Introducing Mae Aw & Around
A worthwhile day trip from the provincial capital is to Mae Aw, also known as Ban Rak Thai, an atmospheric Chinese outpost right at the Myanmar border, 43km north of Mae Hong Son.
The road to Mae Aw is a beautiful route that passes through tidy riverside Shan communities such as Mok Champae before suddenly climbing through impressive mountain scenery. Stops can be made at Pha Sua Waterfall, about 5km up the mountain, and Pang Tong Summer Palace, a rarely used royal compound a few kilometres past the waterfall.
For an interesting detour, at Ban Na Pa Paek take a left and continue 6km to the Shan village of Ban Ruam Thai. There are several basic places to stay and eat here, and the road ends 500m further at Pang Ung, a peaceful mountain reservoir surrounded by pines that is immensely popular among Thai day trippers in search of a domestic Switzerland.
From Ban Na Pa Paek it is 6km further to Mae Aw. Located on the edge of a reservoir and surrounded by tea plantations, the town was established by Yunnanese KMT fighters who originally fled from communist rule in 1949; the town's faces and architecture remain very Chinese. The main industries are tourism and tea, and there are numerous places to taste the local brew, as well as several restaurants serving Yunnanese cuisine.
There's a brief dirt road to a border crossing (for locals only), but it's not advisable to do any unaccompanied trekking here, as the area is an occasional conflict zone and an infamous drug smuggling route.