Written by SeenThat on 17 Aug, 2005
Twice a day, there is a yellow truck, numbered 0409, from the market in Mae Hong Son to all the villages in the area; the first leaves between 8 and 8:30am. Most destinations cost less than forty Baht while a tourists’ tour can cost up…Read More
Twice a day, there is a yellow truck, numbered 0409, from the market in Mae Hong Son to all the villages in the area; the first leaves between 8 and 8:30am. Most destinations cost less than forty Baht while a tourists’ tour can cost up to one thousand Bahts a day. You can make around trip with it or to stop among the villages, but not all of them can offer a sleeping place. I recommend to plan a night at Ruam Thai, and just to pass by the other places. If you have the patience to do the whole loop with the truck, then you will pass through a variety of Lisu, H’Mong, Karen and other ethnic minorities’ villages. The main stops of interest along the mini-loop Mae Hong Son to Mae Aw are described in this entry.
Huay Sua Thao
There are three long-neck villages in the Mae Hong Son area; I was in the central one, southwest of the town. It is called Huay Sua Thao and it is the only hill tribe's village with an entry fee (250B). They crossed the border from Burma as refugees in 1988. The main bulk of the village consists of regular persons, but beyond a small current, there are two rows of houses climbing a hill. The lower row hosts the "long neck" people that are called so since their women put a copper spiral, which gets bigger with time, around their neck. In fact, they do not have long necks; they have low shoulders, as these are being constantly pressed down by the spiral. The upper row hosts the "long ear" people; their women use heavy earrings. Small children were playing "vertical bowling", by putting drinks' cans one above the other and taking turns in throwing stones at them. They sell souvenirs and postcards with their own pictures. I spotted elephant riders (500B), walking in a long column on the shallow waters just before the village.
Farther north from there, very close to the Burmese border and beyond an army post, is Mae Aw, a Chinese village of former Kuomintang people. At the centre of the town there is a beautiful lake, with water-buffalo's enjoying its deep mud. Low, simple houses climb the hills around. Not all the roads are paved, but they have a terminal for the truck by the centre. Their main businesses are green tea and tourism. At the tea houses you can taste the tea for free and then buy a nice packet of Oolong; they serve it Chinese style with a smaller cup inverted inside a bigger one, while the tea is trapped between them. They have electricity unlike most of the villages in the area and there is a church just outside the village. There are signs of slash and burn agriculture all the way there and actually we crossed a field being burned. The village is in a small valley completely surrounded by hills and imparts a feeling of deep isolation.
Close to the Pang Tong King's Palace, is this mixed Karen and Shan from Burma and Thai people village. This one street's village hosts 30 families and was founded some twenty years ago by the king. The village is at an altitude of 1200 meters above sea level and in the cold season, the temperatures can get as low as five degrees Celsius. There is no electricity, no phones and no running water, the water is brought with pumps from the nearby river, but some houses have electric lamps powered by batteries connected to solar panels. In the first house, named "Real Coffee", I met Hillary a white Karen from the Rangoon Area in Myanmar that forty years ago crossed the northern border to Thailand and married a Thai woman. He was educated by Roman Catholic missioners in Rangoon; therefore, he has a good English. He has a big garden with red Arabica and yellow Robusta coffee trees, he grounds and roasts the beans by himself and sells it to tourists (a cup for 20B and 50 grams for 30B). It is possible and recommended to sleep in this house.
King Frog Reserve
Closer to the border in a densely forested area, there is a big lake with a narrow road around it and after that the King Frog reserve. It is a very small reserve with a very low wood fence, over shallow and quiet waters. Inside there is a wood bridge encircling a shallow pond, where some huge frogs can be seen. Some of them are almost forty centimetres long and all of them are hard to spot due to their excellent camouflage and their tendency to sit still under the heating sun. The yellow truck does not arrive here – you need the cooperation of a local. The frogs are commonly called the King Frog not because of their size, but because they are under the protection of the crown.
Ban Huay Ma Keau Som
Down of Ruam Thai village, where the road joins the highway, is Ban Huay Ma Keau Som (Ma Keau = tomato in Thai). It is called so since they can and do grow tomatoes, an odd crop in Thailand. H'mong people live at its centre, while a other ethnic groups live in the outskirts. There is a strange monastery there, which looks like a dormitory in an open Thai pavilion.
Pha Sua Waterfall
Pha Sua waterfall is quite impressive for Thailand and attracts large numbers of locals. It is located a few meters from the highway, making it very accessible, although the way down to it is quite steep. Huge rocks provide excellent viewpoints. The truck can drop you here, but then you will be stuck for a few hours.
