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 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.

Monks at a viewpoint
Monks during sunrise at Doi Kong Mu

Buddhist Temples in Mae Hong Son

Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu

This temple is located on Doi Kong Mu, a hill overlooking the town. A steep road takes you up to the temple but it’s much nicer to walk up. There are two white chedis (pagodas) in Burmese style. The largest one dates back to 1860. It contains the relics of Phra Maha Mok Kallana Thera, an important Buddhist monk. He was one of the disciples of the Buddha. Migrants from Burma brought the relics to Mae Hong Son. They constructed the chedi. The first governor, Phraya Singhanat Racha, constructed the smaller chedi in 1874. As with most temples: try to be there at sunrise for spectacular views. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is our favourite temple in town.

Two chedi with a mountain
View on Doi Kong Mu

Wat Chong Klang

Wat Chong Klang is located on the lake in the center of Mae Hong Son. This temple dates back from the 1860s. People constructed the temple as an offering to monks from Burma who visited the town for the funeral of an well-known abbot. Interesting is the wicker Buddha statue that is located in the wihan of the temple. Wat Chong Klang also has glass painting that depict the story of the previous lives of Siddharta Gautama before he became the Buddha.

Silhouette of a Buddhist temple
Wat Jong Klang Mae Hong Son

Wat Chong Kham

Wat Chong Kham is located on the lake. It is next to Wat Jong Klang. These are known as the twin temples of Mae Hong. Shan (Tai Yai) people constructed the temple in 1827. In 1970 fire damaged the original wooden temple. The current temple is a reconstruction. The temples are illuminated after dark and offer a spectacular sight. 

Buddhist temples on the lake
Mae Hong Son evening

Wat Hua Wiang

Wat Hua Wiang is a very pretty temple located next to the morning market. The temple dates back from 1863. It was the second temple in Mae Hong Son Province. As far as I know Wat Doi Kong Mu was the first.
The wiharn of Wat Hua Wiang houses a Buddha statue named “Phra Chao Phala Lakhaeng”.
This statue is a replica of the Phra Mahamuni statue from Mandalay, Myanmar. It was cast in Mandalay and brought to town in 1937. Wat Hua Wiang is one of the overlooked Mae Hong Son attractions.
Two temple buildings
Wat Hua Wiang

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 hilltribe village 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 which 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 are 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.

Three boys on trekking in the forest Family Trekking
Boys on trekking

Visiting the Padaung (Long Neck Karen)

The Padaung aka Long Neck Karen originate from Myanmar and have 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.

Long neck woman weaving
Huay Phu Keng Long Neck village

Explore Ban Rak Thai

Ban Rak Thai (translated: 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 after having been defeated by the communists forces in China in 1949. The Kuomintang were Chinese nationalist forces.  It is a lovely small town located on a reservoir amidst tea plantations. It has a distinct Chinese atmosphere. The drive to Ban Rak Thai is very scenic. It’s worth spending the night there as there is plenty of accommodation.

lake with mountains
The Lake of Ban Rak Thai

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.

Tourists whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting!

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.

Man picking up cookies
man serving Chinese dumplings at Kao Chao Market

Su Tong Pae Bridge

The Su Tong Pae Bridge is an impressive bamboo bridge located not far from town. Villagers built this bridge across the rice fields to connect the village with a temple. It has become one of the main Mae Hong Son attractions to see in recent years. Especially in the rainy season it offers great photo opportunities. It is very popular with local tourists.

People on a bamboo bridge
Suthongpe Bridge Mae Hong Son

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.

Tourists on bamboo viewdecks
Coffeeshop at Baan Jabo

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. 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.

Old wooden house
Mae Hong Son Living Museum

Thailand-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall

The Thailand-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall is located in Khun Yuam, 143 kms 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.

Traditional building
Khun Yuam museum

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. 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. Entrance fee is 50THB per person.

Cave with fish

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.

Kayak in a cave
Kayak in Tham Lot, Paang Ma Pha. Photo by Cave Lodge

The Poy Sang Long Festival

The Poy Sang Long festival is an Shan Buddhist ordination ceremony for young boys. It usually take 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.

Dressed up boy with glasses
Poy Sang Long Ceremony Wat Ku Tao

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.

Old Buddhist temple
Wat Muang Pon

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.

yellow flower
Mexican sunflower

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.

A La Carte Tours

The Mae Sariang Loop

From: 19,600.00 ฿