Things to do in Mae Hong Son
Table of Contents
A short History of Mae Hong Son
Before we list our Mae Hong Son attractions we will share some information on the history of this town.
Mae Hong Son is the town that the famous Mae Hong Son Loop is called after. We don’t know much about the history of this charming town. Until the road from Chiang Mai was sealed in the late 1980s this was a very remote town and generally known as the “Siberia of Thailand”.
The population mostly consisted of Shan (Tai Yai) and Burmese. All the temples show the influences of these people. In the 1980s Thai Airways started flying to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai. As a tourist destination, it has not really taken off since then, as opposed to the small town of Pai.
Great Things to do in Mae Hong Son
Trekking and diversity of Mae Hong Son
Trekking is one of the possible activities in Mae Hong Son. There are many hill tribe villages in the province. Most of the villages are Karen but there are also settlements of Red and Black Lahu. A very well-known village is called “Baan Meo Microwave”, a Hmong Hamlet that owes its name to a television relay station which is located on a hill that overlooks the settlement. The diversity of the province is amazing: you will also find Lisu villages as well as settlements of the Lawa, considered the indigenous people of North Thailand. Not far from town, there are villages of the Pa’O people. The Pa’O is considered a sub-group of the Karen people although they seem to consider themselves an independent group.
Landscapes are spectacular so get your hiking boots on. We have a number of itineraries from easy to medium to hard.
Visiting the Padaung (Long Neck Karen)
The Padaung aka Long Neck Karen originates from Myanmar and has been one of Mae Hong Son’s tourist attractions for a long time. They are also known as the Kayan people and are a sub-group of the Red Karen aka Karenni.
You can make a boat trip on the Pai River and visit one of their villages. You will pay an entrance fee of 200THB. According to the ticket, the money will be spent on community development. We visited the village called Huay Pu Keng. Notwithstanding the controversy around the Long Neck people, we think you will have a good experience visiting this village. Just take your time and sit down with the local people.
Explore Ban Rak Thai
Ban Rak Thai (translated: a village that loves Thai) is right on the border with Myanmar about one hour drive from town. It is also known as Mae Aw. Yunnanese KMT (Kuomintang) soldiers founded this settlement in 1961. The Kuomintang were Chinese nationalist forces, that were defeated by the communists under Mao Ze Dong in 1949. It is a lovely small town located on a reservoir amidst tea plantations. They dug the reservoir in 1987.
It has a distinct Chinese atmosphere. The drive to Ban Rak Thai is very scenic but not easy. It’s worth spending the night there but in the cold season it can become very busy. You can make boat trips on the reservoir or take a tuk tuk to bring you around the lake. In recent years Ban Rak Thai has become increasingly popular with local tourists.
Whitewater rafting on the Pai River
Rafting on the Pai River is another great activity in Mae Hong Son. It’s a two-day/one-night trip that starts in Pai and ends in town. It’s a great, exciting adventure in rubber dinghies. You will pass the lovely Susa Waterfalls.
Visit the fresh morning market
The fresh market is usually one of the oldest and most interesting places in town. People have been coming here from nearby villages and fields to sell their products. It is a great place to meet local people and chat with them. Take your time, sit down and enjoy a local coffee, and taste one of the typical Shan delicacies. Try a Shan breakfast!
Apart from food, you can also buy traditional Shan shirts and dresses. There is some beautiful stuff on display. On our tours such as the Mae Sariang Loop, we take you to the local market in Mae Hong Son. It is one of the must-see Mae Hong Son attractions.
Su Tong Pae Bridge
The Su Tong Pae Bridge (สะพานซูตองเป้) is an impressive bamboo bridge located not far from town. Villagers built this bridge in 2012 across the rice fields to connect the village with a temple, Wat Phu Sama (วัดภูสม).It allows monks from the temple to cross the rice fields to the village. The words “su tong pae” mean “successful prayer” in the Shan language, according the Tourist Authority website.
