Soppong & Mae Hong Son

From Pai, we planned to head North West to the small town of Mae Hong Son, but had wanted to visit a cave that was partway along the route. Instead of staying an extra night in Pai to visit it, we decided to stay in a small town nearby called Soppong. The town was small and had 2 places to stay, 1 of which was fully booked, so we went for the other which turned out to be lovely.

Claire on bridge in Soppong
Claire on the bamboo bridge leading across the river from our guesthouse in Soppong

Lod cave itself was worth visiting – it is massive, 3 big chambers full of bats, Swifts and fish (in the river that runs through it). There are also a load of stalactites, stalagmites and columns, which were the main topic of the tour we were on. There were even a few wooden tombs in the very top of the chambers, which must have been incredibly hard to get there.

The next day, we went on to Mae Hong Son. The town is known for being the furthest point on the “Mae Hong Son loop”, a circular route around North Western Thailand usually enjoyed by motorbikers. It is very close to the border with Myanmar (Burma) so has many Burmese influences, notably in the food.

After a rapid 80 minute bus journey (which was scheduled to take 2 hours!) along more stomach churning roads, we arrived in a town with the driver saying “post office” at us. I thought we weren’t there yet and was also half in a daze from the journey, so gave him a blank look back. He got bored of that game very quickly so hopped back in and drove on, while I looked on the map to see where the post office was, gradually realising we were had in fact arrived.

It turned out the post office was exactly where we wanted to be, so when he pulled up outside it 2 minutes later we quickly jumped off and thanked him for taking us there and not to the bus station, which was a weirdly long way out of town. In hindsight, I think the lady next to me had told him we would want to get off there, knowing already that the area all the guesthouses were in was not near the bus station. The people in the north of Thailand have all been very friendly and I think this was another example of that.

The guesthouse we were in was great – Jum the owner was incredibly welcoming and friendly, with delicious fresh fruit and ice cold water provided on arrival. Our room was nice & the building itself was up on stilts which helped prevent any unwanted bugs from joining us. I meant to take a photo, but yet again forgot!

We only had a day and a half to spend in Mae Hong Son, so quickly set about an afternoon of looking around town. It’s a pretty sleepy place, so don’t go there looking for a party but it has a couple of nice temples including one with male-only zones which Claire was not impressed with!

No Women allowed!

We found a slightly random Vegan cafe for lunch – which turned out to be delicious – and had a nice chat with the owner while there. She had travelled a fair bit & was completely baffled by why we were in such a small town with such little to do there. I don’t think there are too many people around her age (mid 20’s) in the town so she was delighted by the opportunity to have a chat and find out a bit about us.

Vegan lunch!

We had heard that the temple atop the hill in the village was a great place to watch sunset from, so headed up that night to see what the fuss was about. It was an interesting place – a temple looking over the town with a viewpoint around at the back and what was not at first a promising sunset turned out to be well worth the many, many steps up the hill to see it.

The Sunset from Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son
The Sunset from Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son

With our only full day there, we rented a couple of bikes & went exploring. The area was beautiful & very varied. Including a few navigational mishaps, we visited loads of different things, including:

  • A massive bamboo bridge over some paddy fields
  • A mud spa
  • A big waterfall
  • A small town very near the border that specialised in tea

All of this was scattered around some amazing mountainous countryside which varied between deciduous forest with steep & winding roads, valleys full of rice (& oddly a lot of cabbage) that were seemingly at the top of the hills and even some slightly alpine feeling forest in the higher areas. It was a long day, but really enjoyable & very interesting to see how different the landscape was in the different climates the hills create.

Paddy fields in the hills near Ban Rak Thai
Paddy fields in the hills near Ban Rak Thai

The next day, with our time in Thailand nearing it’s end (for now) we headed back towards Chiang Mai, from where we’d be heading north-east towards Laos.

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