Mae Hong Son is a beautiful and remote province in Northern Thailand. Known for its gorgeous nature and mountainous terrain, the province also has chilled-out resorts with a hippie vibe as well as bustling towns. Easily accessed from Chiang Mai, here’s why you should consider adding Mae Hong Son to your Thai travel wish list.
Mae Hong Son is Thailand’s most mountainous province. A fine mist often hangs in the air over the soaring Shan Mountains and most of the mountains within the Thai Highlands are covered with dense, wildlife-rich jungle. Stunning rivers flow through lush valleys and there are plentiful waterfalls that are especially beautiful when at their fullest during the rainy season. Caves, canyons, fields, and hills add to the visual splendour.
Mae Hong Son is a terrific destination for travellers who enjoy getting back to nature and taking part in varied adventure and outdoor activities. The mountains offer many opportunities for excellent hiking and climbing, though do remember to wear sturdy shoes as the inclines are often very steep. Keen mountain bikers won’t be disappointed and there are also numerous caves to explore. Kayaking, rafting, and tubing are among the province’s water-based activities, and you can also enjoy fishing in clear rivers.
In addition to a plethora of outdoor activities, Mae Hong Son also provides a wealth of other things to do. Brush up on your Thai cooking skills and learn how to make local dishes at a cooking class, rejuvenate your body and spirit at a meditation or yoga retreat, and learn more about local life with visits to ethnic hill tribe groups. There are Muay Thai gyms, language workshops, and even a circus school to add even more diversity. Of course, you’ll also find many temples and cultural attractions for fun days of sightseeing.
Mae Hong Son boasts one of Thailand’s most exciting motorbike routes: the Mae Hong Son Loop. Covering some 600 kilometres (373 miles), the circuit winds through gorgeous terrain, passing through places like Mai Sariang, Mae Hong Son Town, and Pai. There are plenty of side trips to take along the way and the loop conveniently begins and ends in the neighbouring province of Chiang Mai, which is a popular tourist destination where you can easily rent bikes for your trip. Always remember to wear a helmet, protective clothing, and closed shoes, and don’t even consider tackling the hilly and twisting roads without travel insurance. Don’t worry if you’re not competent or confident on a motorbike; you can still enjoy the loop with public transport or in a car.
The land that now constitutes the Thai province of Mae Hong Son was once part of neighbouring Myanmar. Despite being Burmese, the state of Mawkmai was created by a member of Chiang Mai’s nobility. The territory was surrendered to Siam in the late 1800s, with neighbouring states kept as part of what was then British Burma and is now Myanmar.
While Mae Hong Son has the lowest population density of all of Thailand’s provinces, the people you meet while exploring the province are likely to come from a range of backgrounds. As well as Thai and Burmese people, hill tribes make up a significant part of the local population (more than 60%). Ethnic groups that call Mae Hong Son home include the Hmong, Akha, Kayan Lahwi, Shan, Paduang, Yao, and Lisu. The Shan group is the largest.
Each of the ethnic groups that live in Mae Hong Son has their own distinct culture, with variations in things like food, dress, traditions, and daily lifestyle. You’ll notice that the architecture is different to many other parts of Thailand, too. The province’s history has also shaped the local culture, and Mae Hong Son has more in common with neighbouring Burmese states than other Thai provinces. A visit to Mae Hong Son certainly offers glimpses into another side of the Land of Smiles.
Pai is one of the province’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting people with diverse interests and backgrounds. Home to natural attractions like Pai Canyon and Huai Nam Dang National Park, and surrounded by stunning scenery, there are many chances to enjoy the great outdoors. There are waterfalls and viewpoints within easy reach and the Chinese Village is an interesting cultural site. Pai has earned itself a reputation as something of a hippie hangout and there are plentiful low-key accommodations, bars, and restaurants. The Wednesday morning market attracts locals and visitors. The atmosphere is relaxed and it’s a top place to idly swing in a hammock as you admire the views and chill out.
The provincial capital of Mae Hong Son sees relatively few visitors and it’s a great destination for anybody looking to immerse themselves in the local way of life. Nicknamed ‘The City of Three Mists’, Mae Hong Son Town sits in a mountain-surrounded valley. The Jom Kham Lake adds to the beauty and there are hot springs just a short drive outside of the town centre. Watch people making merit and worshipping at striking temples like Wat Jong Kham, Wat Jong Klang, and Wat Hua Wiang, noting the striking Burmese influences in their designs. The morning market is an ideal place to grab breakfast.
There are many markets scattered throughout the province and you’ll find an unusual and attractive selection of hill tribe handicrafts. Traditional clothes, wood carvings, dolls, musical instruments, artwork, and jewellery are among the items that may catch your eye. Not only can you pick up unique gifts and keepsakes but any purchases also help to support local families and boost the local economy.
In general, Northern Thailand is known for being more affordable when compared with Central and Southern Thailand. Living costs in Mae Hong Son are some of the lowest in the region and your Thai baht will stretch much further there. From meals and transportation to accommodation and tours, exploring Mae Hong Son is typically cheaper than spending time in other northern provinces, such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.