Travel Thailand Mae Hong Son Province.

           “The land of the mist” is the motto of Mae Hong Son. This land hides itself among the mountainous landscape on the northwestern border of Thailand. Its encircled by huge mountain ranges.
         Mae Hong Son Located on the northwestern region of Thailand. Lying 928 kilometres from Bangkok, Mae Hong Son covers 13,184.4 square kilometers that is connects to Shan State of Myanmar by the Dan Lao Range on the border. Yuam River at the southern part connects to Tha Song Yang,Tak province. Dan Lao Range on the eastern side is close to Mae Chaem and Hot of Chiangmai. Thanon Thongchai Range on the western side is next to the Shan State, Kaya State and Ko Tu Le State of Myanmar. Also the Salawin River is the border line between the two countries.
  The mountainous area encircles Mae Hong Son, and causes cold and hot conditions.
     Mae Hong Son area is divided into 7 amphoes : Muang Mae Hong Son, Pai, Pang Mapha, Khun Yuam, Mae La Noi, Mae Sa Riang and Sop Moei.
        The slogan of Mae Hong Son is: the three season of misty, alpine Kong Mu, green forest canopy, man of moral, beautiful tradition and the glorious of Mexican Sunflower field.
Getting to know Mae Hong Son
             One of the major hazards of a posting to Mae Hong Son was the physical act of getting there Until the early 20th century, when the northern railway finally reached Chiang Mai province any journey between Bangkok and the ancient Lanna Kingdom required at least six weeks to three months of difficult and dan­gerous travel upriver to Uttaradit-the highest navigable point above Bangkok-and then a long trek, often by elephant back, across, through and around the malarial hills and jun­gles of the north.
To reach Mae Hong Son was still more difficult Until the Second World War, when an unsurfaced road between the northern capital and Mae Hong Son was first built under Japanese tutelage, no satisfactory land link existed between Chiang Mai and the far northwest-indeed it was safer, faster, and certainly more con­venient to travel to Mae Hong Son.
           Ringed by forest-covered hills and misty mountains, Mae Hong Son was first established as a permanent settlement in the early 19th century

 






  

when Chao Phuttawong, Lord of Chiang Mai, ordered an expedition to the northwest with the aim of captur­ing wild elephants The leader of the expedition, Chao Kaeo Muang, set up his camp at a favouredspot on the banks of the Pai River. Many ele­phants were caught and dispatched to Chiang Mai, where they were domesticated and pressed into ser­vice as beasts of burden.
            Meanwhile Chao Kaeo Muang's camp prospered, and took on the trappings of permanence. ltinerant Shan tradesmen and Chinese mule­teers, attracted by the business to be done in and around the camp, came and settled down. ln 1874, though by no means large, Mae Hong Son had achieved sufficient size to be designated a city by the ruler of Chiang Mai. Nineteen years later, in 1893-prompted, in part, by the British annexation of the neighbouring Shan State-the region was made a province by the Siamese Ministry of the lnterior, with Mae Hong Son as provincial capital.
           Over the intervening century, Mae Hong Son has continued to prosper, while at the same time remaining delightfully different from the rest of North Thailand. Never real­ly a part of the Chiang Mai-based Lanna Kingdom, Mae Hong Son has an almost "foreign", exotic charm of Shan State, Myanmar, and beyond.
            ln part this is explicable by the ethnically diverse and culturally fasci­nating population of the province. As the last northern region to be incor­porated into the Thai Kingdom, the combined central and northern Thai element of the population remains less than 10%, with the remainder of the inhabitants more or less equally divided between Shan, or Tai Yai and hill people such as the Lisu, Lawa, Hmong, Lahu and Karen.
           To this already rich ethnic mix may be added less well-known minorities from neighbouring Burma, refugees from ethnic insurgency and repression. Such groups include the colourfully dressed Palaung, who now boast four settlements in Mae Hong Son Province, and-most extraordinary of all-the Padaung, or Kayan, better known to the outside world by the English translation of their Thai name Kaliang ko yao-the "Long-Necked Karen" (though in fact they speak a Mon-Khmer language rather than Karen).