It has become one of the main Mae Hong Son attractions in recent years. Especially in the rainy season, it offers great photo opportunities and is very popular with local tourists.
The bridge doesn’t have an entrance fee. Before you reach the staircase that leads to the temple, you will see a small pond with two rafts, each with four images of the famous monk Phra Upakhut. The assembly hall of Wat Phu Sama contains a Shan-style Buddha image. Next to the building is a row of monk statues and pavilions with images of hermits. A large, new assembly hall is under construction at the site as well.
Baan Jabo, the black Lahu village
The black Lahu village Baan Jabo, about 60kms from Mae Hong Son, is one of the more successful Community Based Tourism projects in North Thailand. There are several activities being offered in the village such as a visit to a cave and trekking. Benefits go straight to the local people. Baan Jabo also attracts a lot of local tourists who come to enjoy the view of the “sea of clouds” around sunrise.
Mae Hong Son Living Museum
This small museum which is more of an exhibition is located in an old wooden house, right in the center of town. It is really worth a visit. There are pictures and exhibits related to culture, history, ethnic groups, and architecture. They have some excellent brochures and a map that shows heritage houses and buildings. The entrance is free. Chiang Mai University, the local Municipality, and other private and public organizations founded the museum in cooperation. The Thailand Research Fund offered financial support for the museum.
Thailand-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall
The Thailand-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall is located in Khun Yuam, 143 km south of Mae Hong Son. Apart from the seasonal Mexican sunflower fields, it is the only real tourist attraction of Khun Yuam. An engineer unit of the Imperial Japanese Army was based in Khun Yuam during World War Two. They were working on a road from Thailand to Burma. Their presence has cemented friendly relations between Japan and the community of Khun Yuam. This museum is dedicated to that history. It also gives information and has exhibits about the local Shan (Tai Yai) population.
The Fish Cave
The Fish Cave is….. a cave with a lot of fish. Not far from Mae Hong Son it is a pleasant stopover for lunch. You can make a nice walk to the cave which is nothing really special. The scenery is nice and it is good to stretch the legs. It’s a good place to stop for lunch. There are quite a few small restaurants and coffee shops. The entrance fee is 50THB per person.
Cave Lodge and Tham Lot
Mae Hong Son province is home to literally to hundreds of caves. Australian John Spies founded Cave Lodge in 1984 and explored many of the caves in the area. I visited Cave Lodge in 1987 for the first time. Cave Lodge has a cult status amongst backpackers and travelers. Cave Lodge is located next to the most popular cave, called Tham Lot.
You can visit this fantastic cave on foot but Cave Lodge also offers kayak trips through the cave and caving expeditions. That Lot is one of the great Mae Hong Son attractions.
The Poy Sang Long Festival
The Poy Sang Long festival is a Shan Buddhist ordination ceremony for young boys. It usually takes place at the end of March or in early April. There are also ceremonies in other months but most of them take place in this period. Each temple has its ceremony in a different period.
The boys are being dressed up as little princes. There is usually a parade through town and families spend days at the temple. It is a very lively, traditional, and colorful event. You can read more about this tradition here.
Muang Pon, the Shan village
Muang Pon is a picturesque Shan village, about 20 km from Khun Yuam. It is a small village with many traditional wooden houses and a very interesting, beautiful temple. The village has a substantial number of homestays and has become a popular destination.
Khun Yuam Sunflower fields
In November the hills around Khun Yuam are covered with bright yellow Mexican sunflowers. Dork Bua Tong is the Thai name for these flowers. The most popular location is the mountain Doi Mae U Kho. The blooming sunflowers attract many local tourists so prepare yourself for a lot of traffic, especially at the end of November.
Mae Sariang, the former provincial capital
We have a separate list of things to do for the town of Mae Sariang. This town was known as Hminelongyi or Muang Yuam in the past. Unlike Pai and Mae Hong Son it never attracted many visitors. We think Mae Sariang is at least worth a full day but there are also interesting sights such as Baan La Up and the Salawin River. Please check out the page Things to do in Mae Sariang.