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Mae Hong Son Loop Travelogue

Mae la noi, Mountain view

Stop to take pics of the view on the way

What is the Mae Hong Son Loop?

The Mae HOng Son Loop is a 600km circuit through one of hte most authentic parts of Thailand – Mae HOng Son province. It also the most mountainuos and forested province, located just west of Chiang Mai.
This travelogue of our Mae Hong Son loop tour depicts our cultural road trip in pictures. The popular 600km route starts from Chiang Mai and takes you on a 360 degree loop through Mae Hong Son province – the most mountainous province in Thailand. As the classic travel adage goes, the Mae Hong Son Loop is

…….about the journey, not the destination

On our 5 day adventure we were treated to cultural surprises and enchanting local encounters. As they say, the pictures never do the real thing justice, but this is just a little visual taster for you.

Day 1) Chiang Mai to Pai

After pick up from the hotel in Chiang Mai city, we head out of the city and into the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Enjoy your first taste of the lush Thai countryside, as we head through the tourist area of Mae Sa, you can enjoy optional tourist activities such as; visiting an elephant camp, Tiger Kingdom, Insect Zoo, or even ziplining. As our tours are not fixed, we can customise the activities so just let us know what you’re interested in.

We then head onto Pai, a few hours drive away through the windy mountains, enjoy the landscape views on the way. After we arrive at Pai, a free and easy evening, enjoy the walking street market in Pai.


               Raincloud over the mountains 

Day 2) Pai – Soppong- Mae Hong Son

After breakfast, we head to Soppong  and visit ‘Susanna’ the host of  Lisu hilltribe homestay, she makes beautiful Lisu hilltribe bags, so we purchased some as souvenirs, and then walked around the neighbouring Lisu villages

Lisu hilltribe bag smeets susanna_edit_190_260

 Buying a handmade Lisu            hilltribe bag

After Soppong we head onto Mae Hong Son. The windy mountain road takes us through some some beautiful mountain vistas,

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          Stop to admire the views on the way

        ……….and countryside scenes such as the one below – local farmers planting rice. We stop to marvel at them working the fields.

Rice planting in northern Thailand

                         Local farmers planting rice

 A little bit further on the country road, we stop off at ‘Wat Tham Wua’ an idyllic forest monastery surrounded by lofty limestone mountains and lush nature. A lesser known place, this monastery is open to foreigners and Thai who want to come and do a meditation retreat. The beautiful locale is a perfect setting for tranquility and meditation. We’re lucky to arrive at the time when monks were leading walking meditation and sitting meditation

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          Walking & Sitting meditation

Half an hour after the monastery, we stop at a traditional Shan (ethnic minority) village, which produces sesame oil using traditional techniques. We watch and learn about  how they use still use buffaloes in this process, and have a go at riding the friendly resident buffalo called ‘Big C’

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  Buffalo riding on ‘Big C’

We reach our destination for the night – Mae Hong Son town, the capital of the province. Arriving at dusk, we drive up Wat Doi Gong mu temple located on a hilltop overlooking Mae hong son valley, to watch the beautiful sunset behind the mountains

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         Sunset over Mae Hong Son, from Wat Doi                         Gong Mu temple

Day 3) Mae Hong Son – Hilltribe homestay

After a  brief visit to the local morning market, our first stop for the day is a Karen Long neck village  ‘Baan Huay Bpuu Geng’ a few kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border.  To reach the village we have to take a local boat on the Pai river.

Through the good relationship we have built up over the years with Karen long neck villager  ‘Manang’  (who we came to know because of her excellent English, as she is the English teacher at the village school), we’re probably one of the only tours which enables you to visit a Long neck village in a non-voyeuristic  and culturally interactive way, being shown around privately by your own Karen long neck guide who is happy to answer your questions. So instead of just taking pictures of the villagers, you have the chance to learn about their fascinating culture and in return Manang is happy to practice her English with you.

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                                Karen Long neck weaving

We leave Mae Hong Son, for our next destination – Lawa & Karen hilltribe villages nestled in the mountains of Mae la noi.  The drive up to the villages looks something like this –

Taking view of mountain_bert smeets_edit_400_270

                      Stop to take pics of the view

We meet our homestay family, and its nearly time for dinner so we cook together.  We enjoy local dishes such as preserved cabbage, fried eggs, bamboo shoots, and ‘Nam prik ong’ (red minced pork chilli dip)

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                       Dinner at hilltribe homestay

Day 4) Explore Karen & Lawa Hilltribe villages

We woke up to the village cacophony of pigs and chickens and after breakfast at the homestay we set off to explore the villages.

Homestay terrace kids_bert smeets (2)_edit-300_237

Good morning! from the terrace of the homestay with the youngest children of the homestay family

 We visit a traditional Karen hilltribe village accessed by dirt road.  Underneath a stilt house, we find a female villager pounding rice the traditional way using a traditional wooden mechanism.

Karen hilltribe pounding rice 2_smeets_edit_Fotor_2pics_400

                             Karen hilltribe pounding rice

We watch how the Lawa hilltribe weave cotton on a sit-down backstrap loom


       Lawa Hilltribe weaving cotton

As our time in the villages comes to and end, and we have to make our way down from the villages in the mountains, we stop to take pics of the beautiful views on the way.

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 View of the rice terraces between hilltribe villages

We spend the last night of the tour at a local guesthouse in Mae Sariang town

Day 5) Mae Sariang- Doi Inthanon – Chiang Mai

We depart beautiful Mae Sariang and head back to Chiang Mai. Our last stop on the tour,  is to visit the highest mountain in Thailand – Doi Inthanon mountain and national park. At 2,565m above seal level, the climate and ecology changes quite a bit, so we got the raincoats out.

Doi Inthanon Mountain_smeets edit_231_300

   Summit of Doi Inthanon        Mountain & National park

The Mae Hong Son Loop provides a fantastic 5-6 Day Cultural adventure filled with nature, scenery, learning about how the locals live, their way of life and so much more.  Traversing through the mountains of Mae Hong Son, where beyond the next curve on the road, lay a cultural encounter to be discovered.  From elephants to buffaloes, long neck women to Karen hilltribes, rice planting to rice eating.  We watched, we asked, we talked, we laughed, we tasted, we photographed and we cherished. We experienced and learnt what seemed like 5 years worth in 5 days.

 Have you done the Mae Hong Son Loop? If so, we’d  like to hear your comments about it ….

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