            Mae Hong Son is culturally diverse, too. As might be expected in any Thai province outside the deep south, Buddhism is the predominant religion, and saffron robes are every­where to be seen. Yet are they real­ly all saffron? A closer inspection con­firms that many Mae Hong Son monks wear robes of a darker, ochre hue the colour of the Burmese Sangha. The temples, too, are strangely different, conjuring up images of Shan State, and closer to Mandalay in inspiration than to Chiang Mai.
Thai Yai ways of life
            The majority of the residents of Mae Hong Son are Thai Yai which they called themselves "Kun Tai Long" (means greater Thai or Thai Yai) ln short, they are called "Kon Tai'. They have their own interesting customs, colourful culture and ways of life that has been inherited for generations. The spoken language of Thai Yai is called "Kum Tai" which is different from the Lanna dialect but resembles the Thai Lue and Thai Khern dialects. The two tribes are the original tribes living in the area even before the Thai kingdom was estab­lished.
           The original homeland of the Thai Yai is on a plateau of the Shan State that is at present one part of the Union of Myanmar. ln truth, the Shan State is the biggest state covering the entire northeastern region of Myanmar. The Thai Yai is the largest ethnic minority group in Myanmar. They have continually built up their civilization for generations and very strict to Buddhism ways. They are well known for their merit making. There is a saying do not eat as the Burmese does and do not make merit as the Tai does. This is because Thai Yai spend too much on merit making. 
            It is not surprising that when a large number of Thai Yai migrated to escape the war to settle down in Mae Hong Son, they would organize merit-making activities throughout the year. Some well-known religious cer­emonies of the Thai Yai are Poi Lern Sip Ed or merit making on the 11th month or End of the Buddhist Rains Retreat ceremony. All Thai Yai families would attentively create a wooden and coloured paper castle called "Chong Para" implying a castle to welcome Lord Buddha. A legend goes that Lord Buddha returned from preaching to his late mother in the heaven of Daowadueng class at the end of the Buddhist Lent Besides giving alms and listening to the ser­mons of the monk, at night there would be social activities like performances of kingata or kinari dance. The Kinari is a mythical being in the Himavant forest that went to welcome Lord Buddha herself The festival of the 11th month is hence a colourful tradition that has been preserved and practiced for generations.
            Moreover, there is another well-known merit-making event: Poi Sang Long or novice ordination ceremony. Thai Yai believe that having their son ordained to sustain Buddhism is a great form of virtue. They would cel­ebrate the occasion extravagantly, and it has become a unique event of Mae Hong Son.
           The clothing of the Thai Yai is an identity of their own, which is distinc­tive from Lanna people in general. Women would wear an ankle -length skirt of only one colour on a piece and Burmese styled shirt. The shirt has its extending part on the left side overlapping over its right side for its bottom lock. lt can be short and long sleeved in which the rims of its col­lar and bottom edge are embroidered delicately. Men are normally clad in trousers called "Tiaw Yong” with a Chinese looking round collar shirt and clothed bottom on the front part. Thai Yai men prefer to adorn their bodies from head to knees with black tattooed designs Both men and women, when working in the field would wear "kubtai", an extended broad wing and sharp pointed top like a Vietnamese hat.
            Thai Yai architectural art is also praised for its grace as adorned at many temples. They have adopted both the Mon and Burmese culture for creating their own unique style. The most outstanding characteristics lies on the roof of the structure, a multi-tiered roof with a pointed top on its triangular gable and with a small­er roof covering another level. lf it has 2 triangular gables and 3 layers of roof then the structure is called a two-neck three-edge structure where­as the one with 3 triangular gables and 4-layered roof is called a "Yon Sack" structure. lf there were more than that, then it would be built as a prasat style superstructure. The orna­ments on the roof are called ''Panthong” and the hanging ones are called "Pansoy". The main structure of a Thai Yai temple or Chong is an open one with only 3 walls and a base. 

