Mae Hong Son Tourist Guide

Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu overlooks the city

Mae Hong Son is a truly isolated frontier town, reached via a windy five-hour drive over the mountains from Chiang Mai. Tours often stop off here as part of the popular Mae Hong Son loop, which is a classic Northern Thailand mountain experience. The city lies in a pretty valley bordered by Myanmar to the north and west, and consequently has a strong Burmese influence. Though the town itself is not particularly beautiful, it has a number of enticing temples and fabulously scenic surroundings, along with a pretty lake at its centre and an altogether sleepy character.

Mae Hong Son’s most striking attraction is the temple of Phra That Doi Kong Mu, up on a hill overlooking the city. The wat was commissioned by Mae Hong Son’s first king, Phaya Singhanatracha, and has lovely views over the city and its surroundings. From here you can see the pond – known as Nong Jong Kham  which creates a lovely spacious park in the city and is responsible for all the famous postcard images reflecting the distinctive temple on its edge. 

Temples of interest include Wat Hua Wiang, containing a sacred image, and Wat Phra Non, which houses a massive Reclining Buddha statue in the Burmese style.

Planning your own journeys can be tricky, as timings are never absolute in Thailand especially during the peak season. It’s a must to check up-to-date information as well as booking in advance. 12Go Asia is a leading transportation search engine in Thailand and Southeast Asia. They are providing e-tickets for trains, buses, ferries and flights.

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Perhaps the most visited, however, are Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham, which are beside the pond and display the distinctive tiered roofs and tin filigree so typical of Burmese temples. These two are known for their impressive glass paintings depicting the life of Buddha, and over 30 wooden doll carvings that originated in Myanmar. The Chong Kham Pond was once a bathing pool for elephants, and is particularly impressive in the early morning mists, reflecting the temple. Read more on Mae Hong Son Attractions.
The city’s high street is Khunlum Phraphat road, which is filled with handicraft outlets, restaurants, bars and tour companies. This is a prime place to pick up hilltribe textiles and antiques. Singhanat Bamrung road is distinguished by its traditional Shan teak wood houses, and the local crafts and fabrics that are sold in its stores.

The months of November and December are special in the Mae Hong Son area due to the startlingly yellow wild sunflowers that smother the fields of Doi Mae U-Kho. If you happen to be in the area at this time of year, make a special effort to visit this colourful expanse – the golden blanket created by the blooming flowers is a truly spectacular vision. In early January there is a famous Shan novice monk parade – the Poi Sang Long festival – when young sons are dressed up; make up ‘n all.

On the way to Mae Hong Son, on highway 1095, it is worth stopping at the charming settlements of Pai and Soppong (Pang Mapha). Pai is a quaint riverside town, boasting tranquil hot springs, a vibrant town centre with a funky bohemian feel, and cheap, humble guesthouses. Soppong is much quieter, and more suited to those preferring early nights and active days. The major attraction here is Tham Lod, with its blackwater rafting. The whole area is famous for its karst topography and resulting vast cavern system, featuring the remains of ancient wood coffins. Caving is rewarding here and for this you’ll want to spend the night at Cave Lodge. The owner, John Spies is an expert on the area.

Past Soppong, towards Mae Hong Son, is the nature reserve of Tham Pla Forest Park. Here you will find a small cave with a pool at its base. The water is teeming with fish that the local people believe to be an incarnation of sacred spirits. There are several more hot springs in the area signposted along the way. Mae Hong Son can be reached by car from Chiang Mai via highways 1095 or 108, or by buses leaving several times daily from the city’s Arcade bus station. Mae Hong Son has an airport, but there are no direct flights from Bangkok – you will need to fly to Chiang Mai and take a connecting plane from here. Hiring a car and driving the famous ‘Mae Hong Son’ loop via Pai and returning via Doi Inthanon National Park (south of Chiang Mai) is a wonderful adventure that will take about three or four days because of the windy mountain roads. The views and scenery make it all worthwhile.

