Mae Hong Son
With its remote setting and surrounding mountains, Mae Hong Son fits many travellers’ preconceived notion of how a northern Thai city should be. A palpable Burmese influence and a border-town feel don’t clash with this image, and best of all, there’s hardly a túk-túk or tout to be seen.
Soppong (also sometimes known as Pangmapha, actually the name of the entire district) is a small market village a couple of hours northwest of Pai and about 70km from Mae Hong Son. There’s not much to see in town, but the surrounding area is defined by dense forests, rushing rivers and dramatic limestone outcrops and is the place in northern Thailand for caving.
Between Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son, where all northbound buses make their halfway stop, is the quiet hillside town of Khun Yuam. There are a couple of places to stay and a few notable sights, and this little-visited town is a nice break from more ‘experienced’ destinations nearby.
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 villages such as Mok Champae before suddenly climbing through impressive mountain scenery.
Tham Pla Forest Park
A trip to Mae Aw could be combined with a visit to Tham Pla Forest Park (admission free) centred on the animistic Tham Pla or Fish Cave, a water-filled cavern where hundreds of soro brook carp thrive. These fish grow up to 1m in length and are found only in the provinces of Mae Hong Son, Ranong, Chiang Mai, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi.
Salawin National Park & Mae Sam Laep
This national park covers 722 sq km of protected land in Mae Sariang and Sop Moei districts. The park is heavily forested with teak and Asian redwood and is home to what is thought to be the second-largest teak tree in Thailand. There are numerous hiking trails, and it's also possible to travel by boat along the Mae Nam Salawin to the park's outstation at Tha Ta Fang.
Long-Necked Kayan Villages
These villages are Mae Hong Son’s most touted – and most controversial – tourist attraction. The ‘long-necked’ moniker originates from the habit of some Kayan women (sometimes also referred to as Padaung, a Shan term) of wearing heavy brass coils around their necks. The coils depress the collarbone and rib cage, which makes their necks look unnaturally stretched.