Some 40 years ago Major Roy Hudson, a retired British
army officer in Chiang Mai, first visited the province of Mae Hong Son along
Highway No 108 in a sedan car. He halted 14 kilometres short of Mae Sariang
for a simple reason - the road ended there. In 1963, the provincial town of
Mae Hong Son could only be reached by a Dakota DC3 plane twice a week and
there were no tourists at all. All this has now changed.
Catholic Church serves as the community center in one of the villages.
Today, Mae Hong Son is served with four or five flights a
day by Thai Airways International (THAI), and with the completion of Highway
108 and 107, there is the possibility to reach this once “Siberia of
Thailand” by bus and even motorcycle.
Due to the hard work of Australian David Unkovich, an
experienced motorcycle tour leader and ambitious cartographer, tourists can
now rely on the 2nd edition of the Mae Hong Son Loop Guide Map first
published in November 2002 by the Golden Triangle Rider Company and will
find it easy to travel around from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son.
Padaung village at the edge of the Pai River near Mae Hong Son.
The loop comes with city and environs maps. The detailed
map of Northwest Thailand differentiates six categories of road conditions
and marks 22 waterfalls, seven hot springs, 16 limestone caves, and 12
The 16 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are
colored green to emphasize the importance of their natural environment. Also
mentioned are resorts, guesthouses, elephant camps, some famous temples and
many other points of interest.
small long-neck girl poses at her sales desk.
Mae Hong Son is a picturesque mountain province bordering
Myanmar (Burma) to the west and the north. To the east it has a common
border with Chiang Mai province, while in the south it touches Tak province,
where hill tribes, Thai Yai temples and pristine forests abound in an area
of some 14,000 square kilometers.
sisters try to sell textiles in their long-neck village.
The mighty Salawin River stretches some 100 kilometers at
the western border of Mae Hong Son. But it is the smaller Pai River that
gives the province its unspoiled charm. With its sources in the Huai Nam
Dang National Park in the north, it flows south and disappears somewhere in
the characteristic limestone crypts of Amphoe Pai, until it flows from east
to west to reach Mae Hong Son, where even further west it joins the Salawin
River inside the Kayah State of Myanmar.
It is here, just a little short of the border checkpoint
of Nam Phiang Din, that tourists come across the long-neck women of the
Padaung tribe. Still living inside Myanmar (then Burma) during Major
Hudson’s first visit in 1963, the Padaung tribe later shifted across the
border into Thailand to become the biggest tourist attraction of Mae Hong
Son province. Having the status of refugees, the inhabitants of long-neck
villages are not allowed to work. They officially have to make a living by
letting the tourists take some photographs of their imposing long-necked
Awe-inspiring, some of the women and young girls of the
Padaung follow the custom of wearing heavy brass rings around their necks.
These rings are supposed make them beauties and at the same time protect
them from wild tigers.
There are many other tourist attractions to enjoy along
the way, especially if you travel by motorbike. Leaving Chiang Mai on
Highway No. 107 to the north, you leave the valley of the Mae Ping River
behind at the market town of Mae Malai. Here Highway No. 1095 begins, to
reach Amphoe Pai, a town with the reputation to be a backpacker’s
paradise. There are even plans to develop the local airfield strip into an
Further on and passing the Lisu village of Nam Rin, you
reach Amphoe Pang Ma Pa, where Tham Lod Cave is located hiding some
Reaching the town of Mae Hong Son after 274 kilometres,
tourists find a variety of lodgings and restaurants to choose from. The town
was founded by Phaya Singhanatracha in the 19th century and boasts of some
From Mae Hong Son south, you follow Highway No. 108 to
pass the districts of Khun Yuam and Mae La Noi to reach Amphoe Mae Sariang,
an area that is heavily populated by Karen and Lawa.
After a road journey of 368 kilometres and 1,864 bends,
you will reach Chiang Mai again - exhausted but happy to have made it.
There is an alternative route for the adventurous
motorcyclist, the road that cuts through Mae Chaem in Chiang Mai province
behind Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, to reach Khun Yuam, a
Thai Yai settlement on Highway 108.
Finally, with David Unkovich’s valuable map (only 175
baht in many shops), an interesting side trip from Mae Sariang to Mae Sam
Laep at the banks of the Salawin River is in order.
With a length of 2,800 kilometres, the Salawin is second
to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. The river rises in Eastern Tibet and
passes through China’s Yunnan province, where it is called the Nujiang or
Angry River. In Myanmar, the river is called Than-lwin and flows into the
Indian Ocean at Martaban, Mon State. So if you have time and the guide map,
go for it.
For further information, contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel
Consultant, by email: [email protected]