attraction in itself but with lots of shaded area set in pretty manicured gardens, it’s a nice place to break up the journey from Mae Hong Son to Pai.

Pha Sua Waterfall

Another good stop-off point to break up the journey is Pha Sua waterall an impressive looking waterfall which is part of Pha Sua National Park.

Phu Klon Country Club Health Mud Spa

Located 10 minutes out of Mae Hong Son town on the road to Pai, a natural spring and mud source was discovered here. The health club offers a variety of beauty and skin treatments using naturally sourced mud rich in minerals. Here you can have a mud facial, mud body mask, mineral bath, Thai massage and for gold enthusiasts there is also a golf range.

Local Markets

Markets are a prominent feature in the daily life of local Thais. The early morning market in Mae Hong Son is a colourful affair and is a great introduction to the sights and smells of local produce and foodstuff. Neighbouring shops to the market are a great place to pick up souvenirs, handicrafts, wood carvings and antiques.

Trekking and Rafting

The trekking options from Mae Hong Son are some of the most pristine and authentic. Treks are considered to be less developed than the ones offered out of Chiang Mai. The treks will often pass different hill tribe villages and possibly include overnight stays in them. They can also be combined with elephant riding and rafting down the Pai River.

Long Neck villages

Karen Long Neck Woman Mae Hong Son

Karen Long Neck Woman Mae Hong Son

© All Rights Reserved BramRamaut

A controversial tourist attraction if there ever was one. A visit to see the Padaung or famously named ‘Long Neck’ women can be made 30 minutes drive from town. These long neck women a group of the Karen hill tribe are a curious attraction due to the bronze coils they wear around their necks giving them the illusion of having long necks. The coils can weigh up to 22 kilograms and are as tall as 30 centimetres. The villages they reside in having fled from persecution in Burma, are certainly set up for tourists. Most of the part accessible to tourists is made up of stalls where the long neck women will try to sell you souvenirs - this is mainly how they make their living.

The debate over ‘Long Neck Tourism’ deserves an article unto itself, but in brief there are concerns that this form of tourism is nothing less than a human zoo where women are exploited and receive very little of the revenue generated by entrance ticket fees to the village. Others claim that these women have a better life here, than in their former homes in Burma which they fled due to ethnic persecution. Whether you visit the villages is a personal choice. Entrance fees are 250 baht per person.

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Events and Festivals

Poy Sang Long Festival, Mae Hong Son

Poy Sang Long Festival, Mae Hong Son

© All Rights Reserved MaeHongSon

‘Poy Sang Long’ festival is one of the most colourful festivals in northern Thailand, and unique to Mae Hong Son. It is celebrated by the Tai Yai/ Shan who make up the majority of the population in this province. They are an ethnic minority who are close cousins to the Thais, and originate from Xishuanbanna province in southern China. This festival celebrates the rite of passage for boys aged 7-14 years who will be ordained as novice Buddhist monks. The origins of the ceremony imitate the footsteps of Prince Siddhartha, before he left the palace and became Buddha. The young boys are extravagantly dressed and beautifully made up as little princes, carried on the shoulders of elder men on a colourful and vibrant procession that ends at the local temple.

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Weather

Mae Hong Son has a tropical climate with hot and humid conditions year round. The average highs range from around 29 °C in December to around 38 °C in April, while nights average between 14 °C in January and February to around 24 °C from May to July. The average annual amount of precipitation is around 1,260 mm with almost all of that falling between May and October. December to February hardly sees any rainfall at all. Places in the mountains are cooler and usually see more rain as well.

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Getting There

By Plane

Nok Air and Thai Airways operate flights daily from Chiang Mai

By Train

Mae Hong Son town has no railway station so is not accessible by train

By Car

Self drive (car or motorbike), or hire a car with driver taking highway 108 via Pai, or via Mae Sariang

By Bus

Public buses run from Chiang Mai and Bangkok several times daily

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Sleep

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This is version 24. Last edited at 9:26 on May 21, 12 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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