Escape to Mae Hong Son

We were excited with the prospect of going to Mae Hong Son, the provincial capital of an area in the remotest NW of Thailand. The city was founded as an elephant training outpost in the early 19th century and remained as that until 1856 when fighting caused thousands of Shan people to pour in from Burma. It prospered as a centre for logging, and was independent until 1900 when it was incorporated into the Thai kingdom.

It’s rugged, remote mountains contain a diversity of ethnic people from the Shan, Black Lahu, Lasu, Karen and Hmong hill tribes. The road was originally hacked through the dense jungle and mountains by the Japanese Army in WW2 as a route into Burma.

It is now part of a very famous motorcycle loop which starts and ends in Chiang Mai and is 650km long. There are 1872 curves on the road and some amazing switchbacks and hairpin bends.

Motor bikers come from all over the world to ride it. Only 50 years ago these roads were inaccessible, a wild border region—until then largely under the domination of Shan and Kuomintang opium-funded armies, it was finally brought under government control in the 1980’s when the road was finished and a small airport built. This is one of the most authentic and beautiful regions of Thailand. Chris wanted to ride the bike all the way but I talked him into flying and hiring a bike when we arrived. My bottom definitely appreciated that, it goes really numb after about 3 hours!! One day we will hire a bigger more comfortable bike and drive the loop all the way, if you take your time it takes about a week.

When we got to the plane it was a small prop plane and there were only perhaps 15 people aboard, it was very dinky. It’s a short, turbulent flight to a very mountainous area and we realised as we landed, between a ring of green densely forested mountains that it had a very, very short runway. I found myself pressing an imaginary brake pedal with my feet. It landed safely and then we got even more excited when we got off, it looked fantastic. A far cry from a busy city.

Booking into our hotel, we had splashed out a bit, it was lovely. The views of the mountains from the big balcony are exquisite.

It’s tranquil charm was everything we wanted, sheer bliss. A good nights sleep was on the cards, no noisy tourists passing under your window late at night and no motorbikes racing up and down the street.

It’s a small city, more like a small town, with a lake in the centre and a very pretty Burmese style Wat to one side.

This Wat like one in CM has an unusual museum at one side full of artefacts, figures and photographs from the late 1800’s. Most of the figures are Burmese and some are a little strange….

There is a big daytime food market with a much different rural feel to it.

At night, near the lake, there is a small walking market which is very laid back with no pressure from the sellers and just a few Thai people and the odd ‘farang’ ambling around. The Wat looks very pretty when it’s dark.

There is more ethnic clothing and textiles on sale here and different things on sale to the norm at a more reasonable price than in Chiang Mai. I am looking forward to buying a couple of items to bring home.

There are food vendors which surround the lake in the evening. Meat and veg bbq on sticks, pad Thai, noodley rice things and the most delicious sesame balls filled with coconut, not seen those before, yum.

We just graze with a spring roll here, chicken goujons, papaya salad. It’s great, cheap fresh and reasonably healthy.

It rained the first couple of days, a bit of a backlash of the storms from the South, so we waited to hire a bike. When we eventually had transport we went up to the main Wat which sits overlooking the town below.

What great views from the top….looking forward to getting up in the mountains.

4 thoughts on “Escape to Mae Hong Son

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