December getaway: From Chiang Mai to Soppong

What we say: 3.5 stars

We recommended Mae Hong Son province’s picturesque Mae Sariang town in an earlier post as a favourite northern Thai getaway but another great spot, in the same province, we reckon is also well worth a few days if you want somewhere quiet over the peak Christmas period is the small settlement of Soppong.

Worth going - just for the ride!

Worth going -- just for the ride.

Lying roughly half way between Pai and Mae Hong Son town, Soppong also goes by the name of Pang Mapha (spellings vary). Soppong is the name of the old Shan village lying just off the main highway which used to house the bus stop, market and basic guesthouses while the newer section of town, Pang Mapha, sprung up a couple of kilometres east along the highway after the relocation of the market and bus stop — it’s now become the official district name.

Soppong, Red Lahu all dressed up and off to market

Red Lahu all dressed up and off to market.

We like a bit of peace and quiet during the December peak season and if partying and festivities are what you’re after then you’re better of staying in Chiang Mai city, heading down to one of the Thai islands or attempting to find a room in Pai.

The latter is not an easy task these days, since Pai has become hugely popular with Thai tourists heading north for the novel experience of being cold — during December and January it is simply heaving with visitors from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other major Thai towns. Not only can it be difficult to get a room in any category but accommodation prices often double or triple during the winter months; the local constabulary actually had to intervene a few years back to put a stop on restaurants tripling prices during the same season.

Pai night market

Pai night market.

We’ll happily spend a low season weekend away in Pai but for high season keep going for another 50 kilometres or so until you reach Soppong. Thai tourists are yet to penetrate as far as this area in large numbers and it’s not so well known among foreign visitors either — even in peak season it’s still a peaceful destination and, with a reasonable number of accommodation possibilities on offer, one where you’ll have a good chance of finding a decent room at a decent price. We particularly liked Soppong River Inn at the Pang Mapha end of town and the excellent Little Eden at the eastern end of Soppong.

Just a few of Pai accommodation options.

Just a few of Pai's accommodation options.

Soppong’s right in the mountains, with easy access to some of north Thailand’s most spectacular scenery. There’s also loads to do: short or longer hikes, kayaking, caving, mountain-biking, off-roading, hilltribe village visits and so on. Combine this with kicking back in some great guesthouses and enjoying the food, and you have a recipe for a rejuvenating break rather than a frustrating one.

'Sea of fog', just outside of Soppong Village

Sea of fog just outside Soppong village.

See here for details on getting to this spot — it’s slightly out of the way, but not as inaccessible as you may think.

Last updated: 9th December, 2014

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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