Mae Hong Son is the capital of Thailand's northwestern province, also called Mae Hong Son, located along the Burmese border. It was founded in 1831 by the princes of Chiang Mai as a training camp for elephants captured from the surrounding jungle. He brought also the Shan (Thai Yai) to these areas to hunt and train the elephants. This tribe now comprises half of the population of Mae Hong Son and brings a strong Burmese influence to the Mae Hon Son temples and cultures. The other half of the population is mainly hill tribes, a large group of Karen, as well as Lisu and Mong. More recently, Burmese refugees have crossed the border and settled down to live in camps next to the border.
Mae Hong Son has many nicknames, like “City of Three Mists”. Because it is set deep in a mountain valley, you have the morning mist in November and December, smoke from farmers burning weeds in February and March, and finally, the rainfalls in the summer.
In the old days, Mae Hong Son was also called “Siberia of the North” because at that time there was no paved road and the only connection to the outside was the elephant trails, so only troublesome politicians or government officials were sent to this town.
But since the paved road and the airport came to Mae Hong Son, the town is booming and tourism is rising due to its nice location surrounded by the mountains, its picturesque Burmese temples and the colourful market.
Where is Mae Hong Son ?
Mae Hong Son is around 300 km west of Chiang Mai, close to the Burmese border. As the capital city of the province, Mae Hong Son has good connections to public transport.
How to get there:
>> by plane from Chiang Mai (Boeing 737). Flight time is 25 min., usually three flights per day. During peak season (Nov. - Dec.) it is necessary to make a reservation.
>> by bus from Pai or Mae Sariang. Each trip takes around 4 hours
>> by car rental or motorbike from Chiang Mai or Bangkok
Mae Hong Son is around 300 km west of Chiang Mai, close to the Burmese border. As the capital city of the province, it has good connections to public transportation.
Mae Hong Son is also a good starting point for round trips and also to find travel partners.
You can do a lot by yourself too. Just rent a motor bike or a car and tour around.
Around 18 km on the way to Pai you will see a parking lot on the left side. You will pass some food stalls, a souvenir shop and ladies who will sell fish food to you before you reach the park. Walk over the suspended bridge, built for the movie “Air America” with Mel Gibson, and follow the wooden path.
At the end you will see the cave and the large, rare soro brook carp swimming close to each other in the river. These fish are holy, so may not be eaten
Pha Sua Waterfall
Take the road to Pai, and after around 17 km turn left and follow the sign to Pha Sua Waterfall. You cross a beautiful valley with small villages, then continue up the mountain, and after 12 km you will arrive at a rest area with a parking lot. Follow the foot path down to this impressive waterfall.
Start from the Pha Sua Waterfall. Now the road runs along a quiet stream, passing a water reservoir. There will be a sign to the Pang Tong Palace,
but sorry, visitors are not allowed. Turn right and pass some hilltribe villages until you come to a lake and Mae Aw.
This village was founded by the Kuomintang (KMT) by permission of the Thai government to protect the border. At present they live quite independently. You can buy Chinese tea and vegetables, and two small restaurants offer food and drinks.
Buatong (Sunflower) Fields
Every year in November and December the big attraction of Mae Hong Son Province are the sunflower fields near Khun Yuam. This town is located 60 km south of Mae Hong Son.
This is the season of the wild growing Mexican sunflowers, brought over by the misionaries, which grow all over the mountains, so they look yellow. At the end of November the Sunflower Festival takes place in Khun Yuam. Tourists from all over Thailand come to see this spectacle.
Organized tours can be booked with the local travel agencies or you can do it by yourself (plan two days).
Soppong is around 70 km away from Mae Hong Son, in the direction of Pai.
It is an old trade center for the hill tribes and also a break stop for buses on the way to Pai. Soppong’s main attraction is the nearby Tham Lot cave, one of the longest in Southeast Asia.