Rice fields at Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Mae Hong Son

Wedged into a narrow valley in Thailand’s far north, with steep-sloped, jungle-cloaked mountains rising on all sides, Mae Hong Son is a laid-back base for adventures through forest and farmland to the villages of Karen, Lisu and Black Lahu ethnic minorities.

All but cut off from the rest of Thailand until the construction of a highway from Chiang Mai in the late 1980s, remote Mae Hong Son still feels like something of a frontier town. In fact, this province was once part of Mawkmai State, one of the Shan kingdoms that ruled this region before the British arbitrarily parcelled out their land between Burma and Siam in the 19th century. Though now divided between modern-day Thailand and Myanmar, the whole region is still predominantly ethnically Shan, and shares much of its culture and history across the political boundary.

Today, Mae Hong Son may be far-flung but it’s far from obscure, drawing in domestic tourists attracted by the coolest temperatures in Thailand and a palpable sense of remoteness. Foreign tourists, when they come, come in search of trekking, minority culture and stunning mountain scenery — and Mae Hong Son has it all in spades. Mountain trails wind through paddy fields and steep hills to communities of Karen, Lisu, Hmong and Black Lahu. Underneath the hills, rivers rush through limestone caves filled with dripping stalactites, and in the mornings, lush valleys fill with oceans of clouds, the mountaintops silhouetted against the sunrise.

Do the famous “Mae Hong Son Loop” through the mountains from Chiang Mai, or simply base yourself in town and make day-trip forays into the surrounding hills: this is a beautiful and unspoilt region to get out and explore.

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