Trekking

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What we say: 4 stars

Trekking is a major attraction in Mae Hong Son, and can be done as part of a day tour for a few hours or for a full day or longer. Longer treks will take you into the mountains towards the Burmese border, where you will visit Karen and Lisu villages. Generally you need a minimum of two people for a departure, but if you're alone and flexible with your time the agencies can often find others to share the trip and costs with you. Prices vary depending on the number of people going, the distance travelled and the activities covered. In picking the right trek, a lot swings on the quality of your guide. Not only will he or she guide you through the jungle, they'll inform you about hill-tribe culture and teach you basic survival techniques.

The trekking experience generally starts with a drive out of Mae Hong Son for an hour or two to your starting point. This is followed by several hours of walking into the mountains, broken up by visits to villages. At the village, you may stay overnight in someone's house, perhaps the chief of the village, a village family or even a relative of the guide. Some companies have their own huts, but either way you will sleep dormitory-style on the floor with a thin mattress, sleeping bag or blanket and a mosquito net.

Guides will occasionally speak the local language, and sometimes come from the village you stay at. These are often the best experiences, when the guide can help you interact with your hosts. Meals are prepared by the guide, using produce carried in by them or bought locally where practical. Food is usually banquet style, with a few dishes to choose from, and foreigners' tastes kept in mind. Vegetarian is available by prior request.

Evenings are spent interacting with the tribe people, and good guides will help to teach you a little about their ways of life. Some treks will spend the second night camping out in the jungle where your guide will teach you a whole array of jungle survival skills, including how to prepare and cook a banquet using only bamboo cooking and eating tools. Most agencies can also offer bamboo rafting and elephant riding as optional extras to tack on to your trek for around 300-500B per person per activity.

Any guesthouse will be willing to either sell you a trek or provide information on trekking in the area. There are three main trekking areas: Soppong, east of Mae Hong Son and west of Mae Hong Son. As with Pai, many operators will bus you back to Pang Mapha district with its wide variety of ethnic groups in a relatively small area. Other popular trekking routes concentrate on the "Long-neck villages" east of Mae Hong Son towards the Salween River, taking in Karen and Hmong villages as well. The most interesting area is the relatively infrequently visited region to the southeast of Mae Hong Son, in and around Nam Tok Surin National Park. There is some spectacular scenery in this area and overnight stops would include Karen and Hmong villages.

A proliferation of itineraries from one to many days are offered at varying prices by guesthouses and trekking agents on Khunlumprapas Road. Go have a chat and see what suits you. As with Pai and Soppong, March and April are not ideal months for trekking – it's very dry and very hot -- while towards the end of the rainy season in August and September the going can get seriously muddy and quite challenging.

The same operators will also be more than happy to point you in the direction of a rubber raft for a white water experience on the Pai River. This can be anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days, including rafting all the way from Pai with overnight camping on the riverbank.

If you have your own means of transport then there are some attractive Thai and Shan villages in the area, numerous hill-tribe settlements and some spectacular scenery, most relatively accessible due to many sidetracks having been sealed over the last few years.

If you're arriving from Pai, then it's worth hiring a motorbike down there since it's a lot cheaper than in Mae Hong Son and the route between the two is spectacular.

Just Happy Tours, Long Time Tours, Nam Rim Tour and Sunflower Cafe, have all been recommended as reputable, with enjoyable, well-priced trips. Long Time Tours run by the excellent Mr Long is our pick of the bunch. He speaks at least nine languages including fluent English and French, and is about as generous and friendly a chap as you will meet.

Expect to pay 600 to 1,000B per day at some of the more backpacker-oriented tour agencies around the lake, depending on how many people you're trekking with. Some tour agencies catering to more upmarket travellers (such as Rose Garden Tours) charge up to 1,500B per day.

Long Time Tours: (089) 838 6865
Rose garden Tour: (053) 611 681
Sunflower Cafe: (053) 620 549

Last updated: 3rd September, 2009

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