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Mae Hong Sorn

Mae Hong Sorn Valley A TRIP TO Mae Hong Sorn is a trip into an enchanted land of cloud covered mountains in rich green and a exotic culture that goes back to a time long before recorded history. Tucked into a mid-level valley on Thailand's northwest border with Burma, a small village was founded by migrant Shan farmers in the early 19th century. Long before this, these farmers' ancestors had formed the powerful Nanzhao Kingdom of the Tais in southern China. From the beginning of the 7th century to the beginning of the 19th century, these people slowly moved southward, first occupying northern Burma, which became the Shan states, and finally moving across the Loi Lar Mountain Range, which today separated Burma from Thailand in the northwest corner.

The Shan of Thailand's northwest travelled back and forth between Burma and Thailand for centuries before establishing a settlement here. They came annually to work the forest of Mae Hong Sorn, but they lived in northern Burma. In Thailand, their first settlement was the village of Baan Pong Mu , which they founded in 1831. Over the following decades, their population grew with the borders of Thailand and a town was founded which later became known as Mae Hong Sorn.

Elephants along trail These people chose the site for their settlement according to the tradition of their people. The Tais had always preferred a mid-level mountain region that was suited to their traditional array of crops. This meant hillsides at an altitude that would allow very low temperatures in the winter and valley fields below where very hot summer temperatures would give them the rice yields they required. The area also required the essential element of heavy rains for good harvests of both the summer and winter crops.

These Shan settlers selected the perfect site when they began to build Mae Hong Sorn. Winter temperatures went down to as low as 2 degrees Celsius, providing for the needed winter frost on the many greens they planted; summer temperatures, on the other hand, went up to as high as 40 degrees Celsius, providing for the hot tropical climate so necessary to the growing of their rice. In addition, ample rain in the monsoon season between summer and winter provided for natural irrigation of the land.

This rare combination of seasonal temperatures in an area far away from any coast gave the Shan settlers the needed climate for productive growth on the rich, fertile mountain land. The altitude, the climbing hillsides, and the dramatic differences in seasonal temperature and humidity also gave the settlement the unique feature of daily clouds of mist that rose from the morning earth and drifted through the paths and later the roads of the town. These Shan were farmers and settlers, and when they happened upon this site they were keenly aware of its suitability for their people.

They took up their hoes and ploughs and in their age-old tradition they terraced the mountain hillsides. They planted their crops and took advantage of the wealth of natural vegetation in the wild all around their new settlement. The endless hills of high and healthy bamboo were used for the building of their temporary shelters as well as their livestock corals and storage depots. High, leafy plants were cut and switched for roofing. And the dense forest provided them with their traditional household building material of hardwood. They built their homes and village on the hill and then slowly extended their farming area to the valley below.

temple In their new settlement the Shan supplanted their religious culture of Buddhism, and being a people long affected by the pure Theravada Buddhist principles of Tai civilizations everywhere, they imbued their children with the Buddhist spirit, and they built festivals and ceremonies with them when they came to Thailand's northwest, and each year they continued these joyous festivities in their new home. In their natural mountainside habitat they passed on, from generation to generation, their culture and they made it even stronger. Now they were a new settlement in a new country and they wanted to reconstruct their own world for themselves.

They had their sons trained in Buddhist precepts from the ages of 7 to 14 , and they believed that the best way to maintain their well-balanced society of self-sufficiency and generally happy nature was to have their sons learn the staying features of life. This tradition remains today. The most colorful, heartfelt Buddhist festivities in Thailand are the lively Shan festivals celebrated in Mae Hong Sorn.

Before Mae Hong Sorn became a part of Thailand through the Vestiges of the Northern Lanna Province of Chiangmai in the late 19th century, the Mae Hong Sorn Shan had Tai kings of their own. Their first king, Phaka Toekshan , built the famous Wat Phra Norn of Mae Hong Sorn. This was the first temple built in the city and legend has it that King Phaka Toekshan ordered the magnificent 12 - meter reclining Burmese Buddha, housed therein, crafted so that the temple could be constructed around it. Wat Phra Norn is where the ashes of all of Mae Hong Sorn's Shan kings are buried and today it is easily found just to the west of Mae Hong Sorn at Wat Phra Thart Doi Gong Mu , the famous temple on the hilltop overlooking the city.

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