There are only two directions you can go in from Pang Mapha, since there's only one road; either to Pai or Mae Hong Son. Bear in mind that most buses and minibuses that stop here -- you have the choice of two transport modes -- are running between Chiang Mai, Pai and Mae Hong Son so by the time they reach Pang Mapha schedules can be well out and buses, sometimes, well full.
The old, slow fan-cooled buses are getting scarcer, replaced by the more popular and faster minibus services, but in theory (and don’t hold us to this) there ought to be a Pai-bound bus around 09:00 and a Mae Hong Son bus somewhere around 12:30. Fare for the 90-minute trip to Pai is 80 baht and 2.5 hour trip to Mae Hong Son 99 baht. If this is a bit vague remember you’re in the middle of nowhere so check the day before or ask your guesthouse and buses stop – you guessed it – in front of the 7-eleven.
Minibuses are trickier since they are often full (as they only leave Pai or Mae Hong Son when they have a full load), so you will need to book in advance at the bus stop. There are no reductions on the Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son route for alighting or boarding at Soppong, so wherever you are going you need to pay the full fare of 150 baht. Minibuses are a bit quicker than the slow buses, so times are around 45 minutes to Pai and 1.5 hours to Mae Hong Son but be warned they can really hurtle around those mountain bends. Minibuses run from Soppong to Pai and Chiang Mai every hour between 08:30 and 18:30 and to Mae Hong Son hourly from 10:30 and 18:30. For both it’s probably a good idea to buy your ticket the day before.
Finally there are occasional songthaews from Soppong market to Mae Hong Son but these are irregular and very slow. You can however meet the locals and there’s certainly less hurtling going on!
We couldn’t find any reliable motorbike hire in town though if you are lucky your guesthouse might be able to dig you one up. To be sure, you’re better off getting a bike from Pai or Mae Hong Son. Pai is only 45 kilometres, but taking into account seriously steep hills and photo stops we’d allow two hours on say a Honda Dream or Wave. Mae Hong Son is 65 kilometres away and only marginally less steep so allow at least two hours again. Both have viewpoints, sites of interest and coffee stops on the way.
Some of the trails to outlying villages plus the roads to Tham Lot and Mae Lana have now been sealed, so you can do some interesting trips on your own, but do be careful on some of the unpaved tracks, which can be very steep and slippery, as well as bumpy and muddy during the rainy season.
From Ban Tham Lot the 17 kilometres or so to Mae Lana is nearly all sealed and makes for a picturesque drive but there’s a two kilometre dirt section and even some of the sealed parts are very steep and quite challenging. Check your brakes, tyres and petrol levels though when we went the border patrol checked it all for us before allowing us to continue.
Route 1226 past Mae Lana is another spectacular and now sealed mountain road and continues north to some Red and Black Lahu villages, including Pa Peuk, with a truly spectacular chasm-like cave at the foot of the mountain behind the village. You will probably have to check in with the border patrol en route and how far they will let you go depends on political situation at and over the frontier. The border here is only some 20 kilometres away up 1226.
Finally if you’re relying on public transport, then a taxi from Soppong to Tham Lot (cave, village or guesthouse) is 300 baht or a motorbike taxi 70-80 baht. Both leave from in front of the 7-eleven. Mae Lana is a bit further and a bit more expensive so count on paying at least 100 baht for a moto taxi.