I first came across Mae Hong Son in Patricia Schultz’s book, “1000 Things Places to See Before You Die”. She described it as a town with swirling mists, calm rivers, and beautiful tribal villages — and I remember thinking to myself then that some day, I have to get to this place. Fast forward more than 15 years since I read that first edition, I finally made it to the village town. Thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)’s “Family Fun in Amazing Thailand 2018” project (read about it here), a group of Malaysian media (and agents) and I were taken on a whirlwind adventure to Thailand’s north — and to Mae Hong Soon.
Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is the capital of the Mae Hong Son Province, situated in the north-west hills of Thailand, just a few kilometers from the border of Myanmar. Its mountain-setting and remoteness meant that the village town is not as busy as many of the more touristy Thai cities (or its more popular neighbour, Pai) — and that gives Mae Hong Song a rustic, laid-back and relaxed vibe. Surrounded by forested hills all around — it really is the quiet, misty town I have always imagined it to be. The town is not completely unexplored though; the curvy route from Chiang Mai makes it a popular trip for the experienced bikers, and locals have always been visiting for its cool weather in winter.
Getting to Mae Hong Son
From Kuala Lumpur, we took a flight (with a stopover in Bangkok) on Thai Airways to the city of Chiang Mai — the base of all trips to Mae Hong Son, be it by air or by road. Many people would love the adventure of driving (or biking) the infamous Mae Hong Son Loop with its 1864 curves — a 6-hour, almost 300 kilometers trip. Instead, we hopped on a Bangkok Airways flight and landed in the small Mae Hong Son Airport some 35 minutes later. However, there were minor delays on our flights both ways — but while waiting, we got to chill in the boutique airlines’ lounge.
Staying in Mae Hong Son
There are a good number of hotels and guesthouses located in the Mae Hong Son town centre around Chong Kham Lake (which makes it easier to get around), but we had our own transport — so we stayed a little further out of town at the 4-star Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort (Book with AGODA). The huge resort has a pool and is surrounded by forests, and my room balcony overlooked them all (so I had a great morning view). The place could do with a little upkeep though, as it is mainly made of wood (some creaking floorboards here and there); but I enjoyed my one night stay, and the pretty decent international breakfast buffet spread.
One Day in Mae Hong Son
Our flight from Chiang Mai landed in Mae Hong Son in the late morning, and we left on the same flight out of town the next day. That gave us exactly a day to explore this mountain-village. The “Family Fun in Amazing Thailand 2018” project had planned an exciting time for us, filled with fun activities (and missions) at the local attractions — so from selfies with sheep to playing dress up, this was our one day itinerary.
Pang Tong Palace
Upon arrival at Mae Hong Son, we were immediately whisked away to Pang Tong Palace, an hour north from the town centre. Our tour guide was John, who gave us a brief introduction to the town as we passed by the farms and plantations of some of Mae Hong Son’s main produce – garlic, soybean, sesame and tea; crops that had been introduced to replace opium, which was previously widely grown in the area. This is in line with the main purpose of Pang Tong Palace (yes, it’s not an actual palace) — a project undertaken by the Thai royal family to promote the development of agriculture in the area.
Pang Tong Palace encompasses a wide piece of land that is filled with gardens, plantations and fields where animals like sheep and horses run free. We were taken to the sheep farm; where we got to feed the sheep, play with the little lambs, and watch as the local women work on wool and make local products. Our first mission at Pang Tong Palace was to take a selfie while feeding milk to the lambs — how fun is that?
Lunch at Ban Rak Thai Yunnan Village
After our fun time with the sheep at Pang Tong Palace, we were famished. We were then driven about half an hour further up north towards the border of Myanmar, where the Ban Rak Thai Yunnan Village is located. The village is a Kuomintang village — where the nationalist fighters from the Chinese province of Yunnan settled after the communist took over China.
We had a Thai-Chinese lunch at the Lee Wine Rak Thai Restaurant overlooking the lake, with a clear view of the village on the other side. The food was satisfactory (and this one local mushroom dish was absolutely delicious); but it was the calmness of the lake and the beautiful view of the village and its surrounding mountains that made the lunch delightful… and that peaceful walk along the village after our feast.
