Stay with a hilltribe family in their traditional stilt house in a village nestled in the mountains of Mae Hong Son province. An extremely idyllic location with sweeping landscape views of the mountains, a perfect setting for cultural immersion into hilltribe culture and way of life. In this area there are 2 types of hilltribe - Karen and Lawa. Staying in the village you can accompany the villagers to their farm, visit the village school, watch how they make handidcrafts such as handmade silver and cotton weaving, try hilltribe cuisine. Coffee is also grown locally which they supply to Starbucks, so you are invited to try their fresh Arabica coffee.
A very educational experience into how the hilltribes live and farm. You can visit for the day or stay overnight at the homestay
Accommodation is basic but it is authentic and genuine. There is running electricity but no running hot water. Bedding is bamboo mats and blankets on the floor
Halfway between Pai and Mae Hong Song you will find the village of Soppong where you can get off the bus and go to Cave Lodge, which is 5 kms away. This place has been run by Aussie John for over 20 years and the attraction here is caving, as it is surrounded by limestone mountains which is ideal caving country. There is a large cave, Tham Lod where many tourists visit, but at Cave Lodge there are organised treks through the area to caves that go under the mountain and come out the other side(several kms long). Some of the caves were used for burial sites and you can see hanging coffins. In other caves you can see blind fish, stalecmites and stalegtites and wonderful rock formations. The treks are a very reasonable price and the wooden lodge is surrounded by several bungalows on the hillside. I For more information see John's website and don't forget to look at his crazy map with details of what you can do there.
Another trek you can do is hike from Cave Lodge to Wilderness lodge Which used to be owned by the same owner of Cave Lodge, but another interesting place to stay with tribes, trekking and caves, coffins. The trek would take most of the day but not so difficult to follow the dusty road.
The Mae Hong Son zoo is one of the most unique zoos in the world. It is a rehabilitation zoo, and the animals are eventually released back into the jungle, but thats not the unique part. The unique part is how close you can get to the animals. YOU CAN TOUCH THEM. There is no zoo security and no security gates eithor. I got to hold the hand of a Gibon (type of monkey), I'll never forget that. Holding the hand of this ancient relative of ours was unforgetable! They have finger prints just like us. You can get close to the bears, but not touch them, thats pretty self-explanitory. There are also a lot of birds and stuff there. The Mae Hong Son zoo is well worth a visit!
Outside of Mae Hong Son there is a Holy and rare Ancient Fish Cave. These huge blue ancient carnivorus fish live only in this cave and it is quite interesting to see. The fish still look ancient, and there are old Hindu and Buddhist legons leading back to the time of The Buddha of these fish. They eat just about anytrhing, and they sell food for 10-20 Baht at the enterence. There is also an old Hindu ststue there, called the "forest guru" who acts like the protector of nature.
When you go to Mae Hong Son you must go on a trek. This will give you a chance to visit remote minority, and sometimes refugee, villages while having a great time enjoying the mountains, waterfalls, and scenery! To get a full trekking expperience you should to a five day trek loop from Mae Hong Son to Pai and back. I will have tons more tips on specifics on trekking in Mae Hong Son, so just check out my page!
The roads in Thailand are pretty hairy (i speak from a Canadian point of view - others may find them tame) and a little bit daunting to the average cyclist. They are very busy with many types of traffic. i enjoyed cycling Bangkok for the adrenalin rush, but not for relaxation.
There is one road i found that i think would be a treat to cycle but i didn't get the chance. It runs from Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province to Mae Sot in Tak province, straight south along the Burmese border. Road is paved but narrow in spots and not a major thoroughfare. No buses. A daily song tao (truck converted to public transport) makes the trip, which is about 230 km. It is hilly, wandering, treed, and peaceful. If you have been in Thailand before, you know that a stretch of road this long that is not heavily travelled for some length is rare.
Because it is so peaceful and sees little traffic, there are almost no places to eat or stay overnight. There is a village about halfway and about 1 km off the main drag that you can get food at, and see if someone is interested in taking in foreigners on bikes, but i would be armed with a little Thai language to do that, even though it isn't a Thai village (Karen language would suit better). Or tent it.
There are Burmese refugee camps along this road.
It should also be mentioned that occasionally there are armed scuffles of the military sort along the Thai-Burma border that can make the trip more dangerous than it should be. Keep you eyes on the English press to see if there have been any recent problems along here. I would have no qualms about doing this route as i don't think the danger is military in nature. More likely it would be heat stroke, so drink lots of water.
Alternately Mae Hong Son town down to Mae Sot would would be scenic the whole way, but the highway is a little busier between MHS town and Mae Sariang.
South of MHS town is an area known for its plentiful wild sunflowers. In the month of November, the hills in this area are covered with the yellow-orange flowers ('dok bua tong' in Thai) and it is quite pretty.
Off the Beaten Path in this case is relative. Thais do flock to see this - it is hugely popular, but because of its remoteness, not that many people see it. It is becoming more and more popular every year, and so more and more minivans (10 passenger vans) show up there crowding an otherwise quiet road. They pull their vans over, take a few pictures, get in the vans again and drive off.
The fields are located about 90 km south of Mae Hong Son town on the way to Mae Sarieng and a few km uphill off the main highway. The road was recently paved so it should be in good shape.
Because it has become a tourist attraction, i don't feel that the wild sunflowers are growing all that 'wildly' any longer.
Wat To Phae can be found about 7 kms uphill from Mae Hong Son (Amphoe Khun Yuam ): it's a stunning Burmese style vihara (a temple, basically). The architecture is incredible and the view over Mae Hong Son make the side-trip even more worthwhile.
Wat To Phae means Raft Assembling Monastery, and a legend narrates that raft assembling people used to meet here to pray before rafting to market places
At Doi Moo Kong, one can watch the airplanes taking off and landing into Mae Hong Son city as there is a clear and breathtaking view of the airport at the summit.