 
   















  Exploring Mae Hong Son
            Once one of Thailand's remotest provinces, Mae Hong Son is now readily accessible by air from Chiang Mai, as well as by a wonderful loop drive through Mae Sariang and back via Pai and Soppong-or vice versa. Singularly isolated, Mae Hong Son is not yet very developed, though there are at least two quality resort hotels. The townsfolk may be citizens of Thailand, but most are Shan, Karen, Yunnanese Chinese or hilltribes. The temples are Burmese in style and the pace of life amazingly tranquil. An excellent place to 'get away from it all'
Shan/Burmese Buddhists
           No less interesting and unusual-in Thai terms-are the Buddhist tem­ples of the town. Amongst the most notable is Wat Hua Wiang a charm­ingly dilapidated temple built of wood and painted, corrugated iron in the Burmese style and housing a fine brass seated Buddha, copied from an image in Mandalay. The Mae Hong Son copy was cast in sections in the northern Burmese capital before being transported overland, in colonial times, for final assembly in Thailand.
           Another fascinating example of Shan/Burmese Buddhism is to be found in the twin temples of Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang. Located on the south side of Lake Jong Kham, in the lee of Mae Hong Son Hill these buildings occupy per­haps the most picturesque site in town. When seen reflected in the waters of the lake surrounded by a grove of flourishing palms and framed by brightly coloured bougainvillaea flowers, they make indeed a lovely sight.
            On closer inspection, the Burmese architectural influence so apparent from afar is reinforced by a motley collection of wooden figures housed in the viharn of Wat Jong Klang. These statues, numbering thir­ty-three in all, represent figures from the Jatakas, or Buddha's life-cycle sto-ries. They were brought to Mae Hong Son from Burma in 1857, not long after the founding of the town, and form a continuing spiritual link with Thailand's hidden Shan valley and the Burmese Buddhist establish­ment.
            To the west of these temples rises Mae Hong Son Hill, more prop­erly known as Doi Kong Mu. ln the early morning, and especially at dawn, this is usually shrouded in mist. By midday, however, the tropi­cal sun will have burned off this veil, even in the depths of winter. From this time on, and especially during the golden light of the setting sun in the late afternoon and early evening, the summit of Doi Kong Mu offers splendid views of lake and temples, town, valley and surrounding moun­tains.
              Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu Located on the top of Doi Kong Mu mountain where Mae Hong Son resi­dents have paid high respect to since the old days, This precious reli­gious place consists of 2 huge pago­das, in which the principle pagoda was built by Chong To Su in the year 1860, and the smaller one was founded in 1874 by Phraya Singhana Raja (Chan Ka Le), the first ruler of Mae Hong Son. On one hand, these pagodas are a remark­able religious place; on the other hand, its function as a memorable site to the ruler for his governing the city. The location of Doi Kong Mu mountain top is a perfectly beautiful scenic point, because when one stands and looks at the area, the panoramic landscape of Mae Hong Son town is reflected under the sun­light.
           Wat Phra Non Located on the foothill of Doi Kong Muu, Wat Phra Non is an integral part of Mae Hong Son for all noblemen and high-class families in keeping their ashes after dying. Housed inside the chapel, the huge 12 metre long Phra Non (lying posture of Buddha image) features the Tai Yai artistic style. The museum here displays an original Buddha image in many postures, an old Tai Yai's religious book, some private belongings of noblemen that include many british and Japanese equip­ment during the World War 2 period.
            Wat Hua Wieng or Wat Khlang Wieng is the place where Phra Chao Paralakang, or the most magnificent Buddha image was housed. By the ancient legend said, this Buddha image was created by copying the Phra Maha Muni, a holy Buddha image of Mandalay in Myanmar.
            Wat Tham Ko For a long time sit­uated at the foothill of Doi Kong Muu, Wat Tham Ko had contained some special features for its magnificent roofs built in many levels and running continuously above the footpath. Moreover, visitors can pay attention to the ancient Tai Yai's historical book and also the story of Phra Chao Anoratha Mangchor in the Burmese realm.
             Tham Pla-Nam Tok Pha Sua National Park The big Pha Sua Waterfall consists of 6 levels, the most popular is at the Pha Sua level that has rock forms of a strange shape of a mat. Moreover, the "Fish Cave" is also famous with large schools of brook carp fish in the deep limestone pool.