Phu Klon Mud Spa
After lunch, it was time to pamper the body. Heading back towards the town centre of Mae Hong Son (45 minutes from Ban Rak Thai Village, and about 25 minutes from the town), our next stop for the day was at the Phu Klon Mud Spa. I was excited for a spa session!
After a quick introductory session by the owner, and a ‘Guess the Word’ game by the organizers (which we won!); we were ushered to our first pampering session — the mineral pool. Everyone had a chance to dip their feet in the super hot pool (hot springs are usually too hot for me and I can’t dip for too long); before heading to the highlight of the day — the facial mud mask. The hot springs around the area has a lot of mud which is said to be full of healthy mineral for the skin, so people come to Phuk Lon Mud Spa to have it spread all over their body, and their face. So I had my face completely covered with mud too, leaving my skin all soft and smooth after the session.
Thai Yai Costume
After our facial mud mask, we were each given a beautiful traditional Thai Yai Costume to wear. The Thai Yai are Shan people who are originally from Myanmar, who have made their homes in the northern hills of Thailand, near the border. Their costume has beautiful local designs on the skirts — almost similar to our Malaysian batik on the Baju Kebaya. I chose a pretty green one.
Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang Temples
Dressed up in traditional wear, we then headed back to the Mae Hong Son town centre, and to the ancient temples of Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang. The two temples stand side by side and sit by Chong Kham Lake in the center of town. Wat Jong Kham is the oldest temple in Mae Hong Son, built by the Shan people in the early 19th century (thus the significance of the costume) — unfortunately it was burnt down and the current standing one is a reconstruction of the original.
Wat Jong Klang stands out because of the beautiful white gold-leaf covered chedi in front it. It’s main draw however, is the huge image of Buddha made entirely of rattan and the small glass paintings dating back almost a hundred years that can be found inside the temple. We managed to catch the sunset at the temples, and got to admire them at night when they were brightly lit.
Dinner at Fern Restaurant
After a whole day around Mae Hong Son, we were taken back to the resort to freshen up before heading out for dinner. Dinner that night was at Fern Restaurant, another Thai-Chinese restaurant that is one of Mae Hong Son’s most popular. We didn’t make a reservation and the restaurant was packed (there was a live band playing), but we managed to get a table at the entrance verandah. The food was pretty good — the Thai selections like tom yam goong, fried fish and green curry were commendable, but my favorite dish goes to the blanched vegetables with that delish spicy sambal dip (ala our Malaysian ulam).
Mae Hong Son Night Market
We walked around the city center for a bit before ending the night — checking out the night market (which was just a couple of stalls set along the road) and admiring the beautiful night views around Chong Kham Lake. There was not much to see, as the town was pretty dead that night. Our tour guide John told us that during the high season in winter from December to February, the town sees a little more activity, with the Lae Jom Gun Walking Street filled with stalls and visitors. It was empty during our visit in March.
Morning the Next Day
Sai Yood Morning Market
Early the next morning, we were up and ready to explore the Sai Yood Market. It was to be one of our last few stops before leaving town — and we walked around the marketplace, checking out all the local produce (vegetables, meat, handicraft) that were on sale. The morning market is a great place to experience a little slice of the local small town life. I ended up buying a packet of garlic cloves (since its grown in Mae Hong Son); and got to taste some of the sweetest strawberries. Those strawberries made my morning.
Phra That Doi Kong Mu
And the final stop in town — the beautiful gleaming white temple on the hill. We were initially not scheduled for a visit (and it would have been a big waste), but because of a delay in our flight out of Mae Hong Son, we did. The Phra That Doi Kong Mu sits on top of the Doi Kong Mu Hill, and can be seen from anywhere around town. The two white Burmese-style chedi were erected in the mid to late 19th century, and enshrines the ashes of the Shan monks. What makes this temple special though, is the amazing panoramic view of the entire town. From the mountains in the distance, to the airport runway and the small buildings surrounding the central lake — it is from here that I got to see the small expanse of Mae Hong Son.
A wonderful end to my one day’s trip to Thailand’s northern hills, and this lovely mist-covered town.
*She Walks the World visited Mae Hong Son on the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for ‘Family Fun in Amazing Thailand 2018‘. As always, all opinions and suggestions stated here are my own.