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Hiking Mae Hong Son Loop, there is the town of Mae Hong Son, on the northern border between Burma and Thailand. Winding over the mountains and onwards to Burma, a single road was built in 1965, making the town accessible.
Mae Hong Son Loop - Mae Ya Falls
The town has opened up over the years. A couple of decent hotels opened up and a regular air service started from the precarious landing strip. Tired of busy Chiang Mai, visitors started to like the unspoiled hill resort location of Mae Hong Son.
Mae Hong Son
Thailand's north western province is this densely forested and mountainous region. Mae Hong Son is three hundred seventy kilometers via the southern route from Chiang Mai, or two hundred seventy kilometers by road using the northern route. Nights can be quite chilly with the temperature dropping to four or five degrees C, around January and February.
The scenery is incredible hiking Mae Hong Son Loop, set in a small valley in the center of the mountains. Clouds and mists roll down the hills to surround the town in a white soft fog, any time of the year. The town is often called City of the Three Mists (Muang Sam Moke).
City of the Three Mists!
In the 1830's, it's believed that the local elephants gave the name to the town. However, this legend does not explain why some of the temples in the town are 100's of years old.
From November to March, is the best time to visit Mae Hong Son and be hiking Mae Hong Son Loop, because traveling off the beaten track can become difficult, during the rainy season, which lasts from June to October.
A Shan style Buddhist temple perched on a small hill overlooking the city, the famous Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, should be the first destination for any visitor. The first King of Mae Hong Son built It. Drivers often stop to offer visitors a lift to the top, because the walk can be strenuous, if you choose to backpack it.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu
The whole town can be seen below, from the Wat. As clouds at sunrise, the color of Burmese rubies, gently shrouds the town below, the temple is bathed in a rosy pink light.
You may want to descend to the town and visit the morning market, after a sunrise visit to the temple. Selling household products and farm produce, between 6:00 and 8:00 am, the market is alive with hill tribe people and farmers in colorful dress.
Hill Tribe People
The Lake Nong Chong Kham was the original center of town. A two hundred year old temple, the beautiful Wat Chong Kham, that houses wood carvings and antique glass paintings that were brought from Burma over one hundred years ago, is on the banks. From an open sala (pavilion) built at the end of the pier, visitors and locals crowd to feed the goldfish and huge Koi carp, along the edge of the lake. Some of the loveliest houses in Mae Hong Son are around the lake.
The Beautiful Wat Chong Kham!
It is also the people who are a major attraction for this region, although the town is pretty with Burmese style roofs and quaint side streets. Members of a hill tribe are over fifty percent of the province's population. There are villages of Lisu, Lahu, Lua and Meo, but the largest group is Karen.
Many Mae Hong Son Loop day hikes are available which pass by Meo, Karen and Shan villages. Well worth the effort, is a visit to Mae Aw on the Burmese border, and takes about two hours. To the east of Mae Hong Son, you can visit the town of Pai, and stop at the Pha Sua waterfalls on the way there.
Mae Aw, Thailand
The world of the famous Long Necked Karen, or Pradong, is where several visitors head. From an early age the women of the Pradong stretch their necks. It is believed that taking off the rings will result in certain death, and it is a practice applied only to the women who are born at a full moon. Some females have twenty five rings. The more rings the women have, the wealthier the family. The rings cost about two thousand Bahteach.
The Long Necked Karen Village
Usually hiking can be arranged through your hotel and is popular with many visitors. Sometimes rafting down the Pai river or riding elephants, a local guide will take a group for a walk through the mountains. Lasting from an afternoon to several days, tours are easy to book in Mae Hong Son.
The Pai River
There are several beautiful scenic sites in the surrounding countryside apart from the fascinating hill tribes. A thirty minute drive north of town, the most famous is the Fish Cave. The cave is reached by a hike through the forest park and a suspension bridge over a river. A spring of water, which is packed with Koi carp, is at the cave. The fish are sacred to the locals. The spirits of the mountain, who protect the fish, will bring bad luck upon anyone eating a fish from the Fish Cave. There is also rumored to be a long cave beyond the spring, during the second World War, where Japanese soldiers hid treasures looted from Burma.
The Fish Cave
One hour's drive north of Mae Hong Son, more terrific natural scenery can be found at the Nam Lot Cave in Pang Ma Pha district. These are caves through which the Nam Lang river flows. People will be provided with lanterns and a guide to visit the caves and it is a National Park. Remains of prehistoric animals and humans have been revealed in Nam Lot Cave. Claimed to be one of the largest in the world is the close by Nam Long cave.
The Mae Surin Falls is Thailand's highest waterfall, south of Mae Hong Son. Also, at Nam Hu Hai Chai and Pha Bong, people can bathe in 2 hot springs in the hot mineral waters. Eaten as a health food, some visitors bring eggs to boil.
Buses leave Chiang Mai 3 times a day for the eight hours trip to Mae Hong Son, when you're hiking Mae Hong Son Loop. Taking one of Thai International's flights from Chiang Mai International Airport is a much quicker way to travel. About thirty five minutes flight time. You will have to change planes in Chiang Mai if you are flying from Bangkok.
Chiang Mai International Airport
Enjoy backpacking Mae Hong Son Loop!
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