Mae Hong Son is in the far northwest of Thailand. So far northwest that it’s just a few kilometres from the Myanmar border. There’s no way to get to Myanmar from here, and it’s not on the way to anywhere. It is though on the way through to somewhere via the Mae Hong Son Loop.
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a road trip that winds through the mountains of northwestern Thailand. It usually starts and ends in Chiang Mai (the most accessible city), and Mae Hong Son is approximately the halfway point. It’s better known as a pit-stop rather than as a destination in itself.
I didn’t know anything about Mae Hong Son apart from it being part of the loop. Its location on the map was enough to make it appealing enough for me to visit. I was already in Pai (which is on the MHS Loop), so I figured I should keep going.
I got a minivan from Pai, and like the trip from Chiang Mai to Pai it’s a journey of hundreds of turns through the mountains. It’s these roads that have made “The Loop” famous for motorcyclists around the world.
And it appears that it’s also a place where hardcore cyclists come to try out their mountain climbing skills. About half an hour out of MHS I saw a lone cyclist on the road, labouring up the hill. Even from the vantage point from the van I’m sure I saw bulging blood vessels in his forehand and thighs. I was relieved to see there was a support vehicle about a kilometre behind him.
Further on, about where the road first starts getting windy when you leave MHS there were a group of cyclists parked of the side of the road, taking photos of their bikes with the steep road in the background, as if it was some novelty that they won’t see again.
I had an immediate liking for Mae Hong Son (as I did with Pai), which I wasn’t sure if it was related to the relief of being out of the minivan. It might be that I like mountain towns and that I don’t spend enough time in them.
Mae Hong Son is remote, which might also have been part of its charm for me. It’s also just a beautiful place in the world. With mountains views like this and crisp blue skies how could you not be impressed.
My original plan was to hire a bike and keep exploring, but I found myself completely content with wandering around the town and checking out the temples and markets.
I spent most my time cafe hopping and looking for interesting places to eat.
There’s a plenty of cafes here, and for the best view I liked the Coffee Bar by the lake.
The lake is the central point of the town, with Wat Jong Klang and Wat Jong Kham being the most photogenic point. Here you can see the Burmese influence in this part of Thailand, with the wats being built in Shan-style.
The highlight of Mae Hong Son is the night market by the lake. There are the usual Thai staples here, along with some regional delicacies. The market gives you a rough idea of how many tourists are in town, who have returned after day trips or arrived after a day of riding. There are tourists here, but after being in Pai and Chiang Mai you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself.
Near the lake there is a little park where you can sit and admire the wats from across the water.
When I was planning my trip one of the factors of coming here was being able to fly back to Chiang Mai.
Fortunately for the town they built an airport while there was still space. By now there wouldn’t be any other place to put it. This was one of the closest airports I’ve been to. It took ten minutes to walk from my centrally-located guesthouse to the airport.
There are flights to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and if you fly out make sure you get a window seat. It was amazing to see the mountains and think that somewhere out there is a little road that I was on a few days before. I went back to Chiang Mai, happy that I had finally made my way this far north. I have been to more remote places, like when I went on a coffee farm tour in northern Thailand, so on my next trip to Chiang Mai I would like to see some more of this part of the world.
Hello James, I’m attracted to visit this place. I’ve been to Thailand but haven’t reach this part of the country. What is the best time to visit?
James Clark says
I think similar to Chiang Mai, visiting around Nov-Mar is ideal – start of dry season and not insanely hot.
Hello friend :)) was there 2 years ago, 2 days, but the same lake, in the same bar on the 2nd floor and maybe sitting at the same table :)) A cool place, I want to go back there
Aster Ceniza says
I was hoping that upon your visit to Mae Hong Song you will go as far as to the Refugee Camps, and feature some of the activities there..Maybe in your next visits.
Jen Ambrose says
We also loved Mae Hong Son! We especially enjoyed the night market. It’s a shame more people don’t go there (although I suppose it wouldn’t be as nice if they did 😉 ).
There are a few decent restaurants…but nothing noteworty. My wife owns property so we live here. Higher quality food/imported goods require a six hour drive to Chiang Mai. Tourists can get by on the local food, but that does get old after a while. While safe, quiet and beautiful, we miss nightlife, shopping and high qualifty restaurants. PAI is a much more diverse place to stay, and enjoy similar scenery. Our necessary shopping trips (with hotel) to Chiang Mai makes the cost of living here quite high. It has been 3 months without rain and daily temperatures of 105-100 degress. Do come in December and January. The nights are very chilly, at that time…and daytime temperatures are reasonable. There are only a few places (other than hotels or my home) that offer air conditioning. Most businesses here do not have it. Quite impossible to breathe during April and May..due to massive burning of fields…so avoid those months. On the plus side…the view is gorgeous…and people are quiet and friendly.