Mae Hong Son
Northern Thailand by Motorbike - the Mae Hong Son Loop
Part 2 - Mae Hong Son
We reached Mae Hong Son around four in the afternoon and headed to the north end of town to the Siam Hotel. We had called the previous day to every hotel in Mae Hong Son for a room and this was the only one that wasn't full and would give us a reservation. LP cites this place as being overpriced. I'll agree it's no bargain, but it was a whole lot better than where we had stayed in Chiang Mai and most importantly, they had a spare room.
We both liked the town of Mae Hong Son. It's been criticized as being too "touristy", but, what were we? Tourists, I think. The town sits in a nice valley and is kept clean - for all the tourists, maybe? Well, who cares why it's clean. Clean is clean and we liked it. The only drawback was that this was a holiday weekend and I don't think the town could have handled any more visitors. As it was, many Thai tourists were unable to find rooms and slept in their vehicles that night. For us that would have meant the two of us balancing ourselves on one motorbike which I don't think would have worked very well. Maybe we could have taken shifts or something.
We drove around town a little, it's a small town, it's all you can do, and then went to the main temple. Actually there are two temples adjacent to each other in town and another one up on the hill overlooking the valley. In town are Wat Jong Klang and Wat Jong Kham and I was never sure when I left one and entered the other, but we did the wai phra thing and made the meritorious donation.
A nice lake sits out front. We picked up some bread and started feeding the fish. Then a family came along and started throwing in five times the amount of food and all the fish left.
Our first destination the following day, December 30, was to the Tham Plaa (Fish Cave) National Park about 17 kms northeast of town. This is a sacred place (sacred fish live here) and is one of the few national parks where no admission fee is levied. Considering Thai national parks are a sacred 200 baht for foreigners (20 for Thais) I welcomed the opportunity not to have to bargain my way down to the local price, which for the uninitiated, is in fact not always a difficult endeavor, though it is considerably eased by having the ability to speak at least enough Thai to bargain your way out of the foreigner price in the vernacular, because you are sure going to have a tough time doing it in English.
But not so fast. Driving around town the previous evening something did seem slightly amiss with the bike but not being able to get it up to speed within the town limits and not really caring to run out to the highway I ignored the problem for the moment. But on this morning, we were back on the highway and a few klicks up the road began a loud noise in the rear wheel accompanied by difficulty steering (bearings, I thought to myself silently). Still, I stopped the bike to have a look and see if there was anything obvious I could correct before returning to Mae Hong Son. At that very moment two elderly monks who had just emerged from the jungle, and looking like they'd been there awhile, walked our way. Without stopping or hearing anything from us, the lead monk, a weary old man of maybe 60 or 70, turned and suggested to us that we better get it fixed. To Ning, the monk's suggestion was an extraordinarily significant revelation and was certainly the reward for our numerous trips to multiple and sundry temples to bless the bike, the driver, the transmission, the horn, the left rear turn-signal, the petrol, our bags, the white lines on the highway, etc. Actually, all joking aside, I do like the idea of popping into a temple for a blessing before commencing a long journey. Anyway, we went back to Mae Hong Son and were directed to the proper bike shop and thirty minutes and two dollars later, the bike had a new set of wheel bearings.
The Tham Plaa isn't really a cave per se. Not anything you can walk or even crawl into, anyway. It's kind of like a pool of water with natural rock protection inhabited by hundreds of sacred soro brook carp which grow to a meter in length. We fed them a few bags of food, most of which the fish didn't eat, but seeing as there were a hundred other people tossing food their way I can hardly blame them for not having much of an appetite.
Our next stop was the Padaung village of Nai Soi. Click here to read an editorial I wrote concerning the ethics of visiting one of these longneck villages. A small refugee village, the inhabitants are predominantly limited to hawking souvenirs for a living and posing for photographs. Some of the women were happy to be photographed and chat with you, others, especially the younger ones seemed anything but excited at their vocation of sitting around all day looking nice for the tourists. I'm not going to go into a lot of details about this place, if you want my opinion (and a couple of photos), please click the link at the top of the paragraph.
Our final stop of the day was to the top of Doi Kong Mu, the 1500m peak that rises above the west side of town. The destination is Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu giving us another chance to wai phra and make merit. Nice view of the town, too.
The evening was spent walking around Mae Hong Son. The main street was blocked off for New Year celebrations which included some kind of stage presentation designed to educate the Thais and the handful of westerners on the ways of the local minority groups. Basically, teenagers in costume, who seemed not entirely sure of themselves, pranced around a stage while an announcer explained in Thai and broken English what it was all about. We gave up after three minutes and tried to find a table in a restaurant somewhere, which was a challenge.
The following morning we were on the road to Pai, the banana pancake capital of northern Thailand. A very tortuous but at times outrageously scenic road, it was mostly a very enjoyable ride.
Part 2 - Mae Hong Son
Part 3 - Pai
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.