Welcome to visit Mae Hong Son – the hidden gem of Northern Thailand! This mountainous province with its grandiose landscapes will appeal to travellers in search of adventure and authenticity. Nicknamed “the land of three mists”, this is a destination off the beaten track, away from mass tourism. Our guide to Mae Hong Son unveils the essence of this captivating region, let’s go!
Here, lush nature coexists harmoniously with the unique cultures of the hill tribes. Buddhist temples, rice terraces, limestone caves, dizzying waterfalls… there’s no shortage of treasures. Not forgetting the delicious local cuisine, a subtle blend of Thai and Burmese flavours. Ready to discover this little-known Eden?
Brief about Mae Hong Son
Before starting this article, I’d like to explain where are geographically, as Mae Hong Son is a long way away. This is a mountainous province in north-west Thailand, bordering Burma. A peaceful provincial capital set in the mountains 900km from Bangkok, Mae Hong Son is nicknamed “the land of three mists” because of the frequent fog.
Its primary forests and unspoilt nature offer a guaranteed change of scenery. The population is mainly made up of Shan people as well as mountain minorities (Karen, Lisu, Lahu…). Their unique cultures are reflected in their architecture, crafts, cuisine and traditional festivals.
Numerous Buddhist temples in the Burmese style bear witness to the neighbouring cultural influence. Mae Hong Son will appeal to travellers seeking authenticity and discoveries off the beaten track.
Highlights of Mae Hong Son:
- Adventure and change of scenery: An attractive destination for those seeking adventure and a change of scenery.
- Magnificent and varied natural landscapes: high mountains, tropical forests, rice terraces, waterfalls and caves.
- Cultural encounters: between different ethnic groups, highlighting the unique culture of the Shan people through handicrafts, spicy cuisine and traditional festivals.
- Authentic and off the beaten track
Getting around the region
To Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is accessible by plane, bus or train. There are daily flights between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. There are also direct flights from Bangkok 3 times a week with Nok Air. By bus from Bangkok (Mo Chit bus station), the journey takes around 15 hours. There is no direct train between Bangkok and Mae Hong Son, so you need to take the train to Chiang Mai (11-12h), then the bus.
Minivan between Chiang Mai & Pai: The company that seems to have the monopoly is Prem Pracha, they have a huge fleet of minivans (especially for Pai Chiang Mai in fact), a stop of 5 minutes in Sappong and an arrival after 2 hours of travel in Pai. You can book the ticket directly at the bus station.
Once there, opt for a taxi or motorbike to get around easily. Taxis are more expensive but more comfortable. Hiring a motorbike can save you money, so check out the rental procedures and plan your itinerary.
You could also consider hiring a car for greater flexibility and autonomy. Mae Hong Son is an undulating region, so be sure to check the road conditions. Finally, there are organised excursions and tours from Chiang Mai, so you can explore the region without any constraints.
Best time to visit Mae Hong Son
Not only does it offer magnificent landscapes and nature close to the tourist destination, it also has a cool tropical savannah climate with an average temperature of 14°C to 38°C throughout the year. This makes a visit ideal at any time of year, and leaves visitors with many fond memories.
However, you should avoid visiting from November to February, as this is the peak season for Thai tourism. This increases all costs and makes you spend more money on your trip. In addition, February – June is a more suitable period, as prices are stable during this time and there are often big festivals in April, allowing you to discover many new things.
Mae Hong Son tourist attractions
Mae Hong Son is a very beautiful and relatively quiet region, with rolling hills, rice paddies and a small family town almost on the border with Burma.
Explore the Paï
Pai is a beautiful little town in Mae Hong Son, about 130 km from Chiang Mai. The town is surrounded by high mountains, with a mild, pleasant climate all year round. Coming to Pai, visitors can easily come across shops and places associated with love such as Coffee in Love, House of Love, Love café, Love Strawberry Pai,… which is why Pai is known as the city of love.
In addition to the above exceptional locations, Paï Canyon is also considered to be the soul of the beautiful city of Paï. Paï Canyon is a canyon of narrow peaks, with chasms over 20 metres deep on either side. Those who love adventure should visit Paï Canyon once – a place that satisfies hearts that love to conquer.
What’s more, here you can enjoy exploring the two Pam Bok waterfalls and Mo Paeng Pam Bok, bathing in the hot springs, camping on the shores of Lake Pang Ung, trekking, canyoning or exploring caves,…
Ban Rak Thai – Chinese love village in Thailand
Continue journey towards the village of Ban Rak Thai, a very well-known place in the region as it was founded by who came directly from Yunnan, China. It is a small village nestled in the highest part of Mae Hong Son province, just 1 km from the Thai-Myanmar border. Ban Rak Thai is very nice and pleasant, surrounded by numerous tea fields and built around a small lake. The atmosphere is calm and you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee by the lake.
The ideal time to travel to Ban Rak Thai is in winter, from October to February. As well as enjoying cups of hot tea and relaxing in the cooler weather, Ban Rak Thai also offers many interesting activities, such as hiking, horse riding, cycling and more. Visitors can also observe the tea-growing and harvesting process and take part in the tea-tasting festival held every year in February.
