The spectacular natural beauty of Mae Hong Son draws discerning travellers to this mountainous corner of north Thailand. The serenity of the countryside is reason enough to visit, but when you add in the cultural diversity, outdoor adventure and range of exciting experiences available, the case for a visit becomes even more compelling. Shown here in no particular order is our selection of 17 of the best things to see and do in Mae Hong Son.
1) Travel on the Mae Hong Son Loop
Travelling to Mae Hong Son can be an adventure in itself. For the majority of visitors, this means a road trip from Chiang Mai. The fabled Mae Hong Son loop is a winding stretch of road that climbs up, down, and around the mountains. For experienced motorbike riders, this route is considered one of the best in Thailand with its 1864 curves on the road between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son town. But if you’ve never ridden a motorbike before, don’t even think about it; opt instead to hire a car or take the bus or minivan. If travelling from Bangkok, you can fly direct to diminutive Mae Hong Son airport and enjoy a scenic approach over the mountains.
Read more about the Mae Hong Son loop
2) Embark on a tuk-tuk adventure
For a unique and safe way to experience the incredible quiet backroads of Mae Hong Son, join The Tuk Tuk Club for an unforgettable driving experience. You can either learn to drive the tuk-tuk or take the option to be chauffeur driven.
Read more about The Tuk Tuk Club
3) Stroll among the sunflowers
The hills of Doi Mae Ou Kor are impressive at any time of the year, but it is in the cool season months of December and January when they are at their best. Golden sunflowers carpet the hills drawing crowds of Thai visitors.
4) Enjoy the views at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu
Perched on the hill overlooking Mae Hong Son town, Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is one of the most important temples in the province. Whether temples are your thing or not, this is one which is well worth the visit for the outstanding views. Morning mist often swirls around the valley below before lifting as the temperature rises. Enjoy fabulous views over the town and then walk around the other side of the temple to enjoy a coffee and more expansive views of the Mae Hong Son mountains.
5) Visit the temples on the lake
From Wat Doi Kong Mu you can clearly see Chong Kham Lake and the twin temples of Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang. The Burmese-style temples are even more impressive close-up and a focal point of the picturesque provincial capital.
6) Eat local food
The cultural diversity of Mae Hong Son makes it a rewarding destination for foodies. Alongside well-known northern Thai dishes like khao soi and gaeng hinlay, you’ll also see regional specialities with influences from Burma and China such as tua pu oon (chickpea soup) and kaeng khanun (jackfruit curry).
7) Go trekking in the mountains
The mountainous and scenic terrain of Mae Hong Son makes it an ideal location for trekking and hiking. Take to the hills with a local guide and learn about the flora and fauna. Daytime temperatures remain pleasant all year round, but if you’re visiting during the cool season months (November-February), temperatures in the mountains drop significantly in the evening so be sure to pack suitable clothing.
8) Learn about the cultural diversity
Mae Hong Son town was originally established by people from the Tai Yai (also known as Shan) community. One of Thailand’s largest ethnic minority groups, the Tai Yai have lived in Thailand for centuries. The Tai Yai’s elegant Shan-style temples are characterised by wooden facades and metal fretwork and can be seen in towns and villages all around Mae Hong Son province. Mae Hong Son is also home to a number of hill-tribe communities including Karen, Lahu and Lisu.
9) Homestay at a local village
If you’d like to visit a hill-tribe community or stay overnight at a village, contact a reputable tour company. There are a number of tour specialists in Thailand who adhere to the principles of responsible tourism. These community-based tourism initiatives offer a fascinating cultural insight into a side of Thailand that relatively few tourists get to experience.
Read more about community-based tourism in Mae Hong Son
10) Witness the Poy Sang Long Festival
Throughout the year Thailand holds a number of colourful festivals. Some are celebrated nationwide, like Songkran, while others are specific to a particular region. In Mae Hong Son, the most famous festival is the Poy Sang Long ordination ceremony. Held annually in late March or early April in villages throughout Mae Hong Son province, Poy Sang Long is a Tai Yai tradition. The colourful event is held at a time of the year when it is customary for Tai Yai boys to ordain as novice monks.
Read more about the Poy Sang Long Festival
11) Walk along the bamboo bridge
Located a short distance from Mae Hong Son town, the bamboo bridge of Su Tong Pae links the village of Kung Mai Saak to a hilltop temple. Extending out for over 500 metres, the bamboo bridge provides lovely views over the rice fields and river. Another bamboo bridge can be found close to Pai. The Kho Kuu So bridge also extends over rice fields and is another photogenic option.
12) Chill out in Pai
The small town of Pai has long been a backpacker favourite. More recently it’s become a popular destination for Thai tourists with the town and surrounding scenery featuring in a number of Thai film and television programmes. Travelling from Chiang Mai on the Mae Hong Son loop is the most common way to reach Pai with a slew of scenic viewpoints en route.
13) Sample the slow life
The slower pace of life in Mae Hong Son is soon apparent as you travel through a province which has the lowest population density of any province in Thailand. Stop at any of Mae Hong Son’s rural towns or villages and relax, settle into country life and enjoy the scenery.
14) Experience Yunnanese culture at Ban Rak Thai
Ban Rak Thai (also known as Mae Aw) has a fascinating history. The village was settled by former fighters attached to the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) political party in China. In the aftermath of the Civil War with the Chinese Communist Party in the late 1940s, the KMT loyalists sought sanctuary in Thailand. Today, many of the descendants of those original settlers still live in Ban Rak Thai and the Chinese heritage is evident in the food, architecture and traditions of the village.
15) Unwind at Pang Oung Reservoir
A short distance from Ban Rak Thai is Pang Oung Reservoir. Just as Ban Rak Thai is sometimes described as ‘Little China’, the serene mountain setting of Pang Oung with its cool temperatures, pine forest and lake is sometimes described as ‘Little Switzerland’. Home to one of the Royal Initiative Projects for highland development, Pang Oung is a lovely setting for an overnight camping trip.
16) Explore Lod Cave
A river runs through the cave of Tham Lod allowing visitors the opportunity to take a bamboo raft ride into the heart of the cave system. You’ll see hundreds of fish below and bats above as you glide into the cave. Guides working here come from the local villages and when you hire a guide you directly support the local communities. In prehistoric times hunter gatherers used these caves and your guide will be able to show you some of the empty caskets which are still in situ. A trip to Tham Lod can also be combined with a visit to the aptly named Tham Pla (Fish Cave) which is around an hour’s drive away and worth a stop if it is on your route to Tham Lod.
17) Go river rafting
Rafting in Mae Hong Son can be enjoyed at any time of the year. The most popular way is to take a bamboo raft which can be arranged at a number of locations including Pai and villages near Mae Hong Son town.
Depending on the time of year you visit and how adventurous you are, you can go whitewater rafting on the Pai River. Full safety equipment is provided and an instruction course needs to be completed before you can take to the water in a dinghy.
You may also enjoy
Fan Club Thailand
Tourism Thailand (UK & Ireland)
We are here to help you experience the best of amazing Thailand. Bookmark our online magazine for ideas and tips for what to see and do in Thailand, and follow us on social media for even more travel inspiration.