Mae Hong Son has plenty of accommodation but given its size, surprisingly few worthwhile places to stay. You certainly won't see the range of choice you get in Pai and while the tourist information map of town shows some 50 hotels and guesthouses, only a scant selection remains by the time you’ve eliminated motel-like blocks (probably short-time trade only), fancy Thai resorts with only Thai-script signs, hotels that use a two-tier pricing system (charging supplements because you're foreign) and backpacker spots built 20 years ago missing the word "maintenance" in their vocabularies. Tourism’s been slow in Mae Hong Son of late so several of the latter category have closed down altogether and there’s little to be seen in the way of new blood. Far more Western tourists these days are heading east after Pai and Chiang Mai and travelling to Laos, rather than heading west, while for Thais this region has become old hat -- apparently equally remote (and cold in winter) Loei province is becoming the new Mae Hong Son.
As with Pai, there is frequently a seasonal rate system in place, so you'll find some good deals in low season, but some places are well overpriced during the high. Several decent midrange choices are nonetheless scattered around town and a whole bunch of budget spots, some of which aren’t bad, are concentrated around the lake, but bear in mind that whatever impression other guides may give, none of them are actually beside the lake, which is surrounded by a public park and a road on three sides. The best you're going to do is one of the places to the north, which looks onto it, or Piya, which is right across the road from it.
A bunch of guesthouses and chalet resorts also sprawl up the hill behind town to the right and left of Makasanti Road and its side tracks. These already have a rural feel even though they’re not more than a kilometre or two from the centre of town but note the return journey would be uphill. We’re in two minds about this area: some of the accommodation is very good indeed but you’re in the outskirts of a small Thai provincial town, which may mean long walks home fighting off dog packs or being reduced to hiring motorbikes just to go and drink a beer or have a meal. If you just want to chill out in a pleasant garden, it's fine, but if you want to make the most of what the town has to offer it maybe isn’t the most practical.
Some pretty good possibilities also lie in the villages surrounding the town, but then again, if you wanted to be in a small village, why didn't you just stay in Soppong? Mae Hong Son is a lovely spot, but do keep in mind that Western tourism seems to have peaked here around 20 years ago and no one's bothered too much to build anything new with foreigners in mind or often to even maintain what were decent guesthouses back in the day.
Jongkham Place may only have a handful of chalets but they are quite lovely ones set in a small yet beautifully tended garden close to (but not by) the lake. The tastefully designed wooden chalets, set well back off the road, come with ensuite bathrooms, hot showers, WiFi and balconies. Decoration is tasteful and uncluttered. There's no restaurant or cafe, but the service is friendly and helpful... Read our full review of Jongkham Place.
A relatively new entry into Mae Hong Son’s guesthouse range is this fine little spot with friendly staff, a central location, cheap, clean rooms and great coffee. It’s on Udon Chai Nithet Road but separated into two buildings on either side of the crossroads with Pradit Jongkham Road. The small cafe and a few rooms are in a ramshackle wooden building to the east side while the rest of the... Read our full review of Kiang Doi House.
Located at the junction of Khunlumpapas and Udom Chaonithet Roads, the relatively new Ngamta Hotel is a welcome addition to the midrange selection in Mae Hong Son. If you can overlook its bright orange paint, it has reasonable rates and a very convenient central location, with spotlessly clean and very nicely decorated Lanna-esque rooms that come with air-con, hot shower, TV and fridge. Breakfast... Read our full review of Ngamta Hotel.
Considering a good location, value for money, comfort levels and helpful staff, Panorama is certainly one of the best options in Mae Hong Son. Yes, it is situated on the main road into town, but Mae Hong Son traffic isn’t exactly heavy and front-facing rooms are protected by small, glassed-in balconies anyway. You’re a two-minute walk from the market and night market, five minutes from the... Read our full review of Panorama Hotel.
Not to be confused with Baiyoke Tower, which is much bigger and located in Bangkok, Baiyoke Chalet has a very central location on the main street, just down from the 7-eleven and diagonally opposite the post office. This is a well-run midrange hotel, with unspectacular but clean and comfortable rooms with fridge, cable TV, hot shower, WiFi and air-con. It's a good deal in low season but better... Read our full review of Baiyoke Chalet.
Slightly out of town on the main highway leading south to Mae Sariang, Mountain Inn and Resort is large and well laid out, boasting a cafe, restaurant, a spacious reception with plentiful staff and a large swimming pool. Mountain Inn seems to have cornered the three- to four-star market in Mae Hong Son, as evidenced by the proliferation of tour companies sticking their clients there. The... Read our full review of Mae Hong Son Mountain Inn and Resort.
Piya’s occupies a prime piece of real estate in town: right by the edge of picturesque Jongkham lake and opposite the town’s iconic Shan-style wats. The long-running spot hashad a decent makeover, creating rooms and a garden that are back to their best so it’s finally doing the top location justice. Rather nice! The chalets set around the edge of the garden have had a couple of coats of... Read our full review of Piya Guest House.
Friend House is about the cheapest you’ll find in town, but it has clean rooms, set in a large teak and cement building in a central location. The lime green painted ground floor might be a bit off putting, with the upstairs wooden rooms probably a better option. Ground floor rooms opening directly onto the car park and small communal area can be slightly noisier but then the concrete walls are... Read our full review of Friend House.
Palm House is one of your better options out of a fairly poor selection in the lake area. Set back one block from the lakeside on a quiet residential street, its appearance is uninspiring -- a concrete block looking onto a car park. Nevertheless rooms are pretty good, with the service friendly, location convenient and rates very reasonable. Rooms are large, clean and come with ensuite hot shower... Read our full review of Palm House.
As with Pai, accommodation spreads out from the town centre to include many of the Shan villages situated in the valley to the north and south of Mae Hong Son. (East and west is mountainous and contains hilltribe villages.) Some of these resorts are very nice if you're prepared to spend a few baht but decent budget options in these villages are hard to find and most appear to cater to the domestic tourism trade. The villages to the immediate south of Mae Hong Son town are strung out along the main road but to the north of town there is a more extensive network of back country roads and there are some cute out of the way Shan villages to be found, though some have been somewhat spoilt by the new four-lane Mae Hong Son ring road. As tourism in Mae Hong Son has stagnated somewhat of late, some of these further flung resorts have been the first to suffer and many have closed down.
This delightful spot is well out of the way but certainly worth the effort of getting to. It has great rooms, a pleasant restaurant and bar, campfire area and swimming pool as well as lots of local hiking, so once there you don't really need to move for a few days. Address is still Pha Bong Village but it's quite a way from the village itself. You need to get back on the main Mae Hong Son-Mae... Read our full review of Fern Resort.
Sang Tong is one of the town’s oldest guesthouses -- it was established in 1987 -- and is a correspondingly well organised and fine tuned operation. They boast a large range of beautiful bamboo and wooden chalets and houses set in a delightful garden located a short distance outside Mae Hong Son town. And therein lies the mains pros and the cons in one sentence. The garden is great and chalets... Read our full review of Sang Tong Huts.
Pana is one of the first places you reach up the hill off Makasanti Road. It’s certainly a quiet spot -- and the resident hounds were peaceable -- and offers a choice of rooms in a bamboo longhouse-type building or individual wooden and woven bamboo chalets. The rooms are average size, with attractive design features like wooden slat windows looking out on narrow balconies, and natural... Read our full review of Pana Huts.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.