The road between Mae Sariang heads north to Mae Hong Son for 166 km and it’s just east of the Burma/Thailand border. The Burmese influence is seen throughout this part of the country: in the food, clothing, and architecture.
Somewhere between Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son Steve and I turned off the highway in a little market town in Mae La Noi and followed a winding road approx. 5 km to the entrance of a relatively newly discovered cave. The Kaew Komol Cave doesn’t see much tourism, photography is banned, and the air is short on oxygen, but the cave is covered in beautiful crystal formations. Steve snuck his GoPro in and was able to take some video. Here are some photos from within the cave:
We were pretty hungry in Mae La Noi, so we stopped for lunch at one of the road side stalls and had some delicious spicy curry before continuing up to Mae Hong Son.
Mae Hong Son is set around a pretty little lake in a valley surrounded by emerald green mountains. Most of the tourist facilities circle the lake and the local market is also nearby if you’re feeling adventurous.
Not surprisingly there are numerous temples in the area to visit; since we had the moto we rode up to the top of the hill to Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu…I think you might be able to reach this one by stairs, but don’t quote me on that. There are a couple of temples near the lake in town and if the fog cooperates you could get some really cool photos.
Our lakeside budget digs at the Prince Hotel were adequate, if not exactly clean. Our room was 200 or 300 Baht with a private bathroom, high ceilings, and a slightly springy/saggy bed.
After a night or two in Mae Hong Son we began the long haul to Pai. The route is approximately 130 km with many opportunities to stop along the way. Before heading out of the Mae Hong Son region we wanted to check out one of the Karen Long Neck Villages. We had heard the rumors that the towns feel more like exhibits at a human zoo, so we went in with low expectations. The Karen are refugees from Burma, and as refugees in Thailand it is difficult for them to attain land, jobs, etc. so one of the ways the community earns money is by showing off their women and selling their handicrafts. We paid our entrance fee and walked down the boardwalk to the “village” which was really just set up as a handicraft market (I assume many of the families live in the back portion of their shops). Here are a few pictures I took of our visit:
We had a lot of fun crossing these streams on the scooter…there were many of them and it was sometimes hard to judge the depth. So much fun! The drive from the highway out to the village was really pretty and there were even a couple of different places that gave elephant rides, so no honking your horn!!!
As you head east toward Pai there are a couple of caves that you can visit, but we skipped them in lieu of a mud treatment at Phu Klon (Pooklon) Country Club. I think our mud facials and foot soak were about USD $5 each (but I can’t remember). To get to the spa it’s pretty easy…just follow the “Mud Spa” signs and memorize the Thai script…once you’re off the highway keep cruising and eventually the spa will be on the right.
We stopped in Soppong for a roadside Kaow Soi lunch. We then beelined to hippie Pai where throngs of backpackers keep themselves entertained by cruising walking street every night, listening to live music, buying funky clothes, sipping wacky tea and generally enjoying its chilled out vibe. Pai is a place that encourages you to linger, find your inner yogi, or head out to the hot springs.
Steve and I soon realized that there isn’t much authentic Thai culture in Pai, so we stayed long enough to listen to some acoustic tunes, buy some hippie pants, and indulge at Spa Exotic. A handful of people in the “know” suggested we skip the sulfuric hot springs and head to one of the hot spring resorts. Spa Exotic caught our eye, and for only 80 Baht each we had access to their beautiful soaking pool almost all to ourselves. It was a fantastic way to rejuvenate our sore muscles.
Our final day from Pai to Chiang Mai was brutal. Not only was my back throbbing at every twist, turn or bump, but I was sicker than a dog. We had to stop atleast every 20-30 kilometers so I could relieve myself….roadside mind you. It was not a fun day. I’m pretty sure at one point I actually laid down on the side of the road.
The trip from Pai to Chiang Mai is just as curvy as the route from Mae Hong Son…and all the war wounds in Pai and Chiang Mai are proof. Do not take a moto unless you know what you are doing…please!!!
Anyway, we eventually made it to Chiang Mai, where I laid around and popped Cipro like candy.
Next stop Chiang Rai.
GT Rider Touring Map This little map was invaluable. We found ours at one of the book shops in Chiang Mai.
Lonely Planet Thailand
Kaew Komol Cave info