Mae Hong Son Nostalgia

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Jurgen, Feb 7, 2018.

  1. Preamble


    In nearly three decades, I have visited Mae Hong Son at several occasions, written a couple of stories about this attaching city and published a bunch of vintage and recent pictures [2]. As time flies, I collect more illustrations and get different feelings about this destination, while some souvenirs fade away. Despite having already shared plenty of pictures, nostalgia enticed me to update my accounts, rehashing the older photographs and adding recent ones. This is not meant to be a full-fledged narration, only an encouragement to learn or research more, or, for many readers, just to go back. As for detailed information, a “Mae Hong Son” search in GT-Rider’s forum [1] will harvest a wealth of useful information. I have provided some links to such write-ups in my endnote [3] .





    A pleasant city




    My maiden trip to Mae Hong Son, in July 1991, was on a straight line, aboard a “Thai International (TG)” plane, the single daily connection to Thailand’s Northern Apex.

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    1991 – Mae Hong Son’s landing stripe inside the city


    This was my only flight to this classic bikers’ destination; over the years, and till very recently, I completed “The Loop” a number of times, on different motorcycles. I have now switched my mount to four wheels, an important life step, and the opportunity to look back, without, however, any intention to stop visiting this attractive place.


    Twenty-seven years ago, with a single daily flight connection, and less safety concerns, Mae Hong Son’s airport was a joggers’ playground, something amazing when compared to the current airport regulations. Nowadays, there are still few airplane arrivals on this landing strip; actually, there are only two daily Chiangmai roundtrips, from “Bangkok Airways” (with a “Thai Airways” code sharing partnership).


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    Joggers running on the tarmac.


    To conveniently travel around the city, I had rented an ubiquitous yellow Honda MTX 125, which also allowed me to explore the tarmac’s neighborhood, without any hindrances. Today, of course, the airport’s perimeter is protected by barbered wire, keeping vehicles and joggers at a reasonable distance.


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    1991 - The ubiquitous Honda MTX 125, near to the airport’s tarmac.


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    2017 - Mae Hong Son’s airstrip today – circled by barbed wire.


    In the past, the only “international style” hotel in town was “Bayoke Chalet”, where I dwelt during all my first visits. It still operates today, but the choice, in all sort of lodging possibilities, has widely increased, in the city itself, and in its neighborhoods.

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    “Bayoke Chalet” in 1991.


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    2017 - Bayoke Chalet is still operating and remains one of the largest dwellings.





    Around the lake





    Arguably, Chiang Kong’s loveliest attraction is the Chong Kham lake, with its ever-changing mirroring of Chong Klang/Chong Kham temples. Several well-known eateries and guesthouses are located along its shore, and, every evening, a lively market, selling local souvenirs, and featuring food stalls, animates its western side.


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    1991 – Chong Klang/Chong Kham temples.


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    2017 – The always majestic mirroring view of Chong Klang/Chong Kham temples.


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    Nowadays, lightbulbs were installed to keep the scenery breath-taking, even during evening hours.


    In May 2012, at the initiative of the “Sunflower” restaurant’s owner George and GT-Rider David, a Music Festival was organized on the lake’s rim. It was widely promoted to bikers and became an acclaimed venue for locals, tourists and two-wheelers who took this opportunity to drive “The Loop”.


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    George (Sunflower Restaurant) and David (GT-Rider) the Music Nights’ promoters.


    In addition to various styles of Thai and English music, the evening offered an amazing and rare performance of a Kayan trio. In November 2012, a second Music night was another big success. Unfortunately, the enforcement of laws regulating the sales of alcohol on public streets, had the following festival, scheduled for May 2013, cancelled; it has never been organized since that time (see references to GT-Rider reports in the endnote [2 and 3]).

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    The Kayan trio from Huay Sua Tao village.


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    On stage, the Kayan trio from Huay Sua Tao village.


    Several bands performed on stage the whole evening, playing al sort of music.

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    John Nash and his friends from the Aussie Experience Band.


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    A fascinated and mixed audience.



    Back to the past again, in 1991, the city center’s intersection already featured a red light, and, during rush hours, a police agent helped to direct the relatively meagre traffic. At eight o’clock in the morning the national anthem was broadcasted all around the town and everything came to a standstill.


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    Mae Hong Son city center in 1991 – the light is green … but traffic is stopped to respect the broadcasted national anthem.


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    Changes are only slight in modern Mae Hong Son’s city centre intersection; most buildings remain the same.


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    1991 - The main city center intersection with the Mae Tee Hotel.


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    2017 - There are more cars in the traffic and the signboards of the two banks have change their colors, at the “Crossroad” intersection.


