The magic of Mae Hong Son: forests, nature-based activities, fascinating culture and rural charm

Story and Photos by TAT News

To the northwest of Chiang Mai and nestled along the border with Myanmar, the mountainous and largely forested province of Mae Hong Son offers plenty of scenic natural beauty and outdoor activities to go with it, a captivating rural charm blended with a refreshing laidback vibe, and the fascinating culture of its ethnically diverse people.

While Mae Hong Son can of course be visited year-round, the best time to visit is during the cooler months of November to January. Many people will visit Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai, on an excursion of a couple of days or longer. While daily flights and bus services are available from Chiang Mai, a popular option is to travel the Mae Hong Son Loop tour route by rented car or motorbike.

The magic of Mae Hong Son
The TAT’s ‘Cruising through the Cave’ picture of Tham Lot in Mae Hong Son won a 2018 PATA Gold Award in the Travel Journalism – Travel Photograph category.

The Mae Hong Son Loop is a journey of some 600 kilometres that starts and finishes in Chiang Mai, and it can be taken in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. The Loop can be done in three or four days. It passes through picturesque countryside, taking in places like Mae Chaem on Thailand’s highest mountain Doi Inthanon, the riverside town of Mae Sariang, the market town of Khun Yuam and the popular town of Pai along the way.

In earlier days a sleepy and somewhat remote Shan town, Pai lies on the banks of the Pai River and is today known for its fun and chilled-out new-age scene, often being compared somewhat to Bangkok’s backpack mecca of Khao San Road. There are guesthouses and fancier hotels, restaurants, cafes, handicraft shops, bars and a choice of activities on offer like rafting, tubing, trekking and cycling as well as hot springs to enjoy.

Among local sights to visit around Pai is the Memorial Bridge across the Pai River which was built by the Japanese during World War II and is a ‘must-see’ photo op for mostly Thai visitors. This is located about nine kilometres from town and is near Pai Canyon, another attraction and an area of eroded red sandstone with gullies and ochre-coloured ridges dotted with pines. As well as the main viewing area, side trails lead off into the Canyon and surrounding woodlands which can be good for birdwatching.

About five kilometres from town is Ban Santichon, offering a traditional Chinese village experience complete with clay houses, eateries serving Yunnan cuisine like pork hocks with buns and steamed black chicken with Chinese herbs, Chinese tea tasting, pony riding and the chance to dress up in traditional Yunnan attire.

A sight in Pai that is not so well known to tourists but is worth the visit is the bamboo bridge, namely Kho Ku So, which translates into the Bridge of Merit. Around eight kilometres out of town, this bamboo bridge pathway stretches for over 800 metres across rice fields and leads to the bamboo temple. It was built by locals for the monks who previously had to walk for some six kilometres to the village to get food.

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