Pai and Soppong 
           The isolated settlement of Pai ts a peaceful crossroads town about halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son on Route 1095. Most of the town's population are Shan or Thai, but there's also a small but Chinese Muslim population. The guesthouses in town specialise in local trekking -whether short, one day outings or seven-day treks to Mae Hong Son. Northwest of town are Shan, Lahu and Lisu villages, a Chinese Kuomintang village, and the beautiful Maw Paeng Waterfalls, all of which can be visited on foot. The Shan, Lisu and KMT villages are sit­uated around 4 kilometres from Pai, while the Lahu village is near Maw Paeng Falls, about another a kilome­tres farther from town. Two small pools at the base of the falls are suit­able for swimming -this is best just after the rainy season, between October and early December.
          Across the Pai River and 8 kilo-metres Southeast of town via a good road are the Tha Pai Hot Springs set in a well kept park about one kilo-metres from the road. A small stream runs through the park, mixing with the hot springs in places to make pleasant bathing areas. There is also small public bathing houses to which hot spring water is piped.
            Raft trips on the nearby Pai River operate from July to December, sometimes longer if the rains have been heavy or longer than usual. September is usually the best month for rafting. Along the way, rafters can visit a waterfall, a fossil reef and a hot springs.
          Pai Elephant Camp to the south­east of town and not far from the hot springs offers jungle rides year-round It's possible to take a two hour ele­phant ride that includes a visit to the hot springs.
          Soppong is a small but prosper­ous market village, regularly visited by various hilltribes, a couple of hours northwest of Pai and about 70 kilometres from Mae Hong Son. Since the paving of Route 1095, Soppong and Tham Lot have become popular destinations for tours from Mae Hong Son and also Chiang Mai.
            Close to Soppong are several Shan, Lisu, Karen and Lahu villages that can easily be visited on foot.
            About 8 kilometres north of Soppong is Tham Lot, a large lime­stone cave with a wide stream run­ning through it. Along with Tham Nam Lang farther west, it's one of the longest known caves in Thailand. lt is possible to walk all the way through the cave (approximately 400 m) by following the stream, though it does mean getting your feet wet.. Apart from the main chamber, there are three smaller side caves that can be reached by ladders -it takes two to three hours to see the whole thing. Where the stream exits the cave, thou­sands of bats and swifts leave the cave at dusk -a spectacular sight.
Khun Yuam
              Bua Tong Field at Doi Mae Ukor Mexican Sunflowers or Wild Sunflowers are known in Thailand as Bua Tong which in fact originated from the middle part of the American continent. This exotic plant specres arrived in Thailand 80 years ago by an American missionary. Most are growing on Doi Mae Ukor in Mae Hong Son. Nowadays, nearly 1,000 rai of Bua Tong field will bloom at Doi Mae Ukor during November- December annually. Thus, creating an amazing landscape of bright yellow­ish mountains among the cold fresh air of winter.
            Nam Tok Mae Kor Lies not far from Bua Tong field. With a 30-metre high cliff, the water bursts out from a rock crevice, then falls down against the rock beneath.
          Hilltribe Souvenir Market The mar­ket is situated 3 kilometres from the Bua Tong field. Visitors can find vari­ous kinds of local vegetables, northern cut-flowers and hilltribe handicrafts.
            Mae Surin National Park The most interesting point among this area is Mae Surin Waterfall where tourists are able to arrive from the Bua Tong field 11 kilometres away. lt is widely known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mae Hong Son. Beside, there are also other intersting places as follows:
              -Nong Kheaw The natural scenery of a wide green field and big pond among the mountain side is the charm of Nong Kheaw.
           -Wildlife and Plant Conservation Project ln honour to H.M. Queen Sirikit, the project was proposed for wildlife breeding, nursery and a cen­tre of local rare plants conservation.
               Wat To Phae The major chapel in Wat To Phae was magnificently cre­ated from the skillful hands of Tai Yai and Burmese artists. Tourists should spend their time here.
