Mae Hong Son Province
Mae Hong Son Province is a region in Northern Thailand.
- Ban Rak Thai – well-known for its tea and strong Chinese presence
- Mae Hong Son - picturesque little provincial capital with lush valleys
- Mae La Noi - small town on the Mae Hong Son Loop
- Mae Sariang - popular with those seeking a respite from Pai
- Nai Soi - small village and refugee camp of the Padaung hill tribe ("long necks")
- Pai - a laid-back backpacker atmosphere and a good starting point for trekking tours
- Pangmapha (Soppong) - a small town with a predominantly hill tribe population between Pai and Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son (The City of Three Mists) is nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by high mountain ranges; Mae Hong Son has long been isolated from the outside world. It is one of the remotest provinces in Thailand. Tourists are attracted to the area due to its pristine virgin forests, spectacular mountains, lush valleys, indigenous wildlife, and fascinating hill tribes. Pai district has now evolved as Thailand ‘hippiest’ hang-outs, second only to Ko Pha Ngan. It is the most mountainous province in Thailand and encompasses 13,814 square kilometres. It is virtually covered with mist throughout the year. The terrain is highly suitable for the training of elephants. Former rulers of Chiang Mai used to organize the round up of wild elephants which were then trained before being sent to the capital for work. Today, Mae Hong Son is a prime destination for visitors. Daily flights into its small airport bring growing numbers of tourists, attracted by the spectacular scenery, numerous hill tribe communities, and soft adventure opportunities.
The Thai Yai (Shan) can be seen along the northern border with Burma. They may at one time have been the most numerous of the ethnic Thai tribes that stretch across Southeast Asia. A large group settled in Mae Hong Son.
The Thai Yai culture has had a strong influence on the province, as can be seen in its architecture. Although a part of the Lanna region, the indigenous Thai Yai people living in Mae Hong Son are faced with cold weather during winter and extremely hot weather in the summer, with mist or fog practically throughout the whole year. Not surprisingly they have had to adapt to the environment. As a result, their architectural style has developed into something different from other Lanna communities. Their living quarters are usually built with tall floors and low roofs, the sizes differing according to one’s social status and position. Homes of ordinary folk are usually with one single level of roof, while those of the local aristocrats have two or more levels forming a castle-like shape. The space thus provided is believed to help air circulation. A signal feature of the Thai Yai style is the perforated design along the eaves which serves as an architectural marker of the style.
The Padaung are a sub-group of Karen refugees originating from the eastern Burmese state of Kayah on the Thailand border.
The Karen themselves are not one single group but rather a loose mix of closely-related tribes. Among the smallest of the Karen tribes in Thailand are the Karen Padaung. This group’s women are strikingly recognized for the large brass rings they wear around their necks, thus lengthening them. They number fewer than 40,000 people. The Padaung call themselves "Lae Kur" or "Kayan" and they have their own unique language which originates from Tibeto-Burmese.
The Mae Hong Son Loop is one of the most comprehensive ways to explore the province. This is a 600 km circuit through this vast and mountainous province that starts and ends in Chiang Mai. This road trip takes you through some stunning landscape mountain scenery and opportunities to explore the rich ethnic culture and history of this traditional and rural part of northern Thailand.
From the provincial capital of Mae Hong Son there are daily flights and buses to Chiang Mai, daily buses to Bangkok (15 hr), Mae Sariang (3 hr), and Pai (3 hr).
Located very near Pai is the "hilltribe" town of Padaung. This village is one of the major tourist attractions in the area. Some people do complain though, that the village looks a bit like a "human zoo" and that it is a commercial enterprise owned by a company. To go or not, that decision is up to you.