Published/Last edited or updated: 14th January, 2018
You will come across various trekking options on offer at Mae Hong Son tour operators’ counters—albeit not to the extent as Pai—lasting anything from a few hours to several days.
With limited visitor numbers in Mae Hong Son and a decline in the popularity of multi-day treks in recent times, trekking options are correspondingly low-key and small scale. Zapping-style tours are more popular with local and other Asian visitors where you fit in brief stops at all the highlights in a single day from the comfort of an air-con minibus.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile trekking possibilities in the area. Some interesting day hikes are available for those with reduced time or energy levels while longer treks will take you into the mountains towards the Burmese border. You won’t find the 57 hill-tribe varieties of Soppong for example but you’ll be visiting villages—primarily Karen/Karenni—that are much less frequented by tourists than those in more popular areas.
Generally, you need a minimum of two people for a departure, but if you turn up 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. As usual 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 hopefully inform you about flora and fauna as well as hill-tribe culture—teaching basic survival techniques is an increasingly popular gimmick—so try and meet the guide before signing up.
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. In addition bamboo rafting features on certain itineraries.
Guides will ideally speak the local language, and sometimes even 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 and or villagers, 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 locals 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 meal using only bamboo cooking and eating tools.
Any guesthouse will be willing to either sell you a trek or provide trekking information with Fern Resort coming particularly recommended. As with Pai, many operators will bus you back to popular Soppong district with its wide variety of ethnic groups in a relatively small area. Other trekking routes concentrate on the villages west of Mae Hong Son towards the Burmese border, taking in Karen, Hmong and sometimes Kayan settlements. Another interesting area to explore is the relatively infrequently visited region to the south of Mae Hong Son, in and around Nam Tok Surin National Park. There is some spectacular scenery in this region while overnight stops would again include Karen and Hmong villages.
Reliable, long-standing agents in town include Rose Garden Tour on the central section of Khunlumprapas, Sawasdee Tour on the short street leading down to the lake from the post office or the terrace tour desk at Sunflower Cafe.
Expect to pay between 1,000 and 2,000 baht per day depending upon length of trek and number of participants as well as which extras if any, such a bamboo rafting, are included. For example Sawasdee, which seemed to have typical prices, advertise one-day treks at 2,000, 1,800 and 1,700 baht per person for groups of two, three and four respectively. Two-day programmes with an overnight stay in a Karen village went for 3,800 for two to three people and 3,500 for groups of four to five. Longer itineraries can be arranged.
Just outside of town, Fern Resort has come up with some interesting looking trekking programmes of its own concentrating on hikes to Karen villages south of Mae Hong Son in the forested mountains of Nam Tok Surin National Park. They also organise birdwatching tours or mountain bike options if that’s your locomotion of choice.
As with other spots in northern Thailand, 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.
Below are just a few of many addresses while most guesthouses will sell you a tour directly for a small commission or put you in touch with their recommended provider.
Fern Resort 64 Moo 10, Pha Bong District, Nam Tok Mae Surin National Park Rd, off Highway 108. T: (053) 686 110-1;(093) 314 8222 https://www.fernresort.info
Rose Garden Tour Khunlumprapas Road. T: (053) 611 681;(081) 022 9854 http://www.rosegarden-tours.com
Sawasdee Tour T: (063) 982 9358;(097) 179 7949 email@example.com
Sunflower Cafe (Tour desk) Pradit Jongkham Road T: (053) 620 549
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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