    The nowadays popular “Crossroad” hangout, did not yet exist in 1991. The wooden building structure, however, was already standing in the intersection.

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    1991 – the city center intersection with the road toward the West.


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    The modern city centre’s intersection with “Crossroad” pub and the same small road toward he West.


    Over the years, Mae Hong Son has globally kept its appearance and mood. Apart maybe during traffic peak hours, it is difficult to tell the difference between old and new pictures.

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    1991 - Mae Hong Son’s main street.


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    1991 - Mae Hong Son’s main street.





    GT-Rider Memorial



    Mae Hong Son also has a particular place in many bikers’ hearts. In November 2009, GT-Rider David organized the first “Mae Hong Son Loop Memorial Ride”, to commemorate gone motorcycle riders who drove and loved the Northern trails.


    The venue was to plant rose bushes and fix plaques, at Chong Klang temple, for TJ & Simon. After seven years of successful ceremonies, David decided to have a proper chedi erected, on the hill, on Wat Doi Kong Mou’s compound. This monument was inaugurated in November 2016, during the 8th annual ride; it is now honoring the memory of two more recently departed bikers.


    In 2017, for the 9th “Memorial Ride”, a large company again participated to the commemoration. On November 11th, the evening before the ceremony, a “Sunflower” dinner, adorned with John and Geoff’s performance brought back memories of the former “Mae Hong Son Music Nights”.


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    John and Geoff’s performing during the GT-Rider Sunflower restaurant dinner.


    The actual blessing ceremony was held on Sunday, November 12th, in the Doi Kong Mou’s temple assembly hall. It was a meaningful rite, officiated by the temple’s abbot in presence of seven reverent monks and the GT-Rider participants.


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    The GT-Rider group during the Buddhist blessing ceremony.


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    Seven venerable monks chanting for the departed GT-Rider friends.


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    The GT-Rider participants at the chedi after the religious ceremony.





    Excursions around Mae Hong Son



    Mae Hong Son is not only the apex of a famous 4’000 curves loop [6], it also features many shorter excursions in its neighborhoods.


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    On Doi Kong Mu hill, a wooden plank congratulates visitors for having completed 1864 curves [4].



    In the past, the road from Mae Hong Son to Nai Soi (the shortcut through Sop Soi) led over a wooden suspension bridge spanning the Pai river. In 1993, I crossed it cautiously with a Chiangmai rented Honda chopper, wondering if it could bear the combined weight of a heavy mount and its driver.

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    1993 - My Chiangmai rented Honda chopper.


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    1993 – Cautiously crossing the Pai river’s wooden suspension bridge to Nai Soi.


    In 1998, a new concrete art work was built, and the old hanging span began to fall apart. Every time, when I travel to Nai Soi (to the Kayan Tahar village), I make a nostalgic stop-over at the old bridge, which years after years, loses more of its wooden planks and sees more rust feeding on its cables.


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    The old suspension bridge’s skeleton.


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    2011 - still some wooden planks.


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    2017 – Only the metal skeleton still remains, the wood totally fell apart (or was collected).



    A little further north, another biker favorite loop leads to Rak Thai and Pang Ung, at about forty kilometers from Mae Hong Son.

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    2017 – A classic view of Rak Thai village, mirroring in its reservoir lake.



    Driving South from the city, on Route 108, another Mae Hong Son’s province highlight is found in Khun Yam district; it is the famous Mexican sunflower fields "Thung Dok Bua Tong". An eighty kilometers trip leads to Mae U-Khor mountain, a flower covered hill, particularly attractive during the blooming season, in November.

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    Dok Bua Tong – the Mexican sunflower near Khun Yam district.



    Kayan villages (Long Neck Karen), used to be a major Mae Hong Son’s attraction. Nowadays, three hamlets, populated with these refugees from Burma, are still open to visitors. Their interest has, however, slightly faded-out, as newer centers, more accessible to rushing tourists, have been set-up around Thailand. Several dwellings are in Chiangmai province, others are near Chiangrai and Pattaya. With the opening of Myanmar to tourism, the Kayan’s homeland, the Kaya States, also became an attractive destination to observe one of Asia’s most exotic tribe.

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    A smiling Kayan woman from Huay Pu Kheng village.


    Visiting the three Mae Hong Song’s Kayan villages remains one of my strongest motivation to travel to this region. I will provide updated information about these settlements in another write-up, to be published later.



    Climbing Doi Kong Mu hill is a compulsory excursion; it leads to the GT-Rider chedi and features breathtaking views on both flanks of the mountain. The hilltop temple’s illuminated white stupas, the magnificent view over the city and the western side’s sunset treat over the Burmese ridge are highlights of that short ramble.

