Mae Hong Son – a Thailand-Myanmar border province
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 isolation among many border regions, I became fascinated with the landscape and culture and planned a visit. We took 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 favourite of mine. We then investigated a Mae Hong Son highlight: the pair of glorious Tai Yai-style (Shan) temples, Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang. The temples lie adjacent to Chong Kham Lake which we wandered around. Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang were interesting locations 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 Tai Yai villages. Returning to the Mae Hong Son we explored Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu located in the mountains. This vantage point offered panoramas across the ‘city’, notably, endless mountains, the airstrip and the lake with the twin temples. This 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. Therefore, I was keen to sample traditional Tai Yai cuisine so the next morning we visited a small market. I tried Tua Pu Un, an interesting, tasty dish consisting of thick noodles, Tofu and a warm yellow soya bean sauce. My girlfriend had Nam Ngiao which has become 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 version used different noodles, more chopped tomatoes and a thinner soup.
Ban Rak Thai
Our next destination was Ban Rak Thai, a small village 1km from the Burmese border. The journey here was incredibly scenic, steep and twisty, and whilst we scooted a 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 a new dish, a tea leaf omelette, from a menu including Yunnanese, Thai and Burmese dishes. 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 at dusk and witnessed the atmospheric lights of Wat Phratat Doi Kongmu shining in the mountains. 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 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 horizon. 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 4 hour Prempracha Minivan back to Chiang Mai.