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Published: November 23rd 2007
On the long and winding road..... to Mae Sariang
The road out of Chiang Mai twists and turns up and down the mountains on the way out to Mae Hong Son, a town in the very north of Thailand near the Burmese border. The road was narrow and on either side the hedges were full of yellow sunflowers. We were on our way around the Mae Hong Son Loop, a road through the mountains of North Thailand that loops to Mae Hong Son and the back to Chiang Mai. We visited Pai, a hippy town on the loop last year from Chiang Mai. We loved the place and the scenery was beautiful so we wanted to explore more of the area.
It's an 8 hour bus journey from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, and a windy one at that, so we broke the journey half way in Mae Sariang. As we got off the bus we were greeted by a guy who offered us a room in his guest house, just a few hundred metres from the bus station, for 200 baht a night (about 3 quid). We quickly took him up on the
offer and went to look at the room. The other western people who had got off the bus with us looked a bit intimidated. We have come to expect people to advertise rooms to us when we arrive in a new place, its how we usually find accommodation. Whenever a bus pulls in somewhere its usually met by a group of motorcycle taxi drivers, tuk tuk drivers (or the equivalent local transport), guest house touts or the actual owner/staff from the guest houses. They usually advertise a guest house to you and give you a price for rooms, you can then go and look at the room with no obligation to stay. These guest houses are not often in the guidebooks for whatever reason, and most importantly, have rooms available. So we don't have to trail around with our heavy backpacks looking for a place from our guidebook, which is often either full or a bit more rundown than when the guidebook writer was last there. We have spoken to a lot of people traveling who say they never go with the touts, but always find their own accommodation. They seem to think that just because the tout is sometimes
Welcome to Mae Sariang
Silver gateway to the town
getting commission from whatever guest house he takes you to, that it is somehow a scam. However, so far we have never had a problem doing things this way, and if we don't like the look of a place when we get there, we just don't stay.
Anyway, the guy at the bus station was Akesaan, the very enthusiastic owner of the Roadside guest house and restaurant, that had only been open for 10 months (and therefore wasn't in any guidebooks yet). The room was at the side of the restaurant, and was really great. All the furniture had been rustically made from wood. The bathrooms were shared, although there were 4 shared between 6 rooms so there was no queue for the shower. The attached restaurant had a definite cowboy feel. It was all wood, with carved indian heads, cow skulls and cowboy pictures all over the walls. Akesaan himself was dressed in a country and western t-shirt, and country and western music was playing on the cd player!. It was a nice place to stay.
We only spent the night in Mae Sariang, but we made sure we took time to explore the town. Its a
small place with narrow streets of wooden shop houses. It's beside the Sarawen river and has some lovely river views. For such a small place it does have an incredibly large number of temples! There must be about 10. Some of the them were in the Thai style we are familiar with, and others showed an influence of nearby Burma.
We spent a comfortable night in the Roadside guesthouse before jumping back on a passing bus towards Mae Hong Son.
Temples, markets and more hilltribes
Mae Hong Son is in a beautiful location, nessled in a valley with forest covered mountains all around. In the middle of the town is a lake, which is looked over by two impressive temples. Mae Hong Son's main inhabitants are Shan tribes people from nearby Burma. Apparently the Shan were brought to Thailand by the old princes of Chiang Mai to catch and tame wild elephants. I assume these elephants were then used for war. The Shan brought a Burmese influence to the town, particularly in its temples. Mae Hong Son is also interesting because of the number of different hill tribes people that visit. Unlike Sapa where women chased
you down the street in some high pressure sales tactic to get you to buy a blanket, the hilltribe women in Mae Hong Son were a lot more chilled. In the evenings around the lake there is a night market, where different hill tribes people have stalls were they sell their produce. The Karen women sell weaved cotton scarves, bags and blankets in pale pastel colours. The Lisu women sell brightly coloured patchwork bags, pencil cases and purses, made up of lots of different colours of material folded together. There are also stalls selling Chinese teas and different herbal products, toys, wood carvings and many other things.
When we arrived in Mae Hong Son we checked into a small guest house by the lake, Friend House, that had been recommended by Akesaan in Mae Sariang. We got an upstairs room in the teak house with a mattress and a fan, looking onto a large shared balcony area. We dropped off our stuff and went for a look around. The night market was just setting up, and there were lots of different food stalls beside the lake where you could choose dishes from a variety of stalls and eat them
White chedis in the temple on the hill
Phra That Doi Kong Moo temple, to give it its proper name
at small tables overlooking the lake. The market stalls and the temples behind were lit up with multi-coloured fairy lights. We bought lots of dishes of food and settled down to tuck in beside the river.
We spent two nights and one full day in Mae Hong Son. During the day we climbed up to a temple, on a hill overlooking the town. I don't know how many steps it was to the top, but it was a lot and seemed a lot more than that in the burning sunshine at the heat of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. It was worth the climb at the top. There were views all across the valley to the mountains on all sides. We could see the whole of Mae Hong Son below us. The temple was lovely. We climbed to the bot right at the top and sat on a bench looking at the view for a long time. Noone else came up there while we were there. It was very peaceful. When we came back down to the temple there was a service going on, the monks were chanting and people were walking around the temple
The next day we got back on the bus for another windy journey through the mountains to our next stop, Soppong.
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