Mae Hong Son

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James Antrobus

This charming little town, with a population of around 6,000, is set in a picturesque mountain valley with a natural lake in its centre. The Shan style temples and ancient teak buildings make it a pleasant place to while away a few days. The local Shans, while a little shy, are polite and friendly, and the town affords you with some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Mae Hong Son may be just the place for those of you looking to get away from the main tourist trail. Although the town boasts a few guesthouses and is popular with Thais, compared to Pai - the tourist-renowned neighbour up the road - it remains a relatively unspoilt regional town. Originally one of the Shan States, it wasn't until the late 1980s that this wild, isolated Burmese border region was finally brought under government control. As a result, the opium-financed private armies faded away; and the area was opened up for tourism. But the laidback way of life for the mostly ethnic Shan population means that the town has remained comparatively unchanged since the days when it was cut-off from the outside world. There are few - if any - foreign residents; no long-term backpackers are hanging around; there is minimal nightlife, and the only real influx of population has come from northern Thais who have come here to set up businesses. The hot season in Mae Hong Son (March to May) can be unbearable hot, and during the rainy season which runs from June to October, it can be difficult to get around on the flooded, unpaved roads. So the best time to come here is in the cool season (November to January), when the overnight temperatures can drop very low, so be sure to bring some warm clothing with you. The town also serves as an excellent base for a host of activities, such as trekking, seeing the nearby Shan temples, visiting the long-necked Kayan, and other ethnic Hill Tribe villages, taking boat trips, exploring the markets and maybe even taking in a mud spa at Pooklon, or bathing in the Pha Bong hot springs.

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