Mae Hong Son Travel Guide
Introduction to Mae Hong Son
With a population hovering around 8,500 souls, Mae Hong Son is one of the smallest provincial capitals in Thailand. Surrounded by mountains and filled with a mix of hill tribe people, ethnic Chinese, and Thai, it is a place quickly becoming popular with seasoned travellers.
Lacking the scene which has made Pai a place to be for Thai, Chinese, and Western tourists, those in search of peace, tranquillity, and authenticity in Northern Thailand will find it here.
Cultural Attractions in Mae Hong Son
Of all the temples in the Mae Hong Son area, none have the amazing surroundings of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu. Situated upon a hill high above the town, this 160-year-old Burmese temple stands out with its brilliant white chedis.
While the souvenir shops at the top may bother those sensitive to the persistent encroachment of commercialization into some of Thailand’s most sacred spaces, hiking up for sunrise will still be worth it, as you will be able to get some truly amazing photos from the grounds of this wat.
Back in the town of Mae Hong Son, check out Wat Chong Kham & Wat Chong Klang. Located alongside this town’s scenic lake, these twin temples are a stunning sight to behold in the early morning light. Also designed in the Shan/Burmese style, these two landmarks are not just noteworthy for their external beauty, but also for its 100-year-old glass paintings and a museum showing a number of artisan-created wooden dolls.
Mae Hong Son isn’t just close to the border with Burma – it isn’t far away from China, either. During 1949, the Kuomintang (also known as the KMT) lost control of mainland China to forces loyal to the Communist Party. Many fled to Taiwan, but others crossed the border into Thailand.
Moo Ban Rak Thai is a Chinese village populated by descendants of the original KMT diaspora. Visitors will notice a distinct difference between how life is lived here and in hill tribe/Thai settlements. Signs are in Mandarin and most residents speak it as their mother tongue, restaurants serve Yunnan-style Chinese food, and tea houses serve up pots made from leaves harvested in the hills.
Although many avoid this aspect of tourism in Thailand due to its perception as a tourist trap, many of the hill tribe villages in the Mae Hong Son area give visitors an opportunity to get a glimpse into a number of indigenous cultures (Hmong, Karen, etc) which have existed for thousands of years.
Before heading up into the hills, be sure to do your homework on the tour agencies offering hill tribe tours, as many treat these people like ‘zoo animals’ to be gawked at. Those offering thoughtful commentary and opportunities for cultural exchange are recommended – if you can’t, taking a scooter up to a local village may also work if you have the heart of an adventurer.
Other Attractions in Mae Hong Son
After checking into your hotel or guesthouse in Mae Hong Son, head to the market, grab some made-to-order Thai food and eat it by the placid shores of Mae Hong Son Lake. With a delightful park filled with flower beds on its foreshore and the twin temples of Wat Chong Kham & Wat Chong Klang and towering mountains in the background, there is no better place in Mae Hong Son to eat lunch, read a book, or just catch your breath.
Once darkness falls in town, head over to Mae Hong Son Walking Street. This place is nothing like the full-blown spectacle that can be found a couple hours south in Pai.
This food, clothing, and handicrafts market focuses mainly on the needs of locals, though, a number of vendors are adapting to recent increases in tourist traffic in Mae Hong Son. Having said that, however, those looking to get away from the elephant pants brigade will eat up the authentic atmosphere they find here.
Find peace amidst the rice and garlic fields of the Mae Hong Son area by setting out across Sutongpe Bridge. Situated a short trip north from town, this 500-metre long bamboo span connects the village of Kung Mai Saak to a nearby temple, making the longest bridge of its type in Thailand.
Getting to see farmers in action and monks going about their business at the temple are among the highlights of a visit here – just be sure to time your visit just prior to harvest or during harvest for the best possible photo opportunities.
Still looking for more killer spots to take pictures in the Mae Hong Son area? Head out to Kiew Lom Viewpoint in time for blue hour. Located at a mountain summit area on the highway between this town and Pai, the view out over peaks which are the southernmost extension of the Himalayan foothills are nothing short of breathtaking.
The best views are possible during December, as the hills remain green shortly after the end of dry season, and the air is mostly free of brush fire smoke which obscures the view later in the winter months.