Accommodation in Mae Hong Son

– Baiyoke Chalet: Located in the city center. This venue is surrounded by local attractions like temples, market and restaurants.The airport is only 5-minute drive away. All rooms set with air-conditioning, TV, balcony, refrigerator, bathroom with a shower…more details and booking

– Ban View Nam Camping & Resort: Sits along the Pai River and surrounded by mountains. All rooms come with air-conditioning, TV, mini bar, balcony, free WiFi, bathroom with a shower and refrigerator. On-site restaurant serves a variety of international, Thai and local dishes…more details and booking

– Banphu Montalang Resort: Just 3.5 km away from the airport. This resort designed for both business and leisure travelers. Featuring quality rooms with modern facilities, free WiFi, car park, pets allowed and garden…more details and booking

– Boondee House: Located in the city center and easy access to local attractions like market, temples, restaurants and tours. Offering rooms with air-conditioning, free WiFi, balcony, cable TV, tea & coffee maker and bathroom with a shower… more details and booking

– Fern Resort: A Shan-styled resort sits in a secluded valley and a 10-minute drive from down town. It’s a perfect place for a nature retreat and activities like bird watching, elephant riding and trekking. All rooms come with air conditioning, balcony, free drinking water and a shower. There’re also outdoor pool, restaurant, bar and library on site…more details and booking

– Gims Resort: A contemporary-styled resort sits in a valley, only a short drive from the airport. All rooms are modern furnished come with air-conditioning, WiFi, balcony, cable TV and mini bar. Complimentary tea/coffee served at the lobby and free bicycle rental for city exploring…more details and booking

– Goldenpai and Suite Resort: This Lanna-Shan style resort is only 5 km away from the airport. Offering a wide range of facilities such as air conditioned rooms, 24-hour security, daily housekeeping, outdoor pool, spa and garden…more details and booking

– Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort: Peacefully sits on outskirts of its city. Featuring the extensive teak-wood garden, outdoor pool, restaurant, fitness center and a 24-hour front desk. All rooms come with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, private balcony, TV, mini bar, safety box and bathroom…more details and booking

– Mae Hong Son Mountain Inn & Resort: A long-running hotel sits in the city center. It features a large outdoor pool, restaurant and massage & spa service. All Thai-Lanna styled rooms set with air-conditioning, cable TV, balcony and bathroom. A famous walking street is only a 200-m away…more details and booking

– Ngamta Hotel: Sit right in the city center and a few steps away from a popular walking street. All rooms are set with air-conditioning, LCD TV, free WiFi, mini bar and bathroom with a shower. Car rental and laundry service are also available…more details and booking

– Palm House: Located in the city center and easy access to the main attractions. This venue offers all your need for a good night’s sleep include free WiFi, and daily housekeeping…more details and booking

– Panorama Hotel: Sits in the city center, just a kilometer away from the airport. Offering rooms with stand facilities like air-conditioning, telephone, cable TV and bathroom with hot shower. Free WiFi is available at the lobby area…more details and booking

– Phuchomjan Resort: This resort is a 25-minute drive to Mae Hong Son Airport. Features simply decorated rooms with air-conditioning or fan, free WiFi, private balcony, TV and bathroom…more details and booking

– Sangsawang Resort: Sits in a beautiful landscaped garden, 6 km from the city center and 6.5 km from the airport. All rooms are simply furnished with free WiFi, balcony, TV, bathroom and a shower…more details and booking

– Sarm Mork Guest House: Sits right in the city center, a few steps from Mae Hong Son Walking Street and only 1km from the airport. Offering rooms with air-conditioning or fan, free WiFi, cable TV, bathroom with a shower…more details and booking

– The Likeview Guesthouse: A small and cozy guesthouse, directly sits in the city center and a few steps away from the city’s attractions. Featuring views of mountains and lake, free WiFi, luggage storage and private parking…more details and booking

– The Point Villa Mae Hong Son: Sits in city center and a short drive from the airport. This an ideal place for relaxing experience. This modern villa features a wide range of facilities such as free WiFi in all rooms, 24-hour security, daily housekeeping and non smoking rooms…more details and booking

Sticking your neck out for tourism

A big tourist attraction in Mae Hong Son, though a somewhat controversial one, is the three Paduan villages of Nai Soi, Hoi Sen Thao and Huay Ma Kehn Som, famous for their long-necked women. Complete with coils of brass ring, this tradition has been exploited for tourist purposes and visitors are charged 250 baht for the privilege of turning this into a human zoo. However, it’s about the best opportunity this minority group have at making money, and contrary to appearance, the neck isn’t actually elongated; the clavicle bone is simply forced down and does no harm. Since much of the entrance fee doesn’t end up in the Paduang’s pockets, tourists are encouraged to buy their handicrafts.

Further reading…