The small but rapidly expanding town of Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand is popularly known as the "city of mist" due to its early morning fog. This beautiful part of the country is sheltered to the north and west of Burma.
And nestling here, are some of Thailand's most spectacular mountain scenery, creating the sense of absolute peace and tranquillity. It's hard to imagine the feeling that awaits you, but once you arrive, it will engulf and overwhelm you.
To experience the distinct attraction of this sleepy mountaintop town, it is best to come here during the cool season between November and March when you'll get the chance to witness the blooming of the spectacular wild sunflowers of these fertile valleys. It can get very hot during the months of April and May.
Mae Surin Waterfall is situated in the Mae Surin National Park, which is approximately 40 kilometres (24 miles) from Mae Hong Son in the Khum Yuam District. It is said to be one of the tallest in Thailand. It's certainly the most spectacular single tier waterfall in Thailand.
Come and watch as the singular jet of water gracefully leaps off the cliff face and then plunges down some 100 metres to the rocks below. You can view this extraordinary event from either the surrounding hills across the valley or you can take a hike down the hills to get a closer look.
On the way down the rolling hills you can wander through the dusty streets of the Hmong, the Lawa, the Shan, the Lisu, the Lahu and the Karen Hill Tribe villages where you'll meet many friendly folk. Collectively the hill tribes easily outnumber ethnic Thais and their presence only adds intrigue to an ill-kept secret that Mae Hong Son, is smack in the middle of border smuggling routes between Thailand and Burma.
Mae Hong Son can be easily reached by road from the Chiang Mai which in turn can be reached on one of the direct daily flights from Bangkok. You can also drive from Bangkok as I once did before taking one of two road routes.
The best way would be along a mountainous stretch of road known as the Loop by its regular travellers. Both routes run from Chiang Mai, with the northern route taking you past the towns of Pai and Soppong and the southern one, taking you past Mae Sariang. The entire Loop is 615 kilometres (382 miles), Long. Which one offers the best views, is subject to considerable debate.
In any event, it's a journey that will take you on a thrill a minute roller coaster ride as you find your way winding up, down and around the mountains. A similar experience I had was driving up the Atlas mountains in Morocco, only there were no forests like the ones here in northern Thailand.
Should you decide to take the southern route, you also have the opportunity to stop over at the Doi Inthanon National Park which is a popular retreat named after its prime attraction, the highest mountain in the country. But for this, you'd have to take a detour along a secondary road towards the town of Mae Chaem.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu on the western side of town is a hilltop temple erected in the 19th century on top of Doi Kong Mu. A long asphalt road will take you up to the temple from where you'll feel like the king of the castle as you survey the panoramic views of the town below as well as the surrounding valleys and mountains.
While the Wat may reflect influences of Burmese culture, the temple's two Chedis contain the ashes of the monks from an enlightenment lost.
Wat Chong Klang is a wonderful temple that sits silently on the edge of a lake which was originally a bathing pool for elephants. It is especially stunning in during the early morning mists that enshroud the town. This Burmese style temple is worth a visit just to see the fine figurines brought in from Burma more than a hundred years ago. The beautiful wooden teak carvings you see here depict an astonishing array of Burmese characters from peasants to nobility.
Wat Chong Kham situated across the way from Wat Chong Klang between the lake and a fitness park was built by Shan people of Burma and features a multi-roofed Chedi. Once inside the temple, you'll find a spectacular self-satisfied Burmese style Buddha image. This revered five metres (sixteen foot) seated Buddha with its precision carved pulpit, watches over the temple, the worries over the world, far from his arched brow.
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