Mae Hong Son
Thailand’s Remote Province
Called the valley of three mists, Mae Hong Son province is home to numerous hill-tribe villages and great adventure opportunities.
Mae Hong Son province is located in the remote West of Northern Thailand. The province borders Myanmar’s Shan state to the North and all along the west. The province’s total area is some 12,000 square kilometers, mostly mountainous and forest-covered, with a few flat valleys in which villages have developed. Rice paddies are cultivated in every valley.
Mae Hong Son is administratively divided in to 7 districts: Mae Hong Son town (in Thai = Amphoe Muang), Mae Sariang, Mae La Noi, Sop Moei, Khun Yuam, Pai and Pang Mapha (Soppong).
From Chiang Mai by road it is a full day’s drive to cover the distance of 290 kms (180 miles). Not a highway, but a long and scenic winding road, through the Pai and Soppong (Pang Ma Pha) districts. The 1095 road is probably one of the most scenic drives in Northern Thailand.
Driving south of Mae Hong Son, road 108 can bring you back to Chiang Mai passing through Mae Sarieng, another interesting district, close to the Burmese border in the west. The road 108 from Mae Hong Son to Chiangmai section covers a distance of approximately 350 km. An overnight stop in Mae Sarieng is recommended when doing the loop.
Pai district (Pai valley)
Pai is a small laid-back valley between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son town, surrounded by steep mountains. The place is becoming popular with western travelers. The Pai valley is the starting point for great white water rafting expeditions down the Pai river. More information about Pai valley.
Soppong, in Phang Ma Pa district, is located between Pai and Mae Hong Son town. Soppong is well known for the surrounding limestone peaks and vast caves system said to be some of Southeast Asia’s largest! Tham Lod is a large cave with 3 main chambers linked together and a stream (the Lang river) flowing through. Set aside 2 hours for a deep exploration, with exit at the back of the cave before a short hike back to the main entrance on a scenic jungle trail. There are locals with gas or petrol lanterns ready to guide visitors through the cave and give some explanation (little English spoken). When the river’s high, locals build bamboo raft to cross from one chamber to next! A very interesting and fun cave to explore in the North; highly recommended. Another cave is the Tham Lang, not easily accessible and very deep. This cave should be explored only accompanied by local people, and with some preparation.
More information about Soppong.
The Mae Hong Son Loop
Individual travelers as well as our organized tours are generally doing a loop from Chiang Mai, which can be done in either direction. We recommend counter-clockwise, going to Pai first if you want to join our white water rafting expedition along the way. The Mae Hong Son loop is a great trip with plenty of scenic places and point of interests such as caves, waterfalls and hill-tribe villages. A minimum of four days trip should be considered to do the loop and fully enjoy the sights.
The Mae Hong Son Loop: organized tour!
Active-Thailand organizes a fun and relaxing self-discovery tour program through the beautiful terrain and backcountry roads known as the Mae Hong Son Loop. This four day tour originates in Chiang Mai and travels northwest 150 km to the quaint riverside town of Pai, continuing on another 42 km to the small village of Soppong, before descending south 109km on one of Thailand’s most spectacular scenic routes and arriving in Mae Hong Son. From here, our journey continues south 164km, snaking through narrow valleys and drifting over rolling hills to reach beautiful Mae Sariang, a sleepy town nestled along the eastern bank of the Yuam River. Finally, after Mae Sariang, we begin our return by traveling through the Doi Inthanon National Park to arrive back in the city of Chiang Mai in the evening.
During these exciting four days, travelers will have the opportunity to explore deep into lantern lit caves containing prehistoric relics dating back over one thousand years, hike high into pine forests to see sparkling waterfalls and breathtaking views of the valleys, bath in natural hot springs in Pai, visit some remote villages and meet with the local families of our Lahu river rafting staff in their village. A chance to see Thailand’s tallest waterfall, Mae Surin, and Doi Inthanon National Park, with the country’s highest mountain.
During this self discovery Active-Thailand is providing a vehicle, with or without driver, and book the accommodations as per the schedule. We provide you also with a detailed map and a list of recommendation so you can plan your visits at your own pace! The loop can be done also in a longer time frame, as many customers are telling us “I should have spent an entire week on this amazing trip!”.
