Thursday, 21 April 2016

mae hong son: laid-back and perfectly balanced

A classic view of the pretty town of Mae Hong Son by the Jong Kham lake.

I think one of the first things we saw upon our arrival in Mae Hong Son was a scene that beautifully summed up the simple, carefree nature of this charming town: a group of kids kicking a pomelo fruit around in a field in a rustic game of football.

Life here is slow, but not too slow.

A dog chilling out on a scooter.

There is so much here to love.

The tourist information cat at our guesthouse, for instance.

The kitty at Johnnie Guesthouse in Mae Hong Son.

And the gorgeous, poetic views. You can see why Mae Hong Son is also known as "the city of three mists".

Sunrise in Mae Hong Son.

This bird's eye view was the reward from our climb up the steps of Kong Mu hill, where a Burmese-style Buddhist temple called Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu resides.

The snail climbs, just as we did.

We also hung out this dog up there. Isn't it just adorable!

Cute doglet outside the shops near Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu.

We strolled back into the central town area, where the unpretentious beauty of Mae Hong Son continues to shine through in the early morning light.

Early morning in Mae Hong Son town.

As the golden glow of dawn gave way to to a more assertive brightness, we made our way to the morning market, and as we did so, we stumbled upon this procession of people dressed up in traditional outfits. We had no idea what the special occasion was, but it was interesting to observe.

Some kind of local event happening in Mae Hong Son.

Mae Hong Son's morning market is delightful. Here, limited English is spoken, so we reverted to the trusty method of just checking out what was available, and pointing at what we thought we might like. Our breakfast cost 35 baht. For the two of us. (Yep, we went back the very next day for more!)

We buy delicious noodle dishes at the morning market in Mae Hong Son.

The khanom jeen nam ngiaw - thin rice noodles in a flavourful broth, spicy with chillies and tangy with tomatoes, topped with a scattering of minced pork, pickled mustard greens, and fresh bean sprouts - was only 15 baht.

Khanom jeen nam ngiaw at the Mae Hong Son morning market.

And the thua oon, which I think is a dish with a Burmese influence, was 20 baht. Again, rice noodles are featured here, but this time, they are engulfed in a thick chickpea gravy, and garnished with chopped herbs, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, and deep-fried chickpea tofu. The texture and appearance of the viscous yellow chickpea sauce had me apprehensive at first, but upon tucking in, I was enthralled by how all the elements in the dish just worked so well together.

Thua oon at the Mae Hong Son morning market.

Lunchtime is when we delve into other cuisines. I don't know if I would describe Mae Hong Son as being cosmopolitan, but for a town its size, it has decent variety. One day we popped by Pizza Primavera to see what the fuss was all about. It was a bit pricey for us as budget travellers (370 baht got us some garlic bread and a pizza), but we did enjoy our meal. If you like thin and crispy crusts, this is the pizza place for you.

Pizza at Pizza Primavera in Mae Hong Son.

We also stopped at Saifon Bakery for drinks. A floral theme in the decor imbues the space with sweetness. I had a smooth Thai iced tea for 50 baht, while Simon indulged in a fancy coffee shake for 80 baht.

Coffee and tea at Saifon Bakery in Mae Hong Son.

The Festival of Mae Hong Son's Ethnic Cultures was on while we were in town. We visited in the late afternoon, and it was quite interesting - basically, like an outdoor exhibition.

We saw people grinding grains in the traditional manner...

Grain-grinding, hey ho!


Making stuff.

And playing traditional musical instruments.

A musical display that includes some nifty footwork.

Our favourite spot for dinner in Mae Hong Son was N&J's Kitchen. As you all know, Simon and I love a good larb gai (chicken and herb salad) - and here, they do a fried chicken larb for 40 baht. We were like, bring it on!

A fried chicken version of larb gai.

We also went for the spicy beef salad at 60 baht, which may possibly be even more delicious than the larb gai - the balance of flavours here made my heart sing. A side story: when we ordered, we were asked how many chillies we wanted in this dish, and we umm'ed and ahh'ed over it, before the also-Australian couple on the other end of the communal table helpfully told us that two chillies is reasonable if you like spicy food without the danger of getting into ridiculously spicy territory. It was astute advice. The following morning, I bumped into this same couple at our guesthouse - we were literally next-door neighbours! We ended up having a great chat - they were also doing a travel sabbatical like us. I only regret that I didn't mention exchanging Facebook details - I would love to have followed updates on their journey, or even potentially meet up later elsewhere during our Thailand trip.

An irresistibly delicious spicy beef salad.

We liked N&J's Kitchen so much that we went back for dinner again the next evening, and we ordered the same two dishes.

But I must say that we also really liked the night market at Mae Hong Son. Aside from fun t-shirts for tourists that you can buy to proclaim that you've survived the 1864 curves to Mae Hong Son, you can also purchase food from the street stalls, and then enjoy them by the lakeside - they have sitting areas specifically set up for this purpose.

Oh, and in case you were wondering why this som tum vendor and her daughter had a look of consternation on their faces - there was some serious lightning and thunder action going on that night, and they were reacting to a loud rumble in the sky.

This woman is making som tum (green papaya salad) for me!

I was happy with the som tum (green papaya salad) I ordered - the strips of green papaya were fresh and crunchy, and the dressing was suitably spicy and tangy.

Som tum (green papaya salad) from Mae Hong Son's night market.

And as if one green papaya dish wasn't enough, I found myself tempted by deep-fried green papaya fritters at another stall - these are known as grabong tod, or khang pong. By this time, it had started to rain, so I brought this back to eat in our room at the guesthouse. Served with a spicy sweet-and-sour dressing, these make an addictive snack.

Gra bong tod, also known as khang pong(deep-fried vegetable fritters) - in this case, deep-fried green papaya fritters.

On our final day in Mae Hong Son, we went out to Salween River Restaurant for breakfast. We met a lovely placid cat along the way.

Here, kitty, kitty!

We both opted for the chicken khao soi at Salween River Restaurant. Their version of khao soi has a very creamy curry soup, and it is so generous with the chicken meat component. For a dish with a price tag of 50 baht, you can't ask for more.

The khao soi at Salween River Restaurant in Mae Hong Son.

The garnish (lime wedge, chopped shallots, chopped spring onions and coriander leaves, pickled mustard greens) is served on the side, and I threw it all in. Go big or go home, right?

Khao soi with all the trimmings!

After polishing off the khao soi, we were well and truly full. As we went off to catch our bus, I felt wistful about saying goodbye to Mae Hong Son - this is truly a place I would be happy to meander for days. However, our next destination, Mae Sariang, awaits!


  1. My gosh...that view. I love your photos, they really capture beautiful details whether they are big or small shots. So many lovely kitties :)

    1. Thank you Jem, I try to capture what I can! And this really is just such a gorgeous place. :)

  2. all your photos are magical. maybe it's the time of day ... I just can't stop looking back at that pizza!!! (I know, I should be admiring the streetscapes!)

  3. Wow, that thua oon looks really good!


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