If you don’t want to be restricted by bus times, and want the freedom to explore off the bus route then another option is to hire a car and driver. Rental prices range from 1,500-2,000bt/day. A driver can be added on for an extra 400-500 hundred baht/day, good for those not confident to self-drive through the mountainous windy roads of Mae Hong Son.
Having your own car could be significantly easier for families travelling with children.
most people in mae hong son travel around with a motorbike. for 80baht, you can already have a full tank of petrol.
i tried the route from MHS to Mae Aw (Ban Rak Thai). It's almost 30+ kilometers of scenic views and exciting turns. I only spent 3/4 on a full tank, even when I made a detour to RaumThai.
updated as of April 18, 2008
Aircon Orange Van from Chiang Mai to MHS. Fare is 250 baht. Travel time is about 5 hours, through scenic Highway 1095.
I took a 6:45am van in Chiang Mai and arrived in MHS around 12noon. The van's first stop was in Mae Sa, then Pai.
*updated as of May 6, 2008
If you're up for a 16 hour bus ride, then take the direct bus from MHS to Bangkok. Tickets can be purchased from the New Bus Terminal (not the old terminal next to the airport runway). Sombat Tour offers three airconditioned bus trips: 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. Bus fare costs 746baht.
I took the 2pm bus, which goes through Highway 108. There were only two stops along the way. 1st stop was in Mae Sariang. 2nd stop was for dinner along the highway to Bangkok. The bus arrived in Mo Chit Terminal at 6am the next day.
www.thaiair.com (every day several flights to BKK .. )
www.pbair.com (twice a week a flight to BKK .. )
I flew with PBair to BKK, which was quite an experience. I had never taken a smaller airplane than this, just 3 seats next to eachother. Woww. The crew was very nice. although the flight only took about 1h15, we got some candies and some drinks on the plane.
The ticket was cheaper than with ThaiAirlines, because there was a promotion.
* Always ask if they have a promo *
I actually think this is fun anywhere and did it on Ko Phangan and in Pai but the landscapes around Mae Hong Son are particularly special. Hiring out a bike gives you the ability to be free and go where you want. I hired mine out in order to visit a long-neck Karen village, otherwise I would have had to pay for a guide. Wizzing along the country roads past huge valleys filled with paddy fields and the warm tropical air in your face ( no flies in the teeth i might add) was great. It's only about 150b for a day so there's no reason not too, and fuel is very cheap too.
Mae Hong Son airport is amongst the smallest in Thailand. There are only four (eight if you count going back) flights a day, all Thai airways and from/to Chiang Mai. The flights can all be found on the Thai Airways Int'l page at www.thaiairways.com . The flight is also extremely cheap:
Round trip economy: 1530 Baht (38 USD)
One way ecomony: 765 Baht (Under 20 USD)
I have taken this flight twice and found it to be amazing. You fly above (and between, don't be scared) the green mountains, really cool! The airport is located in a mountain valley and it looks scary when you come in for a landing, but there havent been any crashes yet, don't wory!
There are daily busses that leave Chiang Mai city in the morning and arrive in Mae Hong Son about six hours later and Pai less than an hour after that. The bus is by far the cheapest way to got to Mae Hong Son and it is very easy. Fares are from literally 70-300 Baht (depending on class of Bus). The bus is direct, but makes a lunch stop at a good PadThai restaurant near the Chiang Mai national park border. I actually took a photo of the exact bus, so look at the photo to see the Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son - Pai red public bus.
As there are no public taxis available so choose your hotel near town center. As I stayed in Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son hotel it was very easy just walk to the city. However beware a very try and hot weather.
Most tourists fly to MHS because of the convenience. Until only recently the one way flight was an incredibly cheap 375 baht. I understand that it is now over 1000 baht - more reflective of actual cost. In the past it was heavily subsidized by Thai Airways (Thai Airways was losing money on 90% of its runs in Thailand until recently. This was allowed as long as the monied runs Bkk-CM, Bkk-Phuket, etc. pulled in the cash. Since air travel has slowed, all routes have had to shoulder the burden).
All flights go to and come from Chiangmai, so you have to get yourself there first.
It is a 25 minute flight from Chiangmai airport as opposed to 6 hours in a car or truck, 8 hours on a non-A/C bus. The road is quiet scenic and mountainous but buses have to crawl along it. A/C buses take a different route - they go south to Mae Sariang and then east to Chiangmai on a route that is much less scenic but safer. There is a bus station on the south side of the main street, but unless there is a bus there, you might not recognize it - it's pretty small.
The town itself can be walked easily.
Small Suzuki jeeps can be rented at a few locations in town for about 1000 baht per day. Motorcycle rental are possible as well. Most are 100cc 4 stroke Honda Dreams. You can get get larger dual purpose bikes as well but they are a bit harder to find.
Thai Airways International Ltd. doesn't operate flights from Bangkok, but it does have flights from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong. They have about four a day, possibly depending on the season. Flighttime is just over 30 minutes.
There are several buses going to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai, plying two different routes, so I guess it makes sense to use one on your way in, and a different one on your way out.
The Southern Route is via: Hod, Mae Sariang, Khunyuam. Buses leave Chiang Mai Arcade Bus station at 06.30, 08.00, 10.30, 13.30, 15.00, 20.00 (non air-con) and 09.00,21.00 (air-con)
The Northern Route is via Pai. Buses leave Chiang Mai Arcade Bus station at 07.00, 08.30, 10.30, 12.30, 14.00, 16.00 (non air-con) and 08.00 (air-con)
Getting Mae Hong Son:
Thai Airvways flight from Chiang Mai (25 min.) or Air Andaman flight from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son (1.15 hours). Or by car from Chiang Mai (245 km).
A best way to see town is just walk around.