MAE HONG SON is nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by high mountain ranges, Mae Hong Son has long been isolated from the outside world. Virtually covered with mist throughout the year, the name refers to the fact that is terrain is highly suitable for the training of elephants.
Former governors of Chiang Mai used to organise the rounding up of wild elephants which were then trained before being sent to the capital for work. Today, Mae Hong Son is one of the “dream destination” for visitors. Daily flights into its small airport bring growing numbers of tourists, attracted by the spectacular scenery, numerous hilltribe communities and soft adventure opportunities.
THAI YAI CULTURE
The Thai Yai can be seen along the northern border with Myanmar. They may at one time have been the most numerous of the ethnic Thai tribes that stretch across Southeast Asia. A large group settled in Mae Hong Son.
The Thai Yai culture has had a strong influence on the province, as can be seen in its architecture. Although a part of the Lanna region, the indigenous Thai Yai people living in Mae Hong Son are faced with very cold weather during winter and extremely hot weather in the summer, with mist or fog practically throughout the whole year. Not surprisingly they have had to adapt to the environment.
As a result, their architectural style has developed into something different from other Lanna communities. Their living quarters are usually built with tall floors and low roofs, the sizes differing according to one’s social status and position. Homes of the ordinary folks are usually with one single level of roof, while those of the local aristocrats have two or more levels forming a castle-like shape. The space thus provided is believed to help air circulation. An interesting feature of the Thai Yai style is the perforated designs along the eaves which are an architectural identity of the area.
How to get there
Travel from Bangkok
Mae Hong Son is located 924 kilometres from Bangkok. Drive from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then choose the following routes to Mae Hong Son:
Chiang Mai – Hot – Mae Sariang – Khun Yuam – Mae Hong Son (Route 108) with 1864 curves, a distance of 349 kilometres.
Chiang Mai – Mae Malai – Pai – Mae Hong Son (Route 1095), a distance of 245 kilometres.
Mueang Nuea Yan Yon Tour (Tel: (0 2936 3587-8) operates an air-conditioned bus which runs directly from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son every day. The bus departs from Chatuchak (Mochit 2) Bus Terminal at 6 p.m. The trip takes about 17 hours.
One can travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by rail and then continue to Mae Hong Son by bus. For more information, call 1699, 0 2223 7010, 0 2223 7020 or visit www.railway.co.th
Thai Airways flies Bangkok-Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son daily. Reservation should be made in advance at Tel: 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000 or call 1566 or visit www.thaiairways.com for current schedule.
Travel from Chiang Mai
Mae Hong Son can be reached from Chiang Mai either by Highway No. 108 via Hot, Mae Sariang, or Highway No. 1095 via Pai.
Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son buses operated by Prem Pracha Transport (Tel: 0 5324 4737, 0 5324 2767) departing from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal every day. The buses which run along Highway No.108 leave Chiang Mai frequently from 6.30 a.m. – 9 p.m. The journey takes 8 hours. The buses which run along Highway No. 1095 leave Chiang Mai from 7 a.m.-12.30 p.m. The journey takes 6 hours.
There are 4 daily flights from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. Tourists are advised to book tickets at least 2 days before departure. Contact Thai Airways Tel: 0 5321 0043-5, 0 5321 1044-7 (Chiang Mai), or 0 5361 1297, 0 5361 1194 (Mae Hong Son).
Bua Tong Blossom Festival
Each year in November, the hillsides of Khun Yuam and Mae Sariang districts are filled with a host of golden Bua Tong Blooms. As gay as a daisy and almost as large as a sunflower, the Bua Tong only blossoms for a month.
At Doi Mae U-Kho, the blossoms appear profusely. Finally, the golden blooms become part of the scene. Some specialists have classified these Bua Tong as weeds and because of this, they may be cleared to make way for cash crops. Fortunately a group of researchers have discovered the flower’s insect-repellent properties. And perhaps that is why the Bua Tong, a symbol of Mae Hong Son, is still preserved on the hillsides.
Chong Phara Procession
The Chong Phara in the Thai Yai dialect means a castle made of wood, covered with colourful perforated papers and decorated with fruits, flags and lamps. It is placed in the courtyard of a house or a monastery as a gesture to welcome the Lord Buddha on his return from giving sermons to his mother in heaven, according to traditional belief. Other activities to celebrate the occasion include dances where performers are dressed in animal costumes. The rite is held during the post rain retreat season from the full-moon day of the 11 the Lunar month (around October) to the waxing moon night of the same month.
Loi Krathong Festival
Loi Krathong Festival is held on the full moon night in the month of November every year. Villagers make “krathongs” to float in rivers. At Nong Chong Kham, various entertainments and a contest of large krathongs are held near the central pond. Lamps and candles are lit all around the area. Moreover, at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, there is a ceremony of releasing candle-lit krathongs bound with balloons to the sky (known as “Loi Krathong Sawan”).
Poi Sang Long Procession
This is in fact the celebration of novice ordination which the Thai Yai tribe people hold to be a highly meritorious occasion. Traditionally, the candidate-novice, his head cleanly shaven and wrapped with head-cloth in the Burmese style, will don a prince-like garment and put on valuable jewels and gems, and ride a horse or be carried over the shoulders of a man to the city shrine. On the ordination eve, a procession of offerings and other necessary personal belongings will be paraded through the town streets and then placed at the monastery where the ordination will take place the next day. It is usually held during March-May before the Buddhist Rain Retreat period.
Tea Tasting Festival
This is anually held in February to promote tea products of the Rak Thai village. The activities include hot tea tasting, tea-making demonstrations combined with cultural shows. Visitors can also enjoy riding a horse around the village.