10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mae Hong Son and the Surrounding Area
The city of Mae Hong Son is the seat of one of the most beautiful provinces in Thailand, a rugged northern area where you'll find a blend of Thai and Burmese culture and some of the most stunning landscapes you'll see in the country. Mae Hong Son township is known for its dense forests and mist-shrouded valley and lies in the mountainous border region between Thailand and Burma. The province can easily be reached from Chiang Mai, the most prominent city in northern Thailand. Tourists can hop inexpensive local buses or minivans to various destinations in Mae Hong Son, or opt for a short flight to Mae Hong Son City or Pai
1 Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu
If you want to feel you've been transported to another world, make the half-hour trek to the top of Doi Kong Mu. Two enormous Burmese-style lion statues greet you at the foot of the overgrown staircase to the top. Visitors climb through a forest to reach the hilltop monastery of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu. There, sightseers find two Burmese chedis and can gaze out over the surrounding countryside from 250 m up. At night, the chedis are lit and can be seen from the town.
Hours: Daily 8:30am-4:30pm
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mae Hong Son
2 Buat Luk Khaeo Festival
Also called Poy Sang Long, this festival is held once a year and honors young boys between the ages of 10 and 13 who are ordained as novice monks. Mae Hong Son is the place to see this celebration, as it is more colorful here than anywhere else in the country. The three-day festival is held at the beginning of April each year (perfect timing if you plan to stick around for Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, as Chiang Mai is the best place to be for the water festival, and is located only a few hours from Mae Hong Son).
The novices, known as nakh, participate in several activities throughout the festival, including having their heads shaved and receiving saffron monk habits. The most entertaining for tourists is the first-day procession, when the boys wear elaborate costumes and are lifted up on adults' shoulders to be led to the temple with music and great fanfare.
3 Burmese Temples
Standing by the little lake in the southern part of the town, Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang are Burmese-style temples. Especially notable for tourists is the Wat Chong Klang wiharn, which holds over 30 statues brought to Thailand from Burma around 1860.
Hours: Daily 8am-6pm
4 Editor's Pick Pai
This small town is widely loved among tourists and backpackers for its slow pace and beautiful natural surroundings. There's no shortage of guesthouses and quaint eateries, not to mention bungalows occupied by long-haired hippie wannabes strumming guitars and lazing hammocks.
Nearby tourist attractions include a waterfall, the Pai canyon, a resort where you can fish for vegetarian piranhas, and a chance to go tubing down the Pai River. Located about a 3.5 hours from Chiang Mai, Pai is easily accessible by minivan, motorbike, or a short flight.
5 Mae Sariang
Pai may be the favorite among backpackers on a soul-seeking experience, but Mae Sariang holds its own charm for those willing to get a bit off the beaten path. Smaller and lacking Pai's notoriety, Mae Sariang promises quiet authenticity - an opportunity for a true northern Thai experience. You can trek to local hill tribes, bike through the town, purchase local handicrafts, and visit local temples. Being one of the few foreigners in the area will give you a different perspective on life in rural Thailand. Mae Sariang is about 3 hours south of Mae Hong Son City.
6 Mae Hong Son Loop
You can take in all the sightseeing highlights of the province by following the popular Mae Hong Son Loop route. Many travelers rent a motorbike and spend a few days riding through mountains and countryside, with stops at waterfalls and small towns along the way. The loop includes Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in the country, as well as Mae Hong Son town, Mae Sariang, Pai, and Chiang Mai (typically the starting point).
Allow several days to enjoy the sights, stop for food and photo ops along the way, and to relax as well - riding the bike can take it out of you on long trips, and you'll need to be alert on the winding roads.
About 1.5 hours from Mae Hong Son town, you can visit the Padong longneck village, where members of a local hill tribe still stretch their necks with golden rings. Girls begin wearing the rings at age four and more are added until they turn 25. Tourists pay a fee to enter the village, and often to take photographs as well.
There are many tour options for visiting the local ethnic minority communities, known as hill tribes. But all are not created equal. Tour companies, looking to make money off unique lifestyles and traditions, often exploit groups. These communities are fascinating, but make sure to research companies and packages before you purchase. Many local resorts will offer personalized tour opportunities, or you can do a homestay in a village rather than popping in for a photo shoot while on a bus tour around the region.
8 Mae Aw
Much is made of Thailand's proximity to Burma, and rightly so, as many Burmese live in Thailand as migrant workers and refugees. But China also sits in close proximity to both countries and Mae Aw (also known as Ban Rak Thai) stands as a testament to that nation's history. This is the village of the Kuomintang, and it lies about 20 km northwest of Mae Hong Son. The Chinese who live here are the direct descendants of General Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops who, after losing the war against Communist China, fled to Burma and then Thailand rather than following their leader to Formosa (now Taiwan). Many of the men work for the Thai police or as guards and officials along the Thai-Burmese border.
9 Shan Villages
The Shan people have fought both the Burmese and Thai government for decades, and ongoing violence and upheaval often force refugees across the border. Shan state lies just across the border from Thailand, and there is a good deal of Shan influence in some Mae Hong Son areas. If you're interested in visiting a Shan village, hire a local guide who knows the area.
10 Fish Cave
Known as Tharn Pla in Thai, this popular tourist destination is exactly what it sounds like: a pool fed by a small river that is home to an array of exotic fish. You'll find the Fish Cave on Highway 108.
Location: 17 km north of Mae Hong Son town