This is a story of my visit to this very small province in the furthermost North of Thailand. Mae Hong Son is very close to the Burmese border and a very quiet place, scenic and very friendly. Armed with the information gathered from the net, I embarked on my travels.
I arrived at Mae Hong Son after a short flight from Chiang Mai. The heat of the afternoon was lessoning and I left the arrivals lounge of one of the quietest airports I have ever been to. The aeroplane was very small, perhaps 30 – 40 people on board. Outside there where three tuk-tuks (these are 3 wheeler come motorbike/car/taxis). Not for the faint hearted! One of these remarkable vehicles took me to ‘The Palm House’, the place which was to be my abode for the next week. The Palm House was situated near the lake which nestles in the centre of Mae Hong Son. I was in awe of how pretty this place was, the two huge great Chedi towering over the lake high up in the mountains shone brightly in the afternoon sun, their pristine white presence glowing in front of the temple.
The Palm House was a very welcoming and pleasant place, room costs where about £5 per night for a twin bed, bathroom with flushing toilet and a fan. I unpacked my bag and headed off to explore. 10 yards later I found myself in a small restaurant/bar called Chez Tonn. Tonn, the owner was to become a great friend to me. Tonn owned the place & provided some of the finest Thai food I have had the pleasure to eat whilst travelling in Thailand. Her papaya salad was legendary with the locals who arrived throughout the day to enjoy her great cooking.
Moving on after a cold drink and a map Tonn gave me I found myself in a place I can only describe as paradise! Very few people were there, only the tourist mini buses stopping for half an hour before moving on and there was virtually no traffic around the lake vicinity. I sat by the lake & bought some fish food from a disabled man for 10 Baht a bag, I gave him 20 & bought several. The fish gathered around the food & devoured it greedily. I was so relaxed I felt like my heart was beating once every 10 seconds as I fed the ravenous fish. There was no hustle or bustle, very few people and jungle everywhere you looked around you. I went exploring again, the main roads around the town were a little more busy but very low key compared to Bangkok & Chaing Mai. I found the local market, what a great place! I looked in awe at the produce that was on display, everyone was so happy, all helping each other. These people are working from dawn till dusk selling everything you could imagine, every fruit, vegetable, herb, meat, fish – awesome! Tired now, I decided to return to Tonns place to replenish my lost fluids. She serves a really nice ice-cold chang beer! My first day was over & I retired for a good nights sleep.
I awoke to the alarm call of the cockerels and dogs voicing themselves before the heat of the sun rose to bear down. The mist over the lake was mesmerising, it was a bit chilly but it would not last. The scent from all the flowers, the incense permeating the air from the temple, the fiery charcoal smell from the street vendors as they prepare their tasty food was a memory you never forget.
Today I met Tonns brother who had recently recovered from ill health. He took me on his scooter to his home a few miles north of the airport. Now you are talking jungle! You can virtually touch flora & forna either side of you! He had travelled down from Chiang Mai to water his plants and check the upkeep of his home. What a lovely place he had, nestled in the jungle alongside a very pretty and clear running stream.
His home was situated amongst several others, all built on stilts with livestock running freely all around. This place was well off the beaten track. I witnessed his neighbours heading out on a hunting expedition, sadly I had to leave before they returned with their spoils. My mind is made up, I will try to walk to his house tomorrow and surprise him.
06:30 am: I set off on my treck, I hope I can remember where it was. It was a bit chilly when I headed off wearing only shorts, trainers and a T-shirt.
07:00 am: Just passed the airport having stopped for a coffee. The sun is starting to rise and it is getting very warm. Once past the airport you see very few people.
08:00 am I am now in the shade of the jungle heading towards my destination, not sure if I will find it but one can but try. I have passed the huge reservoir I remember from yesterday. Maybe I am on the right track!
09:00 am I feel I have been walking for far to long now, perhaps I have made a wrong turn. Time to return, it is so very hot now and I am not sure I am going in the right direction. I still have some water left. I know if I can see the two Chedi I will be going in the right direction so I turned around and headed back. My feet feel so sore now, I can feel fluid in my trainers! I dare not take them off. I back track and carry on looking for the Chedi.
It was so hot now I was getting very worried, I know I walked uphill most of the way so logic says head downhill. I found my bearings after a while, it might sound bizarre but I remembered the dog that snarled at me as I passed the place where ‘he lived’, on my outbound journey!
I know my blisters have burst but no time to stop or dwell, I plod on, the heat getting more intense. Then I heard a voice, it was from a very old Thai man, gesturing me with a bottle of water in his hand as he sat outside his very small but humble home. Gratefully I accepted his kindness and greetings exchanged, I drank thirstily whilst savouring the comfort of shade. With respect, I noticed he had very little possessions, one table, two cups and a large picture of the great Thai King. With my limited Thai language and my friends gestures (he spoke no English) we had a most pleasant half hour. It was time to go, I passed on my thanks to this grand old chap and new found friend and we bid our farewells. After about 10 minutes walking I heard the breaking sound of a cup reverberating all around me. I was heartbroken, I just knew my friend had lost one of his cups. This place was so quiet you can hear sounds from miles around.
Exhausted, I have made it back! I lay on my bed sweating profusely, the fan turned on to full. My feet where badly blistered and some of them had burst. After resting I went for a foot massage, which was out of this world, all bits of skin from the burst blisters trimmed and my feet massaged with Tiger Balm…..Heaven.
I made my decision that evening, a trip to the market, purchase some cups and return to my friend to replenish his broken one!
06:30 am I am off again, I feel like I’m walking on broken glass, but must not dwell on it as my friend needs his cups!
I will end this little story about my travels to Mae Hong Son with a big thanks to all my friends there.
‘Dee Lee Nam Nam’ – which translates:
‘Thank you’ – in Shan