Mae Hong Son is the name of both one of Thailand’s northernmost provinces as well as its picturesque capital. Few tourists venture to this isolated corner of northwest Thailand, but those who make the trip will find a pleasantly cool climate, lush mountain scenery, and a unique culture combining Chinese, Burmese, and Thai influences. With a population of just 7,000 people, this ‘city of three mists’ is one of the few Thai provincial capitals without high rise buildings.
The present day Mae Hong Son Province was first founded as a Shan state called Mawkmai by a Chiang Mai noble in 1767. Chiang Mai’s former king first established the community of Mae Hong Son as a camp for training elephants during the early 19th century. The Mae Hong Son provincial seal of an elephant in water honours the locality’s historic association in training the creatures for work and warfare. Even though the Japanese carved out the first road to Mae Hong Son during WWII, the sealed road linking the province to Chiang Mai was not fully completed until the late 1980s.
As Thailand’s most mountainous province, Mae Hong Son’s geography is dominated by the Shan Hills mountain range and a misty atmosphere which has earned its namesake capital the nickname of ‘city of three mists’. Steep forested hills surround the provincial capital’s narrow valley, which contains the small Mae Hong Son airport and town. The highlights of Mae Hong Son town include historic teak buildings, some Shan temples, and a serene lake in the middle of the community.
Smoke from stubble-burning fills the Mae Nam Pai valley during the hottest months from February to May, while Mae Hong Son’s unpaved roads become difficult to navigate during the June to October rainy season. Therefore, November to February, Mae Hong Son’s coolest months, may be the best months to visit the region.
CULTURE AND POPULATION
Hill tribes form 63 percent of the population of Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s most sparsely populated province. The Shan, Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Akha, Lahu, and Yao are the most commonly found hill tribes in Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son’s Lanna architecture differs drastically from other parts of Thailand because of the province’s unique climate, with its hot summers, cool winters, and year-round mist. Most Mae Hong Son homes have low roofs and raised floors.
Mae Hong Son locals may seem shy and reserved because the province remains fairly isolated and receives few foreign visitors, but they are still quite polite and friendly once visitors get to know them. Thai tourists, on the other hand, come to Mae Hong Son because of its charming rural location and cooler climate when compared to the rest of the country.