Mae Hong Sorn is set in the north-western corner of Thailand. The province is bordered with Myanmar to the north and west, which explains the strong Burmese influence that can be noted in the capital’s temples and buildings. Its positioning also lead to frequent power struggles between various Tai and Burmese kingdoms over the years.
The early 19th century saw a great influx of the Shan people into the region, from north Burma where they had formed the Shan states. Originally from the Nanzhao Kingdom in southern China, a culmination of war and oppression had finally led them over the Loi Lar mountain range, where they first settled at Ban Pong Mu in 1831. Having settled in the area, the increasing numbers then founded what was to become Mae Hong Sorn. Deeply involved in the principles of Theravada Buddhism, they also had their own monarchy: the famous Wat Phra Norn was built by the first king of Mae Hong Sorn, Phaka Toekshan. The Shan are known locally as Thai Yai (Big Thai) and make up almost half of the local population.
The capital is sheltered by several mountains, keeping it cooler during the summer months and allowing the temperature to drop to only 2ºC during January. The mountains have long been home to various migrant hilltribes; Hmong, Lisu, Lahu and the predominant Karen. The area is also home to opium smugglers and illegal loggers, which have sadly brought the hilltribes into their illicit activities.
The region’s many natural attractions have brought increasing numbers of visitors over the recent years. All coming to a region which provides great opportunities for adventures; on its twisting roads, sweeping rivers and in the mountainous forested region, passing through villages with Burmese/Shan style temples. Waterfalls, not only pleasing to the eye, but also fill small pools which are a perfect treat at the end of long treks through the forests. The region is also well known for its multitude of caves: archaeologists have discovered some 67 in the province. The 400m long cave at Tham Lod, about 80km to the northwest of Mae Hong Sorn is just one of these fine caves.
Places of Attraction
Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu
This hilltop temple was built by the first Mae Hong Sorn king,Phraya Singhanatracha, in the mid 19th century. Set at an altitude of 1500m on Doi Kong Mu it offers a wonderful view of the city and the encompassing mountains and valleys.
At the foot of the windy road that leads to this temple is another, Wat Phra Non, the first to be built in the city, containing a huge Burmese style reclining Buddha. The ashes of the Mae Hong Sorn’s kings are housed in the temple, which has two giant stone lions standing guard at the base of the staircase.
Wat Hua Wiang
Situated at the junction of roads Phanit Wattana and Khunlum Praphat, this temple enshrines a brass Buddha image, Phra Chao Phara La Khaeng, a replica of the one in Myanmar.
Wat Jong Klang
Wat Jong KlangThe site started out as a rest pavilion for monks on pilgrimage. The wat was added later in the 19th century by Shans living in the area. Inside there is a collection of Burmese carved wooden dolls – tukata, depicting characters from the Jataka tales (stories of Buddha’s previous life episode). There are also beautiful glass paintings, depicting aspects of Buddhism and simple local activities.
Wat Jong Kham
This temple is situated in the same compound as Wat Jong Klang. At the northern edge of the complex there is a colonial style building housing a large seated Buddha. The two temples are situated in front of the pond Nong Chong Kham, which acts as a public park and is a great resting place.