Samoeng, Pai and Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son province is the most mountainous province in Thailand and this, along with its low population density, make it particularly interesting.
I would recommend doing this trip over a few days or perhaps even a week. We started from the resort and headed to the beautiful village of Samoeng Tai. This is a major farming area set in a valley high in the mountains. We then followed the back roads to Pai and stayed there overnight, heading to Mae Hong Son the following day.
The Samoeng Viewpoint on the 1096
Taking this route to Pai is longer than following the 1095 route but is much quieter and very beautiful. It takes about 4.5 hours from the resort via Samoeng Tai. You need to use "Amphoe Samoeng Office" for google maps and then "Pai". The road numbers are 1349 from Samoeng and then the 1265 to Pai. This route takes you across mountain ridges and through deep forests where villages are few and far between and mobile reception is occasional. It's very winding with sharp bends and in places steep but it's seriously beautiful. If you are relying on digital mapping be sure to download the map for off-line use before you head off.
On route, about an hour before Pai, we came across a lovely pine forest with a great coffee shop that I recommend. If you time it right you will see the most colourful autumnal red maple trees.
Pai itself is very popular as a backpackers destination and there is a good but laid back nightlife scene. It's got a lovely vibe to it and is full of restaurants and cafes and the night market is a must visit. There is plenty of information on-line about Pai so I won’t go into detail about it here. I would suggest an overnight stay or two in Pai during which time you will be able to visit the attractions.
The main road from Pai to Mae Hong Son is the 1095. The journey is about 2.1 hours and the route takes you over some really high mountains. The views from the mountains are stunning. On route I highly recommend spending a couple of hours touring the Tham Lod cave complex. A gas lamp guided tour takes about 1:20 hours and includes two trips on bamboo rafts within the cave complex. The tour is 500 baht for a group of up to 3 people. In the cave the caverns are huge and breathtaking but be warned, the entrance area is a bit smelly from bird droppings!
Mae Hong Son town is beautiful and surrounded by high mountains. It all has a very laid-back vibe to it and a great night market. We found a good selection of places to visit and things to do.
Further out of town we visited Ban Rak Thai which is about an hour North of Mae Hong Son and right on the border of Burma. This is high in the mountains so if you visit in December or January you might need a jacket. Approximately in the middle of the mountainous region we found a lake surrounded by restaurants, shops and cafes. Most of the shops specialize in dried-baked fruit and a huge variety of teas. Many of the signs are in Chinese.
Ban Rak Thai is a Thai-Chinese village founded by Kuo Min Tang soldiers (Nationalist) who migrated from Yunnan Province, China, after the Communist takeover. They disarmed in the 1983/84 following an agreement with the Thai government. There's even a small museum in the village dedicated to the military period. You can still visit the old trenches of the KMT defense positions up on top of the hills.
On the same day we visited Ban Rak Thai and then on to Pang Oung, a national park quite nearby. There, a beautiful pine forest trek led us to a lake in the middle. We trekked around this lake for a couple of hours. This area is very close to the Burmese border and it would be inadvisable to accidentally cross it, therefore care is needed. Also, there is little phone reception here so make sure you have a map downloaded to enable you to use GPS on your phone.
Ban Rak Thai, Mae Hong Son
Pang Oung, Mae Hong Son
We returned to Country Retreat from Mae Hong Son via the main route, the 1095 and 3009. We did this journey in one go, taking, with stops, about 5 hours. It is a busier mountain route and quicker than our outbound journey via Samoeng. I hope this has inspired you to visit this amazing province.