A tale of two cities
I’ve wanted to travel to Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s most mountainous province since arriving in Chiang Mai in 2018. Having learned of the isolation of many Thai border regions with Myanmar I became fascinated with the landscape and culture. Accordingly, I further researched Mae Hong Son province and planned a visit with my girlfriend in 2019. We decided to take the Prempracha Minivan from Chiang Mai Bus Arcade, a five hour trip. We witnessed stunning landscapes and sensational scenery driving through the abundant mountains. Part of the route is on the 600km Mae Hong Son Loop which is popular with motorcyclist enthusiasts. We subsequently returned to Mae Hong Son province when travelling to Pai later in 2019.
Mae Hong Son (the city of three mists) – Part 1
On arrival we walked through the morning market and passed a Khao Soy restaurant for lunch. Khao Soy is a signature northern Thai dish and a firm favourite of mine. We then investigated a Mae Hong Son highlight: the pair of glorious Shan style temples, Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang. The temples lie adjacent to Chong Kham Lake which we briefly wandered around. Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang were interesting locations we experienced in a province full of culture and diversity. I will fondly remember the dazzling sight of the temples, offset by the tranquility of the lake.
Su Tong Pae Bridge and Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu
After lunch we hired a scooter to ride to Su Tong Pae Bridge, the longest of it’s kind in Thailand. Passing the Pai River, we arrived to a vast area of paddy fields encompassing the bridge. I learned that the bridge was constructed to serve monks and locals of distant temples and Shan (Tai Yai) villages. Returning to the Mae Hong Son we explored another landmark, Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu, located high in the mountains. This vantage point offered panoramas across the ‘city’, notably, endless mountains, the airstrip and the lake with the twin temples. Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu was another glorious temple, however, I’m running out of superlatives to describe Thai temples.
Sampling Tai Yai Food in Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son’s location and ethnic history has contributed to the province having a diverse population As a result I was keen to sample traditional Tai Yai (Shan), the main ethnic group in the region. Therefore the next morning, before heading out of the city, we visited a small market with interesting delicacies. I tried Tua Pu Un, a tasty dish consisting of thick noodles, Tofu and a warm yellow soya bean sauce. My girlfriend had Nam Ngiao, originally from Shan, which is famous in northern Thai cuisine. Nam Ngiao is commonly made with Khanom Jeen noodles, beef or pork, chopped tomatoes, garlic and roasted dry chillies in a rich soup. However, this Nam Ngiao used different noodles, more chopped tomatoes and the soup was thinner, perhaps Tai Yai variations. In addition to distinct cuisine, I noticed a different dialect spoken among the Tai Yai whilst visiting Mae Hong Son.
Ban Rak Thai
Our next destination was Ban Rak Thai, a small village 1km from the Burmese border. The journey here was incredibly scenic and the roads steep and twisty. Further, whilst we scooted a thick mist descended on us reducing our visibility considerably. Ban Rak Thai was amazingly peaceful; the lake, style of housing and hilltop tea plantations were particularly charming. We purchased Burmese snacks from a store which included products from Yunnan. At lunch I sampled another new dish, a tea leaf omelette, from a menu including Yunnanese, Thai and Burmese dishes. Other highlights included complimentary tea in a cafe at the lakeside. During this period the rain intensified so we sheltered while admiring the surroundings.
Further locations of interest in Mae Hong Son
In the afternoon we drove to Tham Pla within the Tham Pla-Namtok Pha Suea National Park. Tham Pla means “fish caves” and we enjoyed feeding thousands of large Soro Brook Carp around the waterfalls and streams. Likewise, the location of the National Park is amazingly remote and mountainous with impressive waterfalls. We returned to Mae Hong Son as darkness ensued and stopped at the illuminated twin temples around Chong Kham lake. Witnessing the lights of Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu shining high in the mountains was really atmospheric. Further the hum of music from the small market made me feel like I was in ‘real’ Thailand. We finished the day by dining at a local restaurant where we consumed generic but delicious Thai food. I thoroughly enjoyed our three nights in Mae Hong Son.
Mae Sariang – Part 2
We journeyed to Mae Sariang by Prempracha Songthaew, which took approximately 3 hours due to the rugged roads. I felt excited that we were really close to Myanmar, just the dense rainforest of Salawin National Park separated us. In addition, the National Park is home to several ethnic groups such as the Karen and Shan people. The Yuam is a tributary of the Salween which flows through the National Park and the Myanmar-Thailand border. Our room offered us a glimpse into the scale of the river where we saw Buffalo grazing along the banks. We spent just the one night here as we arrived fairly early from Mae Hong Son on the first day.
Mae Sariang locations of interest
We hired a scooter and visited a cafe offering views across the mountains and forest, and of several temples. After lunch we experienced Wat Chom Thong, a beautiful temple with sweeping landscapes as far as the eye could see. As dusk fell we had already scooted into the edge of Salawin National Park, yet decided against driving too far. However, I highly recommend venturing into the 720km rainforest, as the biodiversity is among the richest in SE Asia. We ended the night with a fish based rice soup, and later a beer and fries in our guesthouse. The following morning we took the four-hour Prempracha Minivan back to Chiang Mai.