Most people don’t make it past Pai when north of Chiang Mai, but the quieter, more laidback and much less visited capital of the province, Mae Hong Son is well worth the trip away from the laid out backpacker route. Surrounded by mountains, set in a valley, if the natural beauty of this place isn’t reason enough to come spend a few days, just take a bike ride out of town and sure you’ll be convinced it is.
Besides the scenic aspect though there is lots to do and see in and around town. The Su Tong Pai Bridge about 15km outside of town off highway 1095 is a half a kilometer bamboo bridge that spans across the Sa Nga River and numerous rice fields. The bridge allows monks to cross from the temple to the village on the other side to collect alms in the morning. Simple and beautiful in its construction.
There a numerous temples (Wats) throughout the area, but the most notable are Burmese style Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang on the bank of the Jong Kham Lake which the town seems center upon. The latter has a unique wicker Buddha and is known for the glass paintings depicting stories of Buddha.
Another and my personal favorite is Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu which sits atop Kong Mu Hill. The two stark white Burmese style stupas are the oldest landmark in the Mae Hong Son province and provide a spectacular view overlooking the whole city and mountains beyond. There is also a great little café, Sunset café to enjoy a nice coffee while watching the sun sink below the mountains.
Taking a drive in any direction is a great idea, but heading 45km north to the small village of Ban Rak Thai is probably the best route to take. An absolutely stunning road to drive along will bring you to the border of Myanmar. A Chinese influenced village, based around tea plantations you can relax by the lake and sample the local brews. Have a picnic amongst the tea fields or grab lunch in the local market. With only a few places to stay it is a very quiet place to sit back and lull a couple days away.
On the way to or from Ban Rak Thai are the Pha Sua waterfalls which make a nice half way stop. Pang Tong Palace a bit closer to Ban Rak Thai is worth a short drive around its gardens. Tham Pla Fish Cave is another quick stop on the route. Anyone interested in a unique spa day can also go to the mud spa not far off the road to Ban Rak Thai.
Where to EAT – The night market along the road beside the air strip provides a large range of local Thai dishes which would definitely be my recommendation.
The Salween River is a nice restaurant offering up Thai, Burmese and Western dishes, but what brought me here was the Burmese food to have a taste of my trip to Myanmar last year. It’s a great chance to try some of the nearby countries cuisine. Try the green tea salad!
For breakfast, Hong Kong Congee along the main road provided me with the best bowl of congee I’ve ever had. With minced pork, pork liver, shredded ginger, scallion, a soft boiled egg and a drizzle of soy sauce you really couldn’t go wrong.
How to get there – There is an airport in town in you chose to fly in.
Minibus services are probably the most common from whichever town you may be coming from, Chiang Mai, Pai or Mae Sariang.
However, I highly recommend renting a motorcycle in Chiang Mai and driving around the loop clockwise or counter clockwise. (Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang was my route, opposite this starts with the easier driving first). It gives you total freedom and you’ll see a lot more than from the window of a minibus or plane.