Contact us via email for more information on this tour as it is not listed presently in our regular programs.
A fully guided program is also available and with the help of our friendly local guides. They will be the local touch and your link to the local insider’s. Highly recommended.
Mae Hong Son (The Provincial town)
Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s second northern most provincial city is hidden deep in a valley ringed by misty mountain ranges whose panoramas have inspired the name “City of the Three Mists”. Sheltered by these high mountains Mae Hong Son enjoys a cool climate almost all year round and is not only one of the most environmentally protected cities in Thailand but with only about 300,000 inhabitants, it is also one of the most sparsely populated.
The province of Mae Hong Son is bordered by Myanmar on both the north and west borders, therefore, a strong Burmese influence can be seen in many of the provincial capital’s temples and buildings. Upon arrival in Mae Hong Son city, many visitors first pay respect to the hilltop Wat Phra That Doi Kong Moo, which dominates the provincial city. Constructed by Phraya Singhanatracha, the first king of Mae Hong Son, this hilltop temple affords a wonderful view over the city, surrounding mountains and valleys. In addition to Wat Phra That Doi, Mae Hong Son is home to many Burmese-style temples, including two monasteries sharing the same compound: Wat Jong Kam and Wat Jong Klang. Well known for their popular glass paintings portraying Buddhist images and village lifestyle, these two Wats are also home to over 30 carved wooden dolls that were brought to Mae Hong Son from Myanmar in the previous century.
The airport is located in the city, and the landing is spectacular when the plane find it’s way to the runway, dropping down from the high surrounding mountains. During the hot season flights are sometimes canceled on account of poor visibility due to smoke from fire burnings. This can cause a problem if you have a connecting flight.
Note: Thai Airways is not flying anymore to Mae Hong Son, only Kan Air does.(See below).
Before the road was built access to the Mae Hong Son valley was virtually impossible, except for logging industry workers who were going to sell and trade in Chiang Mai. Nowadays there is access from the East toward Pai and South to Mae Sarieng. However the town remains little visited, and this charming small provincial capital has kept its Shan influence from the past, as can be seen in the architecture of most temples and some older houses.
Mae Hong Son is truly a dream destination for visitors who are attracted by its beautifully rich cultural and untouched natural wonders.
Arriving in Mae Hong Son
May 2014: Only Kan Air operates scheduled flights to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai with 3 daily flights, depending on the season. See the link: Kan Air for more info, or contact our office.
There are no direct connection from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son, all flights transit via Chiangmai.
Public buses are available between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son and take about eight hours. Prempracha is the local bus company, running usually 4 buses per day via Pai. Another bus route is via Mae Sarieng. All buses depart from Chiangmai “Arcade” bus station.
Getting Around Mae Hong Son
The town isn’t very big so walking is a practical means of getting around during the cooler months, but can become trying in summer when temperatures hover around 40º C / 100º F. Bicycle and motorbike rental operators are plentiful and “songthaew” (covered pick-up truck used as public taxi) are readily available for short or long journeys.
When To Go
The high mountain ranges and surrounding misty jungles help to keep Mae Hong Son significantly cooler than many of Thailand’s surrounding regions. There are three main seasons in Mae Hong Son with an annual average temperature of 25 ºC / 77ºF.
In the cool season, October through February, Mae Hong Son experiences a large contrast between daytime and evening temperatures with morning temperatures averaging 21ºC / 70ºF, and nighttime temperatures dropping as low as 6ºC / 43ºF. December and January are the coldest months in Mae Hong Son.
In the hot season, which lasts from March through May, the temperature averages from 17ºC / 63ºF in March to 36ºC / 97ºF by late May. With April being the warmest month of the year, the best time to visit Mae Hong Son is during the transition from the cool season to the hot season as early March offers the most refreshing weather.
Although the rainy season, which lasts from May through October, is a more challenging time to visit, this time can also prove to be well worth enduring the occasional downpour to see Mae Hong Son during it’s most beautiful and lush time of the year.
