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Mae Hong Son - a misty blend of northern Thailand and the Shan State.

If you're in the mood for a leisurely trip, Highway 108 will take you all the way to Mae Sariang, where the highway south ends. But we're on an adventure and we want to do one of those speed-demon runs into the wilds, so let's get moving.

The drive to Mae Sariang takes about four hours considering ‘nature stops'. We Drove for about two hours in a zigzag line passing two towns of any mention, Sob Moei and Baan Sob Ngao. The further we go the deeper we'll get into forest. We had gone go up and down hills and around steep and sometimes dangerous curves and every step of the way we'll feel ourselves getting deeper and deeper and finally we're in the middle of a veritable jungle. We're still in the mountains, for the entire Thai-Burma's Karen (Kayin) State border is a mountain range, but we will gradually descend from the mist and clouds, We passed precious few people-maybe a small group every one hundred kilometers or so - and for quite a long stretch. Those we do see may be trudging along the road with mountains of food baskets on their heads or backs; or, there may be a group of women working a multicolored, terraced farm in a small dip in the earth.

Mae Hong Sorn scenes.

Pocketed in the corner of northwestern Thailand is the remote, forested province of Mae Hong Sorn. A look at the map may give you a feeling for what the area has to offer, but when you get there you'll see much, much more than you ever expected. We're not talking here of bustling markets and busy streets. We're talking of simplicity and beauty, gentle people and flowing green hills, the reality of day-to-day, life in these mountains and the antiquity in its charm. Mae Hong Sorn holds forth all the variety you need to enjoy the pleasure of Thailand in the midst of a strong Shan influence.

Mae Hong Sorn Province borders Burma's Shan State on both the north and the west and the city of Mae Hong Sorn is a small a city. It was originally formed by a combination of wandering migrants which included people from Burma's Shan State, Thailand and some nomadic hilltribe peoples, and these are the people you see today living their lives in a traditional style because it's their nature to do so.

Located in a slight dip in the mountainside with fresh water pouring down from above and terraced farm plots switched into the descending levels below. It is in a valley of sorts in that it is flat and all around you will see healthy green fields stretching all the way to distant mountain bases themselves, for a misty fog hovers over the mountains like blanket coverings that slowly trail off into narrow lengths that swirl sown and around the mountain base at various points.

There is much for the visitor to see and enjoy, both in the city and in the surrounding areas. A walk along one of the many mountain roads within walking distance from wherever it is you might stay provides a spectacular drama of rolling hills in lush green and blue - grey. On these roads you'll often see Thai, Shan or Meo mountain people trudging along in their native garb. A drive around the area, either by car or motorcycle -- and if you wish bicycle -- is a day well-spent in this mountainous countryside.

More scenes from Mae Hong Sorn province.

A trip such as this will give you an opportunity to visit both the human and natural attractions of the area. On the human side, you can visit three different areas where hilltribe people live ; the Karen, the Meo and the Lisu -- three of the six hilltribe groups who inhabit northern Thailand. Most of the Karen people live on Doi Mae Haw at the Tribal Development & Assistance Center on Highway 108. Four different Karen Migrations took place at different times in history and all came from Burma's Karen State.

North of Mae Hong Sorn city, near the Thai-Burma's Shan State border, is the Meo (Muong) Tribal Village, about 35 kilometers north of the Bha Sua Waterfalls. The Meo are said to have emigrated from Laos, but some made their way through Burma's Shan State before setting in the northwest. To the east of Mae Hong Sorn city, on Highway 1095 -- a distance of about 30 kilometers -- is the Lisu Tribal Village.

Along the same route as the Tribal village, many natural attractions are within easy access. Waterfalls and caves dominate, but there are also hot springs and dense jungle paths. It would not be wise; however, not to venture too far into these jungle paths. You are very close to the Burma's Shan State border and even the Thai and Shan cannot cross.

Some of the most attractive waterfalls are the Pha Sua Falls (น้ำตกผาเสื่อ) and the Mae Surin Falls (น้ำตกแม‹สุรินทร). The Pha Sua Falls are due north of Mae Hong Sorn Village on a side road that departs Highway 1095. From the highway. It's a 10-kilometer drive into Bha Sua Forest park. These waterfalls are not only attractive, they're almost awesome. Seven levels of falls pour over huge rocks embedded into an even higher mountainside and splash and spray into a pool at the foot. The miniature valley into which these falls pour is a misty and somewhat erie gouge in the mountains. The mist seems to glide through the water as it deposits itself in the pool and at times it hovers over the pool momentarily as if it's waiting for its next destination--the best nature effects of this mist can be seen from early August to late September. The Mae Surin Falls are south of Mae Hong Sorn province in Highway 108 and are the highest waterfalls in Thailand.

If you choose the waterfalls south of the province, Gaew Gomon Cave (ถ้้ำแกŒวโกมล) in Mae La Noy district are close by and well worth a visit. If you take the northerly route, there is the Thaam Pla (Fish Cave) (ถ้ำปลา) on Highway 1095 where fish live in small streams within the cave. Further on. On Highway 1095 (about 60 kilometers from Mae Hong Sorn city) is the Thaam Lord Cave (ถ้ำลอด), a deep and ancient relic of the past where many prehistoric remains have been found. This cave has grown its own garden of beautifully colored stalagmites and stalactites over the millennia.

In all of these outlying areas, you'll see the subtle blend of Thailand and Burma's Shan State, but nowhere is it more evident than in Mae Hong Sorn's temples. Wat Gitti Wong (วัดกิตติวงศ) is located on Highway 108 and contains Buddha relics brought from Chiangmai and ancient manuscripts discovered in Pha Daeng Cave (ถ้ำผาแดง) near Salaween River in the area of Sao Hin subdistrict, Mae Sariang district, which recount the history of relations between Burma's Shan State and the Lanna Kingdom of northern Thailand. It is not surprising that the Buddha relics in Wat Gitti Wong were brought from Chiangmai. Mae Hong Sorn was established as a town and then a province by the kings of the Lanna Kingdom prior to its becoming part of Thailand. Another temple which demonstrates the mix of Thai and Shan cultures in the province is Wat Naam Hu (วัดน้ำฮู) in Pai district on Highway 1095. This temple contains a sacred Chiang Saen Buddha image. 24 inches wide at the base and 30 inches high, indeed straight out of antiquity. The Chiang Sean term refers to the Shan Kingdom from which the founders of the northern Thai Lanna Kingdom came during the feudal wars of what is now the Burma's Shan State side of the Thai border in the 12th and 13th centuries.

In the city of Mae Hong Sorn, there are numerous temples and other forms of architecture of the Thai-Shan mix. Along the village's only lake are the Shan temple Wat Jong Glang (วัดจองกลาง) with its distinctive Shan jedee (chedi) in pagoda style and the Thai temple of Wat Jong Come (วัดจองคำ) with its Thai jedee in the smooth circular dome style topped with a spire. These two temples rest side by side and are brilliant displays of art and history.

Another example of the balanced Thai and Shan influence is a second dual temple overlooking the village. A short drive or a 15-minute walk will take you to this structural duality where by night or day you can get a good brid's-eye view of Mae Hong Sorn and the surrounding area. At this temple, housed in a wood shelter with open sides are a bronze Buddha image on the left and a gold Buddha image on the right.

If you're in the North, or planning to come, Mae Hong Sorn province is an area you must not miss. From Chiangmai, you can travel by tourist bus, local bus from Chiangmai's bus arcade, or you can fly. Any mode of travel will cost you very little and whether you stay in Thailand's northwest pocket for only a weekend or a whole week you'll never see anything like it -- even in the North.


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