Monday, April 14, 2014

Let Me Tell You about My Favorite Place in Thailand

So let me tell you about my favorite place in Thailand. It is not my adopted city Chiang Mai, although I have waxed poetic about its lively markets and its Buddhist temples.

No. This place is further up north in Thailand, through winding mountain roads which look out to hills and valleys. It's so further up north that when people talk, you don't hear the gentle sound of Thai, rather the forward and rapid sounds of Tibeto-Burmese languages. It's so further up north that a few kilometers further, you might just find yourself in Myanmar.

I'm talking about Pang Mapha in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.

So what makes this place special? That is a question I will answer in the next couple of weeks through a series of posts about Pang Mapha. But as a sneak peek, here are some of my reasons.

1. The Sunrise

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Sunrise in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

There is just something about a sunrise in the mountains. And mind you, this is sub-tropical Northern Thailand. The cool season is foggy, not to mention very cold, especially for a tropical-blooded individual like yours truly. The sunrises, on the other hand, well, the photos speak for themselves.

2. The Day Treks

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Pang Mapha's Big Thumb. And we climbed it.

A fellow traveler told me that Mae Hong Son wasn't about the towns and cities. It was about the spots in between. I agree. It's the mountains and the trails, the hills, and the villages. Pure nature. What's not to love?

3. The Hill Tribes

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
A beauty pageant in the hill tribes of Pang Mapha, Thailand

It was unbelievably serendipitous that within the few days I spent in this corner of Thailand, a big festival was held nearby. Many of the people that lived in villages up and around the mountains came to the festival for fair games, food, Thai boxing, and, as shown in the photo, beauty pageants. Fun times all around.

4. The Stars

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
You simply cannot get skies like this in the city.

Growing up in the city, stars were few and far between in the night skies. You can imagine my child-like sense of wonder when, while taking a drive to the Pang Mapha Festival, I look up and saw the clearest of skies with the brightest of stars. It was the first time I laid eyes on the Milky Way Galaxy.

5. The Caves

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Tham Lod Caves of Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

I should probably say why Pang Mapha is even on the Northern Thailand tourist radar. Thirty years ago, Australian explorer John Spies began exploring this region and found massive, and I mean, massive cave systems here, often collectively called Tham Lod. If you are a caving enthusiast, you will love this place. (I'm not, and I did.)

6. The Cave Lodge

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Cave Lodge fosters that great social atmosphere among travelers.

Tham Lod is the biggest tourist draw here, so cave explorer John Spies constructed a lodge nearby simply called Cave Lodge. The lodge has a large teak house which serves as reception, eatery, and common area with an open hearth for those cool mountain nights. Attached are dorm rooms and around the area are private bungalows overlooking Mae Lang River. It is one of the best mountain lodges I have ever come across.

There you have them. My reasons for which Pang Mapha is my favorite place in the hugely popular Southeast Asia destination that is Thailand. I will be elaborating on these reasons in the following weeks. Let me end my short blogging hiatus right here, right now. More stories and photos very soon!

What is your favorite place in Thailand?

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