ImWalkingHere: City of Three Mists

The Mae Hong Son loop, starts and finishes in Chiang Mai. Winding through the highlands of Northern Thailand, under Burmese teak forests and through countless valleys, the route traces through the villages and hills of Mae Hong Son Province. The area’s local nickname is “City of three mists” because the region experiences fog in three of the seasons: Winter, spring and autumn. A friend and I took the loop on two trusty 100cc scooters over a period of 8 days.

Courtesy of Google Maps

Being located along the Myanmar / Thai border, this is both a culturally and naturally diverse region that formed part of the ancient Kingdom of Lan Na (1296–1768), then encompassing parts of modern day Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Today traces of this richly diverse history is still expressed through the multitude of languages and customs of the 38 Hilltribe Peoples that inhabit in these hilly lands.

Stage One: Chiang Mai

Our journey kicks off in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand’s most culturally significant city. What once was the seat of power of the erstwhile Lan Na kingdom, is today a bustling metro of 961,000 people.

© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg

622 year old monument, Chedi Luang, was commissioned in the 14th century by King Saen Muang Ma to house the ashes of his father. In 1545, the upper 29 m of the structure collapsed during an earthquake. The over 600 Year old Chedi was partially reconstructed in 1990 by UNESCO and the Japanese government.

Chiang Mai streetscapes. The old city as seen from across the historic moat that circumscribes it © Christian Liebenberg
Chiang Mai streetscapes. Residential area with canal. © Christian Liebenberg

Stage Two: Chiang Dow

Chiang Dow Hilltop Temple. Two mythical chimeras guarding it’s entrance. © Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg

The ancient cave has been in use as a temple and local attraction since originally being occupied by Burmese Monks more than 1000 years ago. Today it still contains Buddhas and coffins hewn from millennium old Burmese Teak logs.

Chiang Dow stone chedi at the entrance to the Chiang Dow Cave. © Christian Liebenberg
Another Chiang Dow hilltop temple © Christian Liebenberg

Stage Three: Pai

Buddha under construction on a hill in Pai. Some visitors meditate and pay respects, others enjoy the view over pai in the setting sun © Christian Liebenberg
Enjoying the simple pleasure of perfectly cooked quail eggs by the roadside © Christian Liebenberg

Stage Four: Mae Hong Son District Capital

The Tham Lot cave system bores into the mountainside to a depth of 1.666 meters. The fish filled  Nam Lang River flows through the cave and one accesses various spectacular & hugely cavernous rooms in the system by bamboo raft, whilst thousands of sizable the fish teem around and bats circle overhead. The cave roof climbs as high as 45 meters in places and contains various religious artifacts.

© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg

A symbol of Mae Hong Son, the twin Burmese-style temples of Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang, Constructed in 1827, are situated on the man-made lake at the centre of town. Every night the edges of the lake become alive with the bustle and colour of the local night-market that skirts the lake. Night markets are a wonderful general feature of all sizable Thai towns, and is a great opportunity to sample some of the exotic and delicious local foods on offer.

© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg

Stage Five: Mae Chaem

Selling Petrol the old fashioned way (that is to say by means of child labour). The girl in her early teens operates this pump station for her family in the town of Mae Chaem. Here and there one also finds coin operated self-help fuel pumps that play an automated recording that seems to cheer you on and congratulate you for buying fuel! Very exciting!

© Christian Liebenberg
Shan Tribal gathering. © Christian Liebenberg

The Shan people inhabit parts of Yunnan (China), Myanmar, Thailand and Laos and trace their history back to and ancient Shan State that has suffered occupation and suppression for centuries, Beginning with the mongol occupation in 1287, later occupations by the Burmese and then the British wrested control at the end of the third Anglo-Burmese war in 1885.

Stage Six: Doi Inthanon

© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg
© Christian Liebenberg

The King and Queen’s pagodas Were constructed at cost of $300 million by the Royal Thai Air Force in 1987 and 1992 to commemorate the King’s and Queen’s 60th birthdays. Located on top of the highest peak in Thailand, Doi Inthanon at 2,565 m, The setting offers breathtaking views and manicured gardens in honour of the royal couple.

Having reigned for 70.4 years, King Bhumibol of Thailand was the worlds longest living reigning monarch until his passing. He was widely loved and respected for his selfless service to the people. He was almost single-handedly responsible for the development of resilient rice cultivars and the modern Thai aquaculture industry. Both of which contributed heavily to Thailand’s food security. One of course gets arrested for saying anything negative about the king.