HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

To the villages of the long neck women

Hot spring tourism cooling off

Farmers to show off their luscious, delicious lychees

TAT launching “Five Chiang” tourism project

Getting away from it all doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg

To the villages of the long neck women

A map review of Mae Hong Son

Reinhard Hohler

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.

A 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.

A 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 special viewpoints.

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.

A 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.

Two 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 women.

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 airport.

Further on and passing the Lisu village of Nam Rin, you reach Amphoe Pang Ma Pa, where Tham Lod Cave is located hiding some prehistoric coffins.

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 extraordinary temples.

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]

Hot spring tourism cooling off

Hope springs eternal?

San Kamphaeng Hot Spring is set to improve its image after the number of visitors dropped by 50 percent this year. It recorded the slump despite Chiang Mai promoting the Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival for tourists, admitted Thanakorn Supasethahirun, the attraction’s manager.

It is thought that the fall in the number of visitors may be a result of other local tourist places having improved and attracting more people. Usually, visitors to San Kamphaeng district are local people from Chiang Mai and other neighboring provinces. Last year, about 200,000 tourists visited the district, especially during the Songkran holidays.

The decline of tourist numbers was a stimulus for San Kamphaeng Hot Spring to improve its facilities and provide facilities to attract tourists, Thanakorn said.

Activities that tourists can experience at the hot spring include bathing in hot mineral waters, boiling eggs, viewing beautiful flora, picnics, and healing massages. Mineral water is purported to offer many benefits such as nourishing the skin, curing skin problems, relieving muscle pains and stimulating blood circulation.

Farmers to show off their luscious, delicious lychees

Chiang Rai’s May OTOP lychee festival on again

Kaweeporn Wachirarangsiman

Chiang Rai farmers will have the chance to see who has the juiciest, sweetest lychees in the land. The farmers will be invited to bring their crops and to take part in the competition and distribute their fruit at the May OTOP fair.

The provincial Public Relations Office announced that Chiang Rai will hold the Lychees and Souvenirs Festival 2004 from May 22 to June 6, at Chiang Rai OTOP, the former Mae Korn Market.

On May 22, the opening day of the festival, floats decorated with lychees from various districts will parade from in front of Samakkee Wittayakom School to the crossroads at the clock tower, then turn left at the Government’s Saving Bank, right onto Thanalai Road until they reach the junction at the Government’s Tobacco Factory before turning left to the King Mengrai monument.

At the festival grounds there will be competitions and the distribution of agricultural crops, including mangoes, pineapples and oranges, as well as a beauty contest, mini-marathon and various types of trees for sale.

Last year’s lychee and souvenirs festival was rated a success as local farmers were able to sell large amounts of their crops. They are counting on a similar success this year.

People interested in taking part in the crop competition can get more details at the Chiang Rai Provincial Agriculture and Cooperatives Office, tel 053 718 970.

TAT launching “Five Chiang” tourism project

Taking tourists through Thailand, Burma, China and Laos

Nopniwat Krailerg

The Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival has been voted such a success that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is planning another tourism project that will link the four countries Thailand, Burma, China and Laos.

Chalermsak Suranan, director of Region 1 of TAT, said the “5 Chiang Project” will involve Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Thong (Luang Phrabang, in Laos), Chiang Rung (12 Punna, in China) and Chiang Tung (Burma).

Chiang Mai will be the central starting point for tourists to travel by car to the other three countries. The project will be ready to be launched by the end of next month.

Getting away from it all doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg

Reinhard Hohler

Since more and more airlines use Chiang Mai as a regular stop, it has become much easier to catch a direct flight to anywhere, from Chiang Mai International Airport. The following are some prices to get an idea how much it would cost to spend the next long weekend outside the city. Prices are for one way, unless otherwise specified, from Chiang Mai and are subject to VAT and can change without further notice.

To Mae Hong Son: 870 baht

To Sukhothai: 940 baht

To Chiang Rai: 1,005 baht. Return: 1,710 baht

To Udon Thani: 1,905 baht. Return: 2,710 baht

To Bangkok: 2,200 baht (THAI); 999 baht (ORIENT THAI)

To Phuket: 4,600 baht (THAI)

To Koh Samui: 4,650 baht. Return: 8,500

To Singapore: 7,500 baht. Return: 13,100

To Taipei: 9,000 baht. Return: 14,000 baht

To Luang Prabang: 2,720 baht. Return: 5,040 baht

To Vientiane: 3,320 baht. Return: 6,240 baht

To Mandalay: 6,040 baht

To Yangon: 5,640 baht. Return: 8,420 baht (THAI)

To Chittagong: 5,170 baht. Return: 7,635 baht

To Jinghong: 2,700 baht. Return: 4,000 baht (THAI)

To Kunming: 5,800 baht. Return: 8,310 baht (THAI)

To Xian: 12,500 baht return

For further information, contact Reinhard Hohler at [email protected]