In a nutshell
Mae Hong Son is a small town in the North West of Thailand that has a population of just 7,000 permanent residents. It’s a relaxed and less touristy destination for those who want to explore a more rural side to the Thailand countryside and mountains.
Why go to Mae Hong Son
The main attraction for most visitors is to take part in some of the excellent trekking available and to enjoy time away from the hustle and bustle of most of Thailand’s other, more traveller friendly, spots like Chinag Mai or Pai.
The town itself is located quite near to the border with Myanmar and if you’re looking to get off the beaten track it’s the perfect place to explore the countryside, meet local villagers and hill tribes, and to visit authentic temples that haven’t become part of the tourist trail.
The main thing to do in Mae Hong Son for tourists visiting the area is to enjoy some trekking and walking in the hills. A guided trekking tour that lasts a day is usually the preferred option, and many will give you the option to meet local Karen tribes and get to know more about their traditions, customs and ways of life. The countryside here is very beautiful, so if you’re here in good weather it really is a great spot to get some trekking in.
As well as this, there are a couple of other spots both in the town and on the outskirts that are worth checking out on your visit. Outside of the town there is a picturesque bamboo bridge that links two small villages, and a couple of beautiful temples that it is worth visiting. There’s also a living museum which is very interesting and well worth seeing for an hour or two to learn more about the local culture and traditions, as well as the opportunity to take boat trips along the river. This can be a nice alternative to trekking if you’re not feeling so energetic, and offers some great views of the rural scenery.
A little further outside of town there are some further attractions if you have a bit more time to explore. There’s a popular mud spa which offers various treatments and is a good place to relax and unwind for an afternoon in the Thai countryside, whilst there are also some pretty waterfalls and other areas of natural beauty to take in.
When to go to Mae Hong Son
Similarly to the rest of the Northern Thailand, the best time to visit Mae Hong Son is between November and February. Nights can be chilly during this time and the rolling hills around the town are at their best with flowering bright yellow Mexican sunflower and red stars of giant poinsettia appearing right before Christmas time.
Where to stay in Mae Hong Son
When it comes to accommodation, there’s a surprising amount of places to stay in Mae Hong Son for somewhere that’s not such a prominent fixture on the tourist trail through Thailand. It tends to be easier to book your accommodation in advance, although you can just turn up and see what’s available on the day.
Most accommodation in Mae Hong Son is fairly non-descript, so don’t expect too much, and sometimes you’ll find prices are elevated for tourists - meaning that you’ll probably be paying a fair amount over the odds for somewhere that is very basic. Several mid range options exist in various spots around the town, whilst there are also many backpacker type hostels and guesthouses to choose from. The main issue seems to be that most properties designed for tourists aren’t exactly what you’d call well maintained - and if you’re looking to stay somewhere a bit nicer you’re probably best off picking a resort outside of the town itself.
Where to eat in Mae Hong Son
The lake is a central point when it comes to picturesque spots in the town, and is a hub of local activity. It’s here that you’ll find the night market, which as well as various food and snacks, also sells interesting handicraft items and souvenirs. The local hill tribe people come down to Mae Hong Son to sell their wares to tourists in the area.
How to get around Mae Hong Son
As the town itself is so small it’s easy to get around on foot, and no local transportation is needed to see most of the main attractions, with most opting for tours or walking. Some people do like to hire bicycles and cycle around the town and local area which is a pleasant option if it’s not too hot!
How to get to and from Mae Hong Son
There is a small airport, so when it comes to reaching Mae Hong Son the most efficient and quick way to do so is to catch a short flight from Chiang Mai with Kan Air or Bangkok Air, which should take around 30 minutes or so. These flights can be booked online or with local travel agents. Prices do fluctuate and can be anywhere between THB1000 and THB2000. Advance booking is always a good idea.
If a flight is out of your budget or you would rather take a more scenic route, there are several other options available. If you have a car available and are confident driving on mountain roads that aren’t always in the best condition then there is a direct route from Bangkok of over 900 km that passes either through Tak (Route 108) or through Chiang Mai (Route 11). If you’re already in Chiang Mai and want to drive from there it’s around a 5-6 hour journey although this can be slower accounting for poor weather conditions.
There are also a few different options to reach Mae Hong Son by bus. A mini van is the preferred option for most travellers as it takes only 5-6 hours and is air conditioned, whilst the buses that run to the town are usually expected to take 7-8 hours due to numerous stops and the difficulty of navigating winding roads in such a large vehicle. The air-conditioned mini buses cost around THB250 on average. They pass via Pai where you can split your journey.
Once you’re finished in Mae Hong Son, most people tend to head back to either Pai or Chiang Mai to continue exploring Northern Thailand, or head onwards to Bangkok and onto their next destination from here.
Is Mae Hong Son safe?
It is. The main danger comes from riding a motorbike in the countryside as the roads are serpentine and can get slippery when wet.