In a nutshell
Mae Sariang is a small and quiet town in Mae Hong Son, the northwestern province of Thailand bordering with Myanmar.
Why go to Mae Sariang
Located 200 km southwest of Chiang Mai, it is still quite out of the radar of the mass tourism who all year round flock to the area around.
Occupying a picturesque valley, Mae Sariang is surrounded by mountains, forests, rivers and rice fields and it’s quickly gaining a reputation as an undiscovered alternative to the more crowded Pai and Chiang Rai. Though now it is still relatively quiet, things tend to change fast in Thailand. So, if you’re planning to visit Mae Sariang, don’t wait too long or the charming, sleepy, untouched Mae Sariang of today will be gone forever.
The town is populated by different ethnic groups living peacefully together. The largest group is represented by the Shan people, originating from the Southern China; walking around Mae Sariang you will clearly see the influence of their culture everywhere, from traditional dresses that women wear when they go to the temple, to food and architecture, with many of the original buildings made of wood still in use, what adds to Mae Sariang’s an incredible old-fashioned charm.
When to go to Mae Sariang
If you’re coming to Mae Sariang for some serious trekking, it’s probably best to avoid the rainy season which goes from May till October. On the other hand, during these months the nature is particularly lush, the rivers roaring and the almost daily rainstorms will help you to cool down a bit.
The best months to visit are the shoulder months between the cool season and the hot one.
In March and November it does not rain often and the temperatures are balmy. If you come in December and January keep in mind that there’s a huge contrast between night and day temperatures – the air can get as cold as 4°C at night.
Where to stay in Mae Sariang
There’s not a big range of options in Mae Sariang as far as accommodation is concerned. The best places to stay are right on the riverbank and whether you’re searching for a simple wooden guesthouse or a slightly more upscale resort head straight to the river. No need to reserve in advance at the moment – there are not so many visitors and besides, many of the guesthouses are not listed on any of the major travel sites.
Where to eat in Mae Sariang
Most of the restaurants in Mae Sariang are located on the banks of the river Yuam, which crosses the town from north to south. Many of the venues will have an outdoor terrace where you can enjoy your meal with a magnificent view. We mean magnificent! Some of the restaurants will have an English menu but in general they’re not too much tourist-oriented what means authentic food and affordable prices.
Close to the bus station you’ll have a few option of street food but don’t expect any major night market; just a few stalls serving mainly noodles and rice.
How to get around Mae Sariang
Mae Sariang is a small town and to visit it you will need nothing else than your feet.
But visiting just Mae Sariang without exploring the beautiful surroundings is probably not the reason why you’re planning to go there.
Public transportation is basically non-existing apart from a few unpredictable songthaews (shared pickup trucks) which are not an option unless you speak some decent Thai.
Many of the guesthouses by the river rent bicycles (THB50 a day) or motorbikes (THB200 a day), but we had to make quite a research before we got an automatic Fino – all the other options were semi-automatic at the best. We were asked to leave our driving license as a deposit – what we did very reluctantly indeed.
There are no taxis available, but if you prefer a car with a driver ask at the place where you’re staying and they will find a solution. Make sure you ask for the price in advance.
How to get to and from Mae Sariang
The nearest all-purpose airport to Mae Sariang is located in Chiang Mai. Mae Sariang has its own small airport, too, but it serves private aircrafts exclusively, so flying here is not an option.
From Bangkok a few overnight buses leave daily from Morchit Bus Terminal for Mae Hong Son (the capital of the province, 4 hours north) and some stop in Mae Sariang – you have to check in advance with the operator. Tickets start at THB550 and the journey takes approximately 12 hours. The only inconvenience is that these buses are scheduled to arrive in Mae Hong Son in the morning so they stop at Mae Sariang in the small hours (around 4am) and Mae Sariang is not the place where you find a lot of life at that hour.
Travelling in the opposite direction – from Mae Sariang to Bangkok – is completely ok as the buses call to Mae Sariang at 5pm and 7.30pm.
The easier and most common way to get to Mae Sariang is either from Chiang Mai or from Mae Hong Son.
From Chiang Mai, local fan buses or more comfortable air-conditioned buses leave several times a day from the Arcade bus station. It takes 4 to 5 hours to get to Mae Sariang from Chaing Mai and tickets start from THB100. Shared minivans leave the same station – they do a faster job and normally more frequent (notice that they will leave only once they’re full). Tickets are more expensive than those for regular buses (THB200) and travelling by minivan is generally more uncomfortable, since you might end up doing the whole trip with your luggage on your legs.
Getting from Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang by bus takes around 5 hours. Local fan-cooled buses leave throughout the day and follow quite a picturesque route 108 what somewhat brightens otherwise rather an uncomfy ride.
The absolute best way to visit Mae Sariang is to rent a car in Chiang Mai (even better a motorcycle if you’re a biker and it’s not the rainy season). It will give you the freedom to explore the beautiful nature around and in general to travel to other areas of the province. The so-called Mae Hong Son loop is considered by many as a highlight of any visit to the Thai North. Drive 200 km from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang vai route 108 before heading north to Mae Hong Son town vai the same route 108 for a 4 hours’ drive. Going back to Chiang Mai via route 1095 stop in Pai. The whole tour takes about 4/5 days but if you plan to do some trekking on your way consider 1 or 2 days more.
Is Mae Sariang a safe place to visit?
Mae Sariang is a safe place for tourists. People are welcoming and friendly and always willing to help the few tourists stopping there. Be careful if you rent a motorbike or car – roads heading to waterfalls or hot springs are bumpy in parts and especially during the rainy season can be treacherous.
There’s a small hospital in Mae Sariang but for any major problem head back to Chiang Mai.