Mae Hong Son

Mae Hong Son Travel Blog

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Temples by the Lake in Mae Hong Son

9/4/06

Well today is our anniversary, so I figured I would treat Cindy to three hours of sitting in the Soppong bus station, really nothing more than a tree with a bench around it - quite a thrill. The highlight of the morning was taking pictures of a little boy then showing them to him on my camera. The first bus that came was full and it ended up being three hours until the next one - my ass is sore from sitting on a wooden bench that long. Hopefully the trip to Mae Hong Son won’t be too bad.

We had found a place with a good looking website that was recommended by www.travelfish.org - this was their first miss. When we arrived at the Mountain Inn, the girl behind the front desk was much more interested in the game she was playing on her PC than helping us.

Wat Spires in Mae Hong Son
Someone eventually showed us a grimy, dingy deluxe room and a more expensive superior room (just as bad) - we opted for the cheaper room and figured it was only for one night and headed out for dinner after deciding to sign up for an all day tour tomorrow to see some of the local hill tribes and sights. 

We had dinner at a great little place called the Fern Restaurant that was highly recommended by the locals. Dinner was really tasty grilled pork, a chicken and eggplant red curry dish and a spicy morning glory salad with shrimp and pork (and you probably guessed, several large Singha beers :-D).  After dinner, we wandered around the lake and watched old women doing tai chi and waited for a non-eventful sunset, hoping the lights at the two Wats across the lake would come on (they didn’t).  At one point, a pickup truck of three guys showed up and they had a little tailgate party, munching on big shrimp and drinking whiskey from the back of the truck bed.  Spent the rest of the evening updating the blog and breaking my damn card reader before strolling home for a crappy night’s sleep on a rock hard bed….

Kayan "Long Neck" woman in traditional dress and brass rings

9/5/06

Breakfast at the not so lovely Mountain Inn was a sorry excuse for food (abominable in Thailand where usually the food is great) and even the coffee was undrinkable.  We couldn’t wait to leave and then our tour guide showed up.  He was a very funny older guy in Ray Ban aviator glasses and a baseball cap who used to work with the American Army during the Vietnam War (probably spying for the Americans).  He was very nice and knowledgeable if a little bit hard to understand and we spent the day driving around Mae Hong Son and seeing the sights.

The first stop was a Paduang village of Karenni people called Ban Nai Soi.

Kayaw women - notice the earrings
This little village actually had two different tribes, originally from Mongolia but having migrated to Burma around 1000 BC, called the Kayan and the Kayaw (or in local pidgeon English, the Longnecks and the Big Ears - you can see why by the pictures).  We were somewhat worried about the supposed zoo-like atmosphere that can occur at the village with tourists indiscriminately clicking away, but the place was empty (one of the advantages of traveling here in the low season) and we actually got to sit and talk to several of the women.

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Paduang Woman with Brass Rings

They wear brass rings that appear to stretch their neck (but actually, it weighs down their shoulders, somewhat painfully it appeared from the bruises beneath the rings).

Chickens resting on the fence
  The first ring that ways one kilo is put on when they are five years old, then a second kilo ring is put on at the age of ten, and finally a third at the age of fifteen.  It is quite an art to put them on and can only be done in a distant village.  They also wear brass rings below their knees, some of them going all the way to their ankles, but many just to the top of their calves.  The wearing of rings is entirely voluntary. 

The Kayaw or Big Ear people wear those ever increasing sized earrings to stretch their earlobes out to gigantic proportions and also where lots of coin jewelry.  Looks much better on them than on the young, disaffected kids with the ear stretcher rings we see at home!

The next stop was Tham Pla or the Fish Cave which ended up being a pretty little park with no real cave to speak of, just a stream fed from an underground river where lots and lots of fat carp sit and wait to be fed by the tourists, mostly Thai’s.

Hmong kids in village
  We bought a back of weird seeds, fish food and leaves and threw them in the river for good luck, watching these gigantic carp jump to eat everything.

After the non-cave, we were off to the Pha Sua water fall which was pretty nice for a waterfall, with six levels going back into the jungle.  We hiked down towards the base and enjoyed the cool, misty air.  When we got back to the car, our guide told us about a tourist last year who neglected to listen to the man at the entrance and hiked up to the top of the fall and had his girlfriend take his picture, right before he fell over the falls (maybe about 100 feet and rocky).  They found his body three days later downstream - pretty freaky last picture!

Next was a small Hmong village called Ban Na Pa Pack where we were invited into the house of an eleven person family (see the kid’s pictures below).  Let’s just say that the interior of their house won’t be in Architectural digest anytime soon.

Laundry in the Hmong Village
  One big room made of half rotten old timber, corrugated tin roof, no electricity, not much ventilation and more spider webs and grime then desirable, but they were very nice.  Cindy couldn’t figure out how they managed to have enough privacy to ever even have babies (they had lots…)  Our guide explained how the Thai government has been very favorable to the Hmong in order to get them to stop growing Opium, including granting them land for houses and farming.  They have become very prosperous from this, especially now that the Government has control of the area around Mae Hong Son and built roads, but they choose to spend their money on cars (we saw several nice, expensive trucks) and satellite dishes for television!  Too bizarre…

We wound up a very hilly road to the Kuomintang village of Ban Mae Aw - a very old Chinese village directly across the border from Myanmar (a.

Water buffaloes in Ban Mae Aw. Maybe they are pissed off because they just walked all the way from Burma?
k.a. Burma) where we had lunch.  Supposedly, this is where a large portion of the Chinese Kuomintang Army migrated to after Mao took over communist China.  I did manage to shoot some pictures of some frolicking water buffalos, not sure if they knew if they were Thai, Chinese, Hmong or what…

On the way back to Mae Hong Son and the airport for our quick, 25 minute flight back to Chiang Mai (instead of an eight hour bus ride!  Well worth the $30….) we stopped at a “spa” that is supposed to be the first and only natural mud bath in Thailand.

Hmong Village House
  Some French geologist and a Thai businessman “discovered” it and compare it to spas in Israel at the Dead Sea.  Sounds fishy to me and I really couldn’t see sitting in a VERY hot mineral bath when it is almost 100 degrees outside.

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Temples by the Lake in Mae Hong Son
Temples by the Lake in Mae Hong Son
Wat Spires in Mae Hong Son
Wat Spires in Mae Hong Son
Kayan Long Neck woman in traditi…
Kayan "Long Neck" woman in tradit…
Kayaw women - notice the earrings
Kayaw women - notice the earrings
Chickens resting on the fence
Chickens resting on the fence
Hmong kids in village
Hmong kids in village
Laundry in the Hmong Village
Laundry in the Hmong Village
Water buffaloes in Ban Mae Aw.  Ma…
Water buffaloes in Ban Mae Aw. M…
Hmong Village House
Hmong Village House
Pha Sua waterfall in Mae Hong Son
Pha Sua waterfall in Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son Hotels & Accommodations review
The Mountain Inn and Resort in Mae Hong Son, Thailand seems to be targeted at large groups of young travelers who are less discretionary about both ac… read entire review
Mae Hong Son
photo by: Stevie_Wes