My description of the Mae Hong Son Loop will assume a trip on public transport from Chiang Mai to the north till Mae Hong Son, and from there, to the south and back to Chiang Mai through Mae Sariang. It will be hard to avoid…Read More
My description of the Mae Hong Son Loop will assume a trip on public transport from Chiang Mai to the north till Mae Hong Son, and from there, to the south and back to Chiang Mai through Mae Sariang. It will be hard to avoid Chiang Mai as the starting point of the trip, but the direction taken was almost random. The only reason to begin with the north is that if you are pressed for time, then the northern path is more mountainous, scenic, and shorter. In Chiang Mai, you should arrive very early to the Arcade Terminal. Despite the weird Romanization of the Thai, you should pronounce it Akaed; otherwise, you won’t be understood. Any songthaew in the direction will take you there for 10 Baht (usually they ask more from tourists – but that is the price). The regular bus to Mae Hong Son through the 270km-long northern route (road 1095) leaves at 7am, arrives around 3pm, and costs 105 Baht. Two hours after departure, you may refresh yourself at Ban Mae Sae, and within another 2 hours, you will arrive to Pai.
This small town hosts an incredible number of tourists, which sometimes outnumber the locals on the streets. It is a popular site to start treks from, but since the town sits on the flat banks of the River Pai, you have gained almost nothing by relocating yourself here from Chiang Mai. If you want to leave yourself that option open, you can break here your journey and continue after having explored the place. The bus stops here for a relatively long break that allows you to try a coffee in one of the nearby fashionable cafés. Around 1pm, the bus arrives at Soppong, from where there is access to the Tham Lot Cave, which hosts a subterranean stretch of the Lang River. If you want to explore the cave, you should continue 9km to the north to Ban Tham, where there are suitable commodities for spending the night over. If you stayed with the bus, roughly 2 hours after Soppong, you will reach Mae Hong Son after having travelled through a beautiful and mountainous area. From here there are buses back to Chiang Mai through the two routes.
If you are short on time and want to return in the same way, there are two air-conditioned buses, the first is a minibus leaving at 8am, and the second, a regular bus at 9am. Both cost 200 Baht. Regular buses leave at 7am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2pm, and 4pm, and cost 105 Baht. If you are planning to close the loop, then you should know that the southern leg is longer, 368km, and thus it is recommended to break your trip at least once in Mae Sariang, 166km south from Mae Hong Son. The same buses serve both options. Air-conditioned buses leave at 6am, 10:30am, and 1pm and cost 140 Baht to Mae Sariang and 261 Baht to Chiang Mai. The last bus is not recommended, since you won’t be able to see the beautiful way. Regular buses leave at 8am, 2pm, 8pm, and 9pm, and cost 78 and 141 Baht respectively. The southern part is less steep, thus the bus travels faster and soon you will find yourself back on the plains. The forests along the way are not deserted, and from time to time, the bus will stop for the sake of people suddenly appearing from the woods.
Around 2 hours and 71km later, you will arrive to Khun Yuam, a cute village where you can break your trip at Ban Farang Guesthouse, just a little after the central ‘Y’ junction. The bus makes a long stop here. After a couple of hours and after crossing Mae La Noi, Mae Sariang will be reached. It will be a sin not to stop for a while in this relaxed town built between the Yuam and Mae Sariang Rivers. By the Yuam River there are several guesthouses and restaurants. The Riverside View Guesthouse is a pleasant and typical Thai wood structure sitting along the river; it has a nice restaurant in its big balcony, which is suspended by columns over the waterfront. If you left with the earliest bus from Mae Hong Son, then you arrived here exactly at the perfect timing for a late breakfast or a festive brunch over the river.
If you are staying here for a few days, you can make a return trip to Mae Sam Laeb, a tiny village on the border with Myanmar, 46km southwest from Mae Sariang, on the Salawin River. Trucks to there leave from the market at irregular times. To finish the classical loop, you can continue from here to Chiang Mai, but the town location opens the option of a "bigger-loop" variation by continuing south for a farther 162km to Mae Sot. There is a truck leaving at 12:30pm and arriving at 6pm; it costs 160 Baht due to the bad conditions of the road. In the midway, you exchange truck with one coming from Mae Sot, so that each crew returns home at the end of the day.
Before and after the huge Burmese Refugees Camp, the Thai Army will check your passport and register your details; you are not allowed to delay there. At the camp, huts populate densely the hillside with their roofs of big, dry, and folded "elephant" leafs. Mae Sot has a border cross to Myanmar, where you can renew your Thai visa, but that and a proper way to end the Big Northern Loop will be described in other entries. Don’t forget that despite the density of information in this entry, it is not intended to be done without stops; you should take this trip easily and have some sanuk (fun).