Beyond Mae Hong Son 
            Route 1805, starts in Mae Sariang, the sleepy district capital of southern Mae Hong Son province, Before Route 1085 was built, Mae Sariang really felt on the road to nowhere-an isolated outpost in Thailand's furthest northwest where a handful of Thai officials and teachers presided over a mixed population of Shan, Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu tribes people. ln town, the wooden shophouses were in the hands of ethnic Chinese, with the majority of the temples in the Burmese-style.
            Since the building of the road, the ethnic make up of the town hasn't changed much, but the feel of the place has. Mae Sariang is less of a dead end, or a stop on the back route to Mae Hong Son, and more of a cross-roads. There's a small but growing trekking industry catering to travellers seeking "off the beaten track" authenticity, tours to Mae Sam Laep on the nearby Salween River, and several good and inexpensive guesthouses. Within the town itself, two of the most attractive Burmese temples are to be found, Wat Jong Sung and Wat Si Bunruang. Both have been restored since the road arrived, and their newly gilded htee, or umbrella-like spires, glint fiercely in the evening sun, setting off the yel­low chedis and tiered, red wooden roofing to perfection.
           Finding something to eat in today's Mae Sariang isn't a problem either. Naturally good Thai food is available everywhere. But for some­thing a little different, the Ran Ahan Renu near the junction of Wiang Mai and Mae Sariang Roads offers more regional fare. Here, in a period-style wooden restaurant decorated with pictures of Thailand's King Bhumibol playing the saxophone, diners can sample such local delights as batter-fried frogs and nut-hatch curry, Mae Sariang has a small but thriving Muslim community, too-mainly lndians and Zerbadees from across the bor­der in Myanmar-and on Laeng Phanit Road, not far from the small, white­washed mosque, a Muslim restaurant serving good South Asian curries and chicken biriyani tempts locals and visrtors alike.
            By night, too, Mae Sariang has changed, and is no longer the sleepy place it once was. To the east of the town along Wiang Mai towards the junction between Route 1085 and the road to Mae Hong Son, another aspect of "the road" and its impact on Mae Sariang quickly becomes apparent. Heavy articulated trucks growl and hiss out of the night, and lurid neon lights flicker on and off to the beat of Thai folk and pop music, while a handful of girls in elaborate but unlikely costumes sway and pout on a small stage. Yes, the road has brought Mae Sariang truckers-and with them truck-stops, karaoke bars, and even a couple of gaudy motels.
           But all that seems far away the next morning, when the rich, careful­ly tended rice fields along the road out of Mae Sariang are swathed in mist as the sun comes up. For the first thirty or so kilometres Route 1085 follows the Yuam River as it winds through a narrow valley towards the small settlement of Sop Moei. And finally, around seven or eight hours drive from Mae Sariang, the road reaches Mae Sot, Tak. Here Route 1085 gives way to a larger road, destined, now the bridge between Thai Mae Sot and Burmese Myawaddy has finally opened to become part of a Pan-Asian Highway linking Bangkok with Rangoon.
Sop Moei 
            Ban Mae Sam Lap Since this small village is located on the Salawin riverside, it is a good place for observing plenty of sandy beach­es and big rocks along the river that emerge when the water is low dur­ing the dry season; thus, looking like a beautiful landscape which was intently created by nature. On the other hand, this place use to be a flourishing and lively commercial junction for merchandise transferred from Myanmar, Nowadays, Ban Mae Sam Lap is the major point of tourists for starting their boat trip along the Salawin River down to "Sop Moei", where the two big rivers; Salawin and Moei, have met here. As usual, tourists can easily hire local boats for taking a half an hour trip along the river.
            Mae Ngao National Park The park is located among the area of Mae Hong Son and Tak provinces. As Ngao in Thai means "the reflection or shadow", Ngao River is named by its transparent crystal water till we could see our reflection clearly in the water. The boat trip can go further to Karen villages and the full rapid sites during the dry season is very popular here.
               Salawin National Park The charm of the Salawin River during the dry season is visible of white sandy beaches along the river that emerge among its clear flowing water. Then, in winter, the curtain of mist will sweep through the deciduous forest that changes its leaf's colour from deep green to brilliant red and yel­low. Thus, the Salawin River's beau­ty during the both seasons is always attractive for boat travel indeed.