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    West view from the Doi Kong Mu hill’s GT-Rider chedi location.


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    The GT-Rider chedi on the top of Doi Kong Mu hill.


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    1991 vintage view over Mae Hong Son city – few differences can be notices when compared to recent pictures.


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    2017 View from Doi Kong Mu hill’s South-East side over Mae Hong Son’s Chong Klang lake and temples.


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    Sunset over Burma – view from Doi Kong Mu hill’s western side.


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    Doi Kong Mu temple’s illuminated white stupas.


    This is the ending full-stop of my recollection, a time to bid farewell to pleasant Mae Hong Son, while already preparing for my next visit.





    NOTES



    [1] www.gt-rider.com

    In addition to its well patronized GT-Rider forum and website, David is also the author of several must-have printed maps. They are not only the most appreciated means of information about the covered regions, they are valuable souvenirs and even collector’s items.


    As for the “Mae Hong Son Loop” map, the 6th edition will be available on 7th February 2018, incidentally at the same time as this story goes online.


    Here is the reference link to the map:
    2018 Gtr Mae Hong Son Loop Map

    MHS%20Map%20Cover-X2.



    [2] References to my Mae Hong Son trip reports published on GT-Rider.com. A search on the forum’s site will harvest a lot more valuable contribution, by numerous authors.


    Mae Hong Son loop - twenty years later
    Mae Hong Son loop - twenty years later

    An Unbroken Circle - 2 Lower North Thailand
    An Unbroken Circle - 2 Lower North Thailand

    A Visit To Mae Hong Son's Kayan Tribes
    A Visit To Mae Hong Son's Kayan Tribes.

    Mae Hong Son International Music Night Part 2: 10th November 2012
    Mae Hong Son International Music Night Part 2: 10th November 2012.


    [3] Various other GT-Rider.com trip reports about Music Night and Memorial ride:


    Mae Hong Son Music Festival, May 2012.
    Mae Hong Son Music Festival, May 2012.

    The Tj John Hamilton - Simon Siinthai Grant Memorial Ride
    The Tj John Hamilton - Simon Siinthai Grant Memorial Ride

    The 2016 8th Annual Tj John Hamilton-simon Siinthai Grant Mhs Memorial Ride
    The 2016 8th Annual Tj John Hamilton-simon Siinthai Grant Mhs Memorial Ride

    2017 (9th) Annual Gtr Mae Hong Son Loop Memorial Ride
    2017 (9th) Annual Gtr Mae Hong Son Loop Memorial Ride


    [4] I have never counted the contours on the Mae Hong Son loop, and rely on information, mostly printed on T-shirts or other advertisement material. The western part of the trip is usually credited with 1864 curves, while the eastern part should have 2224 bends, for a total of more than 4000 sinuosities.
     
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  2. Oh Jurgen
    What a beautiful photographic trip down memory lane.
    Incredible too after all these years that Mae Hong Son today still retains it's charm, and your images from yesteryear & today confirm this nicely.

    These photos do it for me

    pr2x6848_aurorahdr2018-edit-xl-.
    This pic just oozes the magic charm & ambiance of Mae Hong Son by the lake.

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    And this one..what an superb relaxing, multi-cultural night this was in Mae Hong Son.
    It is a serious shame the event ran foul of government red tape.
     
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  3. #3 scotty007, Feb 7, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2018
    Jurgen, another great written and illustrated account, really enjoyed reading it! My time with MHS dates back to the mid to late eighties when parts of the 1095 was still dirt, my first ride on the loop was a Honda Wing 125, so this really brought the memories flooding back!

    NT-91a. NT-91.
     
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  4. Thank you David and Scotty for your kind appreciation.

    For Scotty, the woman sitting at your right side is one of my favourite Kayan LN. I photographed her first in 1991 (a little later than your own picture), and met her, later on, a couple of times in Nai Soi, last time in December 2017. I will check again next week but it seems that she finally also migrated to another village.

    I plan to publish a special report about Nai Soi (Kayan Tahar) in the not too far future :)

    Thank you for adding these pictures.
     
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  5. Yes, when I visited the village they had all just been relocated, conditions were pretty rough!
    NT-91d.
     
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  6. What a beautiful story.
    And what an extraordinary beauty of this Kayan woman :heart_eyes:

    Wonder where is she now?

    PR2X6685-Edit-XL.
     
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  7. Amazing.
    Your photos continue to take my breath away..and so wonderful to see the comparisons.
    Thank you!
     
  8. Absolutely fantastic write-up and beautiful photos Jurgen. Thanks a lot for sharing!
     
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  9. Jurgen,
    Comment ca va???
    Thanks for this...what a marvelous start to my day.
    Cheers
     

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