Mae Hong Son is a particularly charming town up in the mountains close to the Myanmar border. It rises beside a picturesque lake where mist lingers in the morning, and you can idle away hours watching people practising Tai Chi. Mae Hong Son is a fairly small settlement, but there are nevertheless plenty of exciting things to see and do. Here are the top ways to spend your time while visiting this diverse, vibrant slice of Thailand.
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In a little more than two decades, the Phu Klon Mud Spa has gained an impressive reputation for its special healing qualities. Before it became famous, it was just a rice field, but locals and geologists picked up on the remarkable hot water flowing out of it into a nearby creek, developing outdoor bathing areas that range from 60 to 140 degrees Celsius. Come and smother yourself in restorative mud, or get a professional to do it for you at the on site spa.
Thanks to the tropical seasons in Thailand, Namtok Mae Surin National Park possesses both jungle and rugged mountains, making it an all-round destination. If you’re the intrepid type, you might take in the lush scenery at breakneck speed, strapped into a whitewater raft on the park’s Pai River. If not, simply enjoy the landscapes on foot. The undisputed high point of the whole area is the single-tier waterfall cascading for more than 80 metres down a sheer cliff face – it’s in the southeast corner of the park, and you won’t regret the hike there, to contemplate its majesty.
Delicious aromas emanating from the Namphon Tafasing diner and takeaway will soon draw you in, for a portion of its irresistible grilled barbecue skewers. Choose from a range of freshly threaded meats – pork, beef, chicken, seafood – all on prominent display, and be swept up in the theatre of it all as, skilfully, the chef cooks them before your eyes. This may be fast food but it’s extremely flavourful – and it’ll make you want to up your own BBQ game back home.
This foodie paradise is hugely popular among locals, who descend at the crack of dawn to pick up everything from edible insect larvae to fruit tree leaves, bamboo shoots to coconuts and mangoes. You’ll encounter some of the traders dressed in traditional costumes, which really amps up the neighbourhood ambience. Head to the northern part of the of market, and pull up a seat to sample an unusual breakfast such as tòo·a poo ùn- which is a noodle dish accompanied with thick split-pea porridge and deep-fried Burmese tofu.
A fine centrepiece between two temples, Chong Klang and Chong Kham, is this impressive lake, in the heart of the city park. Dating from the early 19th century, the temples are notable for their elaborate tiered green roofs and spire-like golden chedi, which is reminiscent of the Shan style seen in Myanmar. They are even more magical at night when they are lit up. This is also the setting for a night market selling Thai food, hill-tribe handicrafts and woven textiles.
Wat Chong Kham is located next to Jong Kham Lake and is particularly impressive when it lights up the lake at night. The temple itself is stunningly beautiful, as is the large Buddha image, gold temple pillars and the 100-year-old Jataka paintings. The temple has a small museum with 150-year-old Burmese wooden dolls that show gruesome aspects of the wheel of life. The temple also has several areas that restrict women from entering, which is common for Burmese Shan temples.
Winding through lush and verdant nature, this long bamboo bridge is your shortcut to peace and tranquility away from the hectic big city. It was erected to protect the rice fields from wear and tear under the footfall of monks when coming into town to receive food offerings, and the walk culminates in a pretty temple at the top of the hill. Visit in the rainy season to see luxuriant vegetation, or at harvest time when all the rice fields are bathed in golden yellow.
Just 44km from Burmese border, Ban Rak Thai is tucked prettily in the highlands, its mud huts and tiny tea shops home to around 1,000 people of mostly Chinese descent. Being off the beaten track, it’s a sleepy village beyond the range of most tourists, but due to its elevation, 1800 metres above sea level, it is a rewarding trip, for the breathtaking panorama of the tiered tree plantations that make up the landscape At dawn, you can immerse yourself in the reservoir’s magical early morning mist and be at one with the world.
Located on a hill overlooking the town is Mae Hong Son’s most iconic landmark, the revered Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu. Get your morning exercise as you climb the steps to this Shan-style temple and are rewarded with breathtaking views of Mae Hong Son, as well as the mountains beyond, once the fog lifts. The temple is comprised of two chedis and a stunning golden Buddha. Continue around the back of the temple for vistas over the Mae Hong Son mountains and the chance to do some souvenir shopping at the local market or indulge in a fresh hill tribe coffee at the small cafe.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Iona Proebst.
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