Poi Sang Long Procession – March-May
This celebration of novice monk ordination is one the Thai Yai tribe people hold to be a highly meritorious occasion. Traditionally, the candidate-novice, his head cleanly shaven and wrapped with head-cloth in the Burmese style, will don a prince-like garment and put on valuable jewels and gems, and either rides a horse or is carried over the shoulders of a man to the city shrine. On the ordination eve, a procession of offerings and other necessary personal belongings will be paraded through the town streets and then placed at the monastery where the ordination will take place the next day. It is usually held during or before the Buddhist Rain Retreat period.
Chong Phara Procession – October
Chong Phara in the Thai Yai dialect means a castle made of wood, covered with colorful perforated papers and decorated with fruits, flags and lamps. According to traditional belief, It is placed in the courtyard of a house or a monastery as a gesture to welcome the Lord Buddha on his return from giving sermons to his mother in heaven. Other activities to celebrate the occasion include dances where performers are dressed in animal costumes. The rite is held during the post rain retreat season from the full-moon day of the 11 the Lunar month to the waxing moon night of the same month.
Bua Tong Blossom Festival – November
Each year in November, the hillsides of Khun Yuam and Mae Sariang districts are filled with a host of golden Bua Tong Blooms. As beautiful as bright yellow daisy and almost as large as a sunflower, the Bua Tong only blossoms for a month. At Doi Mae U-Khor, the blossoms appear profusely with the golden blooms become part of the scene.
Loi Krathong Festival – November
Loi Krathong Festival is held on the full moon night in the month of November every year. Villagers make “krathongs” to float in rivers. At Nong Chong Kham lake, various entertainments and a contest of large krathongs are held near the central pond. Lamps and candles are lit all around the area. Moreover, at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, there is a ceremony of releasing candle-lit krathongs bound with balloons to the sky (known as “Loi Krathong Sawan”).
Where to Stay in Mae Hong Son town
Mae Hong Son Mountain Inn & Resort / budget
Mae Hong Son Mountain Inn. The garden style hotel at center of town in Mae Hong Son. A budget hotel which had some glorious days, as it was built by the owner when the movie Air America with Mel Gibson was filmed. Today the hotel is not so fresh anymore, but has a good swimming pool in the garden.
The Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son Hotel / tourist class
The Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son located in a teak-wood forest on the edge of town, the 104-room hotel has been carefully designed to blend in with its surroundings. The low-rise buildings are below the height of the tall trees, and the terrace looks out over a splendid garden intersected by a rippling stream. Probably the best hotel in town.
Fern Resort / tourist-class
A very nice resort, simple but nestled in a beautiful valley. Wooden bungalows. Comfortable and well maintained. Offers a swimming pool. It is located 7 km south of town, but worth to consider if you have your own transportation.
Fore more information about hotels and accommodations in Mae Hong Son province, look at our selection on Asia-Hotel-Direct website.
Other tourist attractions in the province
Tham Lod caves
Tham Lod, is a huge cave system in Soppong / Phang Mapa district whose vast caverns contain pre-historic remains and relics alongside many colorful stalagmites and stalactites.
Mexican sunflowers fields (Dok Buatong)
About 90 kilometers south of Mae Hong Son city is a large mountainous area called Doi Mae Ukhor where, during the month of November and December, wild sunflower blossoms blanket the fields giving the illusion of sparkling gold lakes.
A motor-boat trip on the Pai river to the border
From the town (ask for “Tha Rua” boat pier) one can take a boat excursion downriver to reach the border point with Myanmar. The destination is a large village including a mix of people, Shan, hill-tribes, Burmeses and “Long Neck” people. Boat can be hired/chartered on the spot all day. You should set aside 3 hours for this excursion. You can leave your vehicle safely at the boat pier’s parking lot.
GT-Rider map of Mae Hong Son province
Finally, the most detailed map of the area available is “The Mae Hong Son loop”, created and edited by the Golden Triangle Rider. You can buy the map online at GT-Rider.com, as well as other interesting maps. Maps are also available for sale at Contact Travel’s office in Chiang Mai.
Have a look at our exciting tour selection below: