Mae Hong Son is a small town and without the crowds of Pai. Correspondingly, you won't find a vast choice of restaurants and bars, but you ought to find enough to keep you happy for a few days.
The market as always is a good spot to pick up some good cheap local food -- Shan noodles, khao soi and the usual Thai rice dishes, while the night market on Panith Wattana (alongside the airport runway) also has some good grub, though we have found some stallholders have a tendency to follow a two-tier pricing system. A few vendors also usually set up lakeside selling grilled chicken and various snacks, so you can picnic on the grass by the lake if you like.
A couple of bars and restaurants are found opposite the lake. Meeting Bar and Sunflower Cafe are fine spots to sit and their Thai food is not bad even if their Western options aren’t really up to much. Sunflower offers Thai standards for around 70 to 100 baht for a main course or 45 to 60 for a plate of fried rice or noodles. If you do want to risk their farang options then pizzas go for between 200 and 250 baht, and burgers 90 to 120 baht. Meeting goes for more classic Thai bar food but prices are also reasonable. Both longstanding bars are great to sit with a cold beer at the end of the day looking across the lake to the spectacular wats; both have friendly staff, live music and full drinks lists including cocktails. Meeting has the best live music and also an upstairs room with even better views than street level but is usually open evenings only -- or just when the owner feels like it.
Just up the same road but a little away from the lake is the Salween River, a decent little traveller-style restaurant specialising in well prepared local, Burmese and Shan dishes. Burmese dishes weren’t quite as they are in Burma, but not bad, and prices are very reasonable. Cold beers and good coffee are available too plus WiFi, some information on the walls and even a book exchange.
Just around the corner from Salween to the left is another good Thai spot, this time catering to both locals and visitors, so with perhaps more authentic Thai dishes. Kai Muk Restaurant is set in a pleasant wooden house. There’s a wide range of local and classic Thai and Sino-Thai dishes with efficient and friendly service.
Back on the main Khunlumprapas Road, Baiyoke offer reasonable hotel food with Thai and fair Western options if you’re a bit stuck, though the hotel atmosphere’s not very inspiring. The excellent pizzeria La Tasca a couple of doors down was closed at the time of our visit. Heading south slightly on the same road you’ll reach one of town’s most upmarket eateries, Fern, run by the resort of the same name – it serves slightly above average quality Thai dishes at slightly above average prices in a very pleasant varnished teak outfit with efficient service.
Mae Hong Son is also home to myriad coffee shops serving very good local coffee, some even with attached bakeries. The well situated Alawaa Coffee, a small coffee shop by the lake opposite Wat Jong Kum, is perhaps our favourite, even if they do charge customers 10 baht to charge a cell phone or camera. The brew’s good and cheesecakes, cookies and so on the best you’ll find in town.
Of the guesthouse cafes, most will knock up some food and drink though bear in mind during low season services can be seriously curtailed or even stopped. Larger hotels such as Imperial and Mountain Inn have pretty swish bars and restaurants if you feel the need to live it up in Mae Hong Son, but our favourite for coffee was Kiang Doi.
The best bars are by the lake, where you'll find Meeting and Sunflower Cafe next door to each other, though there is also the longstanding Crossroads Bar, which has a view of a busy crossroads but is friendly with some okay bar food, cold beers, good coffee and a full drinks menu -- in the mornings it's open earlier than most other places in town. It’s another of those bars where customers seem to feel the need to cover every available spot of wall in graffiti and where bar owners seem inclined to let them do it, but whatever – the bar’s good.
Day market: Panith Wattana Rd; open daily from early to mid afternoon.
Night Market: Panith Wattana Rd, in front of the day market; open daily 16:00-20:00.
Meeting Bar: 2/1 Pradit Jongkham Rd; T: (080) 132 3223; open daily 16:00-24:00.
Sunflower Cafe: Pradit Jongkham Rd; T: (053) 699 385; open daily 08:00-23:00.
Salween River: Pradit Jongkham Rd; T: (053) 513 421; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Kai Muk: Udon Chai Nithet Rd; T: (053) 612 092; open daily 10:00-14:00, 16:30-22:00.
Fern Restaurant: Khunlumprapas Rd; T: (053) 611 374; open daily 10:30-22:00.
Alawaa Coffee: Opposite Wat Jong Kum; open daily 09:00-18:00, except Sundays 11:00-17:00.
Kiang Doi: Udon Chai Nithet Rd; open daily from 07:00.
Crossroads Bar: Corner of Khunlumprapas and Sihanat Bamrung Rds; T: (053) 612 500; open daily 08:00 to 24:00