Mae Hong Son -- The Land of Three Mists


Mae Hong Son or the Land of Three Mists is located in the northwesternmost part of Thailand, bordering Chiang Mai in the east, Tak in the south, and the Union of Myanmar in the west and north. It has an area of 12,681 sq km and a population of 236,993 (end 2001). The climate is cool all year round. It is known as the land of three mists because it is shrouded in mist most of the time in the whole year, no matter whether it is the hot, rainy or cool season.

Until the early 19th century, the whole region was only inhabited seasonally by small numbers of Shan people from the Burmese border, who moved from place to place without permanent dwellings. Then, around 1831, in the reign of King Rama III, the King of Chiang Mai sent one of his governors named Chao Kaeo to the western jungles to catch wild elephants. It was only then that the widely scattered Shan tribesmen were organized into two villages. One of them was called Mae Rong Son, meaning the village with a stream for training elephants. The name was later changed to Mae Hong Son and became the name of the province.

The population of the province consists mainly of Shans (who call themselves Thai Yai) and Lanna (i.e. northern) Thais.

It also includes some Karens, Mountain Thais, Hmongs, Luas, Lahus and Lisus. Among these, the Padaung tribe (a branch of Karens) is most amazing, for the women of the tribe have a tradition of wearing numerous brass rings round their necks, as well as their wrists and ankles, making their necks look exceptionally long, just like some African women.

Mae Hong Son has several tourist attractions, both natural and cultural. Being mountainous, the province has many waterfalls and caves. Some interesting ones are: Mae Surin Falls National Park The waterfall is about 100 m high.

It is probably the highest waterfall of Thailand and is considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Phasua Falls, located in the Phasua Forest Park, is large and always full of water. The luxuriant mountain forests and the peaceful surroundings attract a large number of tourists to visit there every day.

Caves in the province are also worth visiting. Of these, two are prominent -- Tham Lot and Tham Pla. Tham Lot is a large cave about 20 m wide and 50 m high, full of stalagmites and stalactites. One cannot walk through the entire length of the cave (about 1 km) without a lamp because the cave is very dark inside. There was a discovery of some ancient utensils around 2,000 years ago in the cave. Tham Pla or Fish cave is so called because the stream inside the cave, which is only 2 m wide and 1.5 m deep, is full of big fishes all year round. They never go elsewhere, though there is nothing to stop them from swimming up or down the stream. And nobody dares to harm them, because people believe that they belong to the god of mountains and forests.

Thung Buatong is a place you should never miss. If you travel from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son by Highway 108 in the period from November to December, about one hour after passing Khunyuam county, you will be fascinated to see a sea of golden Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia Diversifolia) blooming along both sides of the road over the rolling hills for miles.

These wild flowers, called Buatong in the northern dialect, look exactly like sunflowers but are much smaller. There is a lesser Thung Buatong in Mae Sariang county, also along Highway 108.

Pang Ung Lake

Pang Ung Lake

Pang Ung Park

Pang Ung Park

Apart from natural attractions, cultural attractions are abundant in Mae Hong Son. Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu on the top of Doi Kongmu Hill only 3 km to the west of the provincial town contains a relic of the Buddha and comprises two pagodas of Shan style. The temple is considered the holiest wat of Mae Hong Son. It takes only a few minutes to go by car to the hilltop, from which you can have a panoramic view of the town and its beautiful surroundings. Wat Hua Wiang or Wat Klang Wiang contains a crowned Buddha image which is the most highly treasured image of the province.

But it is a replica of the original image which is enshrined in Mandalay, Myanmar. Wat Chong Kham was built in Shan style. The roof of the temple is in the shape of a castle because it was believed that a castle is a sacred place, whose resident must be a king or representative of a religion. Located beside Wat Chong Kham,Wat Chong Klang is also worthy of visiting for it houses 33 wooden dolls from the story of the Last Incarnation of the Lord Buddha, carved by Burmese artisans and also paintings on mirror which are admired for their beauty. Those are some of the natural and cultural attractions in Mae Hong Son.

But if you are an adventure-lover and want to touch the really wonderful natural environment, rafting along Pai River would be your excellent choice. The Pai River is the largest and longest river in Mae Hong Son with a length of 180 km. The most suitable time for rafting is between October and March when there is no rain and the water level is high. Another exciting thing to do is to go into the jungle on elephant back. You would be impressed with the unforgettable trip.

In addition to the above, you can also join colourful festivals in Mae Hong Son. Buatong Blossom Festival is held at Khunyuam county from November to December yearly. The Buatong will blossom magnificently around Doi Mae U-Kho. There are many forms of entertainment, a Miss Buatong contest and some other activities during the festival too. Loi Krathong Festival on the full moon day of November is held every year in the province. Not only are krathong floated on the water, but they are tied to a balloon and launched into the sky, too. These candle-lit are called krathong sawan or heavenly krathong. Poi Sang Long or Novice Ordination Ceremony Traditionally, Thai Yai people believed that they would gain much merit from being ordained as a novice or organizing such a ceremony, so a group ordination ceremony is held majestically in April every year. The boys who prepare themselves to be novices will have their heads shaven, wear beautifully decorated garments and put on valuable jewellery. They will ride horses to lead a procession to the temple, followed by their relatives and neighbours who dance to the music of a band, making the ceremony highly joyous and colourful.

That is not all. There are many other interesting things waiting for you in Mae Hong Son. In short, Mae Hong Son is a land of natural wonders and exotic things. If you plan to go there from Bangkok, we recommend that you should go by plane, because Mae Hong Son is 924 km from Bangkok by road and the highways in Mae Hong Son are among the most zigzag in this country. It is recorded that the 349 km-long Highway 108 leading from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son has a total of 1,864 sharp curves.

But since there is no direct flight from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son, you have to take a daily flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (1.10 hr). From there, you have two choices to reach Mae Hong Son -- by plane (35 mins) or by bus (4-5 hrs). If you choose the latter in order to view the beautiful scenery along the way, you may take either -- Highway 108 or Highway 1095. Both are scenic and mountainous. There is also a direct bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal to Mae Hong Son taking about 17 hours on your service.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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