Bangkok, 23 June, 2021 – The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son is so sinuous that they make T-shirts about its 1,864 curves, and people can even get a certificate at the local Chamber of Commerce office once arrived.
Coming by air with direct flights from Bangkok is possible since 2018, but the best way to enjoy the province from South to North is to land in Chiang Mai first and then take a minivan to Pai and leave the direct flights to Bangkok for the return trip.
From Chiang Mai International Airport, it is about three hours by a minivan to Pai’s bus station. Presumably you arrive in the afternoon, you can begin discovering this tiny town by visiting Pai Canyon. Go there a little before sunset because it is the perfect time to enjoy this natural rocky landscape with big crevices and skinny ridges created by erosion. Watch the sun slowly going down to its hideout behind the bar of hills on the horizon while painting the sky in warm colours. Such a beautiful and romantic sight!
Then head back to Pai city, 8 kilometres away, to stroll along its Walking Street that takes place every evening from 18.00 Hrs. along Chaisongkran and Rungsiyanon Roads. This long night market hosts many food stalls going from classical Phat Thai to burgers and pizzas. But the dish you have to taste at least once when you stay in Northern Thailand is Khao Soi, a typical local curry noodles dish. It is on the menu of many restaurants. Pai Walking Street is also a good place to buy souvenirs, art and crafts, many kinds of clothes including ethnic clothes and the famous 1,864 curves T-shirts, to see dance performances and cultural shows.
The other must-visit places a few kilometres from Pai include the Memorial Bridge that was originally built by the Japanese during World War II, the white Big Buddha on the top of Wat Phrathat Mae Yen’s hill offering a nice dominant panorama over the valley, Mo Paeng Waterfall where you can swim in the water and Ban Santichon, a Chinese Yunnan hamlet 5 kilometres northwest and Tha Pai Hot Springs for a relaxing time dipping your feet in warm thermal water or boiling eggs in the naturally 80°C water.
Pai’s peaceful atmosphere often keeps visitors staying longer than planned but when heading to Mae Hong Son, add two stops on the way. First, the Nam Lot Cave where local guides lighting the place with their oil lamps will walk you in the two main rooms, the Big Column Cave and the Dolls Cave before boarding you on bamboo rafts for a little trip on the interior river to reach the third chamber, the Coffin Cave.
Then go to Ban Jabo, 30 minutes’ drive away, for a lunch with a stunning view. This little Lahu hill tribe village sits on the crest of a mountain range overlooking an amazing landscape. It is also very appreciated for the sea of mist in the early morning. Several inhabitants offer basic homestays, and there are also campgrounds with tents for rent.
Once arrived in Mae Hong Son, climb up to Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu perched on a summit dominating the city and its airport. With its two Burmese-style chedis, it is the oldest landmark in the province. On the back, near the parking lot, there is a small coffee shop with a nice spot to watch the sunset. But the temple is also a very popular place at dawn when the town is covered with a thick blanket of mist. Other interesting temples in the town are Wat Phra Non and its reclining Burmese-style Buddha and Wat Hua Wiang, located near the Central Market where every morning Buddhist monks come for collecting alms, housing an impressive bronze Buddha statue replica of Phra Mahamuni in Mandalay.
The best way to finish a day in Mae Hong Son city is to stroll along its Walking Street installed on the edge of the small lake with Wat Chong Kham’s chedi nicely lit projecting its reflection on the water. It is a small night market but definitely one of the most enchanting in Thailand.
The next morning, let’s drive to Su Tong Pae bamboo bridge, 8 kilometres from the city. It is, with its 500 metres passing over the rice fields and Mae Sa Nga River, the longest of its kind in the country. Locals built it to connect Ban Kung May Sak to Wat Tham Pu Sa Ma, a temple located on a small hill. At around 06.00 Hrs., every morning, the monks receive offerings from the villagers on the bridge.
Afterward, Phu Klon Country Club Health Mud Spa is the perfect place to treat yourself with mud face or full-body masks and enjoy a relaxing time in their mineral hot water swimming pool surrounded by palm trees.
The Spa is on the edge of Route 4001 leading to the very charming highland Ban Rak Thai. This hidden gem with Yunnanese houses and Oolong tea plantations around a small lake is perfect for a 2-3 days getaway.
Note: If you visit the province from mid-October to mid-December, it is the blooming season of the Thung Bua Tong Fields’ yellow Mexican sunflowers. Seeing this 160-hectare section of a mountain at the top of Doi Mae U-Kor completely covered in yellow is spectacular!