Some of Thailand’s most unspoiled landscapes lie within Mae Hong Son’s southernmost district. Both of Sop Moei’s significant national parks, Mae Ngao and Salawin, boast no shortage of ways to soak up the beauty of their pristine bodies of water and nature trails.
Boating and trekking are Sop Moei’s two most common outdoor activities, while Sop Moei Arts is the district’s best known source for handmade souvenirs.
Ngao River Rafting
Ngao River rafting is one of the most thrilling ways to travel across Mae Ngao National Park, which contains a 42kms long stretch of this impressive river. The months between June and January, when colourful flowers bloom next to the Ngao River’s cliffs and teak forests, are the best times of year for tourists to climb aboard these bamboo rafts or long-tailed boats. The Ngao River received its name, which means ‘shadow’ in English, because of its crystal clear waters.
Three main Ngao River rafting routes travel through Mae Ngao National Park. One rafting journey, between the village of Mae Lui and Mae Ngao National Park, lasts just three hours. Rafters who depart from the village of Nadoi, on the other hand, require two days to reach Mae Ngao National Park. A third rafting route begins at Mae Ngao National Park and ends at the intersection of the Ngao and Meoi rivers.
Salawin River Cruises
Salawin River, another significant Sop Moei body of water, is situated in its namesake national park. Long-tailed boats are the most common vessel for Salawin River cruises, which make two hour round trip journeys either north or south of their departure point, the border village of Mae Sam Laep.
Northern route Salawin River cruises travel through the Salawin Wildlife Preservation area as well as the villages of Simoota, Mae Paw, and Tatafang. The southern route travels through a village named Sob Moei. The waters in the Salawin River decrease significantly during the dry season, which widens the rocky banks and makes the water clearer.
Shopping is not one of Sop Moei’s main attractions. The exception is Sop Moei Arts. During the past three decades, this former public health project has grown into a successful non-profit organisation and helps the area’s Pwo Karen people preserve their traditional craft skills and become self-sufficient. Baskets, cushions, mats, wall hangings, table runners, and textiles are just some of the items the Pwo Karen make and sell at Sop Moei Arts.
Trekking tours in Sop Moei may lack the elephant rides and rafting excursions provided in larger and more developed Chiang Mai, but most hikers who venture further north are searching for a less commercialised trekking experience.
There are between two to seven hikers in a typical Sop Moei trekking excursion, which can last from two to four days. Hikers are expected to spend their nights at homestays with hill tribe families or camping and cooking in the jungle. Some treks between June and August also include planting trees in the forest. Mae Ngao National Park’s Oloh-gro Waterfall and Salawin National Park’s forested hiking trails are a couple of Sop Moei’s most scenic treks.