In a nutshell
Soppong is a small village located in the north of Thailand, in Mae Hong Son province.
Why go to Soppong
Just a short drive from both Pai and Mae Hong Son, it is almost always skipped by tourists travelling on the Mae Hong Son loop, while it is a perfect one (or even multiple)-day stop for those who are willing to discover a genuine, untouched and quiet traditional village.
Soppong population is a mixture of hill tribes (Karen, Lisu and Lahu), Burmese Shan, Thai and a few Muslim Chinese families. This combination of different languages and cultures peacefully living together makes this small village an interesting place to visit.
Soppong is mainly known for the many caves that can be found around it, with Tham Lot being the most famous and visited one, and many others that can be explored by those who will to spend a bit more time in the area.
There’s a bit of a mess up with the names Soppong and Pang Mapha as sometimes travellers (and many travel books, too) believe that the two names are interchangeable or that the original name has been replaced; the truth is that Soppong is the actual name of the old village close to the market and the bus station, while Pang Mapha is the name of the district, newly created by Thai government years ago. Usually in Thailand every district comes with the main town of the same name – but it is not the case with Pang Mapha and Soppong! – and this is where the confusion comes from.
When to go to Soppong
Attr: james_antrobus (cc by)
The best time to visit Soppong is the coolest months in the dry season from November till February. The weather is nice, rain is a rarity, walking and exploring do not mean a day of sweat and heat.
Be aware that Soppong is situated at 600 meters of altitude, thus at night there might be a significant falling in temperatures that occasionally might drop down to 5 degrees. Bring warm clothes for the night and enjoy your winter time; it won’t happen too often during your holiday in Thailand and we guarantee you’re going to miss the fresh air and low temperatures at some point.
Where to stay in Soppong
Not many options are available in the old village of Soppong since the majority of the few tourists that stop here will decide to sleep in one of the guesthouses in the surrounding area closer to the caves’ sites.
If you have your own mean of transportation this is the best option that you have; drive around, explore and you’ll find a dig matching your needs. As a rule of thumb though, all the nicer guesthouses are set in beautiful and peaceful gardens, overlooking or in proximity of the river.
Don’t expect to find any luxury resort, but if you’re here for the nature you’re going to love the place where you sleep. If you’re travelling in the low season, some of the guesthouses will be closed, but you’ll find anyway a decent place to spend the night.
Where to eat in Soppong
Soppong is not known for his vibrant dining and nightlife scene and apart from the restaurants attached to guesthouses (see the accommodation section for more details) the only 7/11 in town is your best bet to have a snack or a sandwich if you’re in town late in the evening.
Before sunset though, you’ll be able to find some noodles shops and chicken stalls around the bus station area. The best day of the week to taste some local specialties is Tuesday when the market stops in town. Be aware that it’s a morning market, so try to be there before 11am, and have a Sham breakfast with a portion of khao soi, a traditional Burmese noodle soup.
How to get around Soppong
The village itself straddles the main route between Chiang Pai and Mae Hong Son and you definitely do not need any transport to move around it. You do, though, if you want to explore the surroundings.
If you’re not traveling with your own bike or car, there’s a bike rental in town (THB250 per day) and in general many guesthouses will be able to find one for you if you ask them. If you don’t feel like driving a bike, there are motorbike taxis close to the bus station that will take you to all the major destinations at fixed prices (same fares are applied for Thais and foreigners).
How to get to and from Soppong
Soppong is located 45 km from Pai and 75 km from Mae Hong Son along the scenic route 1095, there’s no way you’re going to miss Soppong if you’re driving your own bike or car, since there’s only one road connecting the two towns. Just make sure you follow the signs to Pang Mapha and you don’t waste time searching for Soppong’s ones. This is by far the best way to travel here since with your means of transportation it will be a lot easier to explore the district, the caves, the jungle and the other villages.
Alternatively a single slow daily bus runs from Pai to Mae Hong Son taking 1,5 hours to Pai (THB80) and 2,5 hours to/from Mae Hong Son (THB99). The timetable depends on the season but in high season it should leave Pai at 11am and Mae Hong Son at 7am.
A quicker and more frequent minivan service travels between the two destinations all day long, leaving at least every hour or when the minivans are full. Note that there’s a high chance that when vans arrive in Soppong there are no seats available and you might have to wait for the next one. To avoid this inconvenience, do book in advance with Prem Pracha Transports – they operate all vans along this route. The vans heading to Pai proceed up to Chiang Mai then and in the opposite direction they are the same vans travelling from Chiang Mai vai Pai and Soppong to Mae Hong Son.
From Soppong expect to pay THB150 for both Pai and Mae Hong Son.
For people with very limited time (or those prone to motion sickness) there’s a possibility to fly from Chiang Mai either to Pai or Mae Hong Son. Check Kan Air for tariffs and schedule (expect to pay THB2000 for a one way ticket).
Is Soppong a safe place to visit?
The most common accident happening to tourists on the Mae Hong Son loop are connected to motorbikes. Always wear a helmet and be careful with road condition especially during the rainy season.
Also beware of the stray dogs in Soppong especially at night and if you’re walking alone.
There’s a small hospital in town that will be enough to deal with any minor emergency.