Mae Hong Son

Mae Hong Son lies in a forested valley, surrounded by soaring verdant hills and just about lives up to its claim of being the 'Switzerland of Thailand'. The road from Pai is continuous switchback, cutting through spectacular scenery and communities of diverse ethnicities. On a clear day, the short flight from Chiang Mai is breathtaking - the plane crosses a range of high hills before spiralling down into a tight series of continuous banks, depositing its passengers almost in the middle of the town.

An excellent centre for trekking, the town is changing rapidly (some would say has changed) from a backpackers' hideaway to a tour centre, with the construction of two major hotels and a proliferation of 'resort'-style hotels. Despite this, Mae Hong Son still manages to retain peaceful, upland vibe.


Mae Hong Son Province is about as far removed from 'Thailand' as you are likely to get, with only an estimated 2% of the population here being ethnic Thais. The great majority belong to one of the various hilltribes: mostly Karen, but also Lisu, Hmong and Lahu.

Mae Hong Son has always been caught between the competing powers of Burma and Siam/Thailand. For much of recent history the area has been under the (loose) control of various Burmese kingdoms. The influence of Burmese culture is also clearly reflected in the architecture of the town's many monasteries.

Mae Hong Son also has a murky reputation for illegal logging; this area has some of the richest forests in the country. At the beginning of 1998, revelations surfaced about an alleged massive bribe to officials of the Royal Forestry Department, to overlook logging in the Salween conservation area.


Most postcards of the town picture the lake, with
Wat Jong Klang
, a Burmese wat, in the background. It is particularly beautiful in the early morning, when mist rises off the lake. Wat Jong Klang started life as a rest pavilion for monks on pilgrimage, with a wat being
built by the Shans living in the area between 1867 and 1871. The monastery contains some
50 carved Burmese
(wooden dolls) depicting characters from the Jataka stories, as
well as a series of mediocre painted glass panels. In the same compound is
Wat Jong Kham
, which contains a large seated Buddha.
Wat Hua Wiang
, next to the market, contains an important Burmese-style brass Buddha image - the Phra Chao Phla La Khaeng. It is said that
the image was cast in nine pieces in Burma and brought to Mae Hong Son along the Pai River.

Doi Kong Mu
, the hill overlooking the town, provides superb views of the valley and is home to the Burmese-style
Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu
, constructed by the first King of Mae Hong Son in the mid-19th century. At the foot of Doi Kung Mu Hill is
Wat Phra Non
, which contains a 12-m-long Burmese-style reclining Buddha. The main fresh
in town is on Phanit Watana Road, next to Wat Hua Wiang. The usual commodities from slippery catfish to synthetic clothing are sold here, together with some produce from Burma.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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