Pang Ung Lake
Pang Ung which officially called The Royal Forest Project at Pang Tong 2. It’s a small alpine lake and hill tribe village hidden away in the mountains very close to Myanmar border. In the northern Thai dialect the word ‘Pang’ means a shelter, and the word ‘Ung’ means wetland.
Pang Ung which has been described as the Thailand’s most romantic destination. It has a green pine forest surrounding a large irrigation reservoir which offers superb views. The atmosphere is charmingly quiet, especially during the winter mornings in the months of December to January.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu – A spiritual place
- Map: Chong Kham, Mueang Mae Hong Son District
- Open: 5am – 9pm
A visit to Mae Hong Son would not be complete without a trip to Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu. The pagoda sits atop Kong Mu hill and offers panoramic views of the beautiful city.
The surrounding landscape, shrouded in mist, gives you the impression of being lost in a fairytale land. The temple’s architecture is strongly influenced by Myanmar, with two white towers. The Large Tower was built in 1860 and the Small Tower in 1874.
Su Tong Pae Bridge – a unique crossing
The Su Tong Pae is a bamboo bridge around 2 m wide and 600 m long, built so that the monks of the Tong Pae pagoda could easily cross into town to perform the morning merit ceremony.
The bridge stretches from Tham Phu Sam park to the village of Teak Kung Mai and is considered a bridge of faith. The Su Tong Pae bamboo bridge spans vast rice fields, offering visitors the chance to blend in with the peaceful countryside.
The Tong Pae pagoda is also well worth a visit. Inside the temple, you’ll find many beautiful architectural works in many different styles, as well as magnificent wooden carvings.
Tham Lod caves – An underground journey
Tham Lod is one of Thailand’s largest ancient caves. The cave system is 1,666 metres long, near Sap Pong, in Pang Mapha district, Mae Hong Son province. The Nam Lang river flows through the cave.
In front of the cave entrance is a majestic natural panorama, and deep inside, visitors will be completely captivated by the masterpieces that nature has to offer. To enter the Tham Lod cave, visitors must raft inside. The further you go inside, the more spacious the cave becomes, with beautiful stalactites above.
Over millions of years of water and wind erosion, Tham Lod has formed magnificent stalactites, reflecting the water floor. Lod Cave is also famous for the bats and birds that live inside. Lod Cave promises to be an extremely interesting experience of a magical underground world.
The uniqueness of Shan culture
The Shan people and language
Mae Hong Son is a city rich in cultural diversity. Its population includes the Shan people, originally from the Shans region of Burma, as well as hill tribes living in remote villages.
The Shans speak their own language, Shan, but some also speak Thai, Northern Thai and Burmese. Most of them practise Theravada Buddhism, and have developed a fascinating culture that is expressed in their art, architecture and traditions. You can admire magnificent Shan-style pagodas or pagodas combining different influences.
Throughout the year, many festivals are organised in Mae Hong Son, allowing tourists to discover the richness of local cultures. Dances, rituals, gastronomy, each event has its own particularities.
The most important festival for the Shan people is the “Poy Sang Long”, an initiation ceremony for young boys held in March. The city is decked out in its finest finery to celebrate this age-old tradition.
Local crafts: A living heritage
Mae Hong Son is a prime destination for discovering local crafts. On Khunlum Phraphat Road, the main street, there are numerous shops selling textiles, antiques and hill tribe items. The night market on Singhanat Bamrung Road is also a good place to find Thai Lue handicrafts.
On the same road, near the junction with Khunlum Phraphat, there are traditional Shan teak houses, a testament to local architecture.
One of the must-see attractions is a visit to the villages of the long-necked Padaung women. These women, recognisable by their long necks stretched from childhood by copper rings, fascinate tourists who come to meet them and immortalise their unique style.
Mae Hong Son offers many opportunities to discover the crafts and cultures of the region’s ethnic minorities in an authentic setting.
Although small in size, Mae Hong Son has a rich and diverse cuisine that will delight visitors’ taste buds. As well as classic northern dishes such as Khao Soi and Gaeng Hinlay, there are unique specialities that subtly blend Thai, Chinese and Burmese flavours.
On cool summer evenings, don’t miss the small night market set up around Lake Nong Kham. It’s a paradise for street food lovers, where you can also explore the local culture through the artisans on hand.
Despite its modest size, Mae Hong Son is full of gastronomic and cultural surprises. Its cuisine, a reflection of the region’s history, will delight foodies in search of authenticity.
Mae Hong Son has many motels around the lake and hotels in town. If you have a car, you should choose resorts outside the city. Be sure to check your booking information, as changes may occur. For a successful trip:
- Bring warm clothing, as the mountain climate is cold. Choose decent, sober clothes to visit the temples; avoid clothes that are too short or colourful.
- Remember to take sun and mosquito protection with you. Altitude increases the risk of sunburn and insect bites.
- Try the local cuisine, renowned for its curries and exotic fruit salads. You can also discover the traditional crafts of weaving and basketry.
- Find out about the festivals taking place during your stay, such as the lentil festival and the fishermen’s festival. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in local traditions.
From the peaceful town of Mae Hong Son to the grandiose surrounding landscapes, you will have explored an authentic region off the beaten track. Your encounters with ethnic minorities and their unique handicrafts will remain etched in your memories. Mae Hong Son will have seduced you with its natural and cultural treasures. A timeless interlude in an unspoilt setting. So, are you tempted by adventure?