As this is a fairly quiet forum I can still see my 'old' report on the MHS loop, written in excitement at the joys of that trip, same time last year! If you feel like reading both, you might see the same adjectives... I run out of words of adoration for this part of the world.
So, Mae Hong Son was a short plane trip on Nok Air after almost a week in Chiang Mai. The sadness at leaving CM was well balanced by the anticipation of MHS and the Fern Resort. There are some places that you just have to return to. We were greeted by rain and cool temperatures as we headed to the Rice Terrace bar for our first evening at this lovely hotel. More rain every time I woke during the night, and power cuts some time in the small hours, resulting in a deep darkness not yet experienced in busy Thailand.
Saturday: The morning brought no power, but a good breakfast, and spirits were restored once we found bright light back in our room. Then at 9.00 the excellent La Tongkam greeted us to start our day touring. From the start, we knew we were onto a great tour guide. I could see a youthful energy in him despite the bad weather, an enthusiasm that was immediately infectious. The first stop was the temple on the hill above MHS. The view was a little bit obscured by mist, but still great - we could see the lake and the airport, as well as everything else in a sort of greyish tone. It must be stunning when sunny!
Back in the car, we started out on the road to Ban Rak Thai, also known as Mae Aw or KMT (Kuomintang) Village after the Chinese fighters who settled here in the 1940s. But there was much to see first, on the way up the scenic, winding road. We stopped at the King's Project, a complex of agricultural plots planted with all sorts of crops to teach people how to produce food sustainably and efficiently. Wonderful - we saw methods to prevent soil erosion by using deep-rooted grasses, how to mulch strawberries using the large leafed plant that grows everywhere, fish-farming, many green veggies, much, much more. There was even a sheep farming venture. I looked around for the signs of fly strike I might have expected in a tropical climate, but the sheep were beautiful, fat and clean, so methods must be right. Good to see. There is a small stall selling sheep products and we bought a few delicious smelling soaps. This project was impressive except for one detail. We looked around a small 'zoo', a few cages with labels indicating large cats, but overgrown and without occupants. I suspect the poor cats faded away. There was one lonely Clouded Leopard. I felt very sad for this single feline existing in its inadequate cage, with not even many visitors to break the monotony. Still, we rallied, and spent a few fun moments indulging in a lesson in scientific names, with poor dear Neofelis nebulosa featuring.
Back on the road, we stopped at a lovely village called Ban Hmonk Jum Pae (my spelling could be wrong!), for cough remedy for my poor afflicted husband. The village is spread along the road and might warrant a closer look - it had a nice feel about it. It was our guide, La's idea to stop here, as he was concerned for the welfare of the coughing man. It was very kind of La - he selected a range of tablets that would help with the throat and respiratory tract. The next stop was Mae Aw, and our main destination on this tour. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant by the lake that forms a centre point for the village. We shared a great meal with La, who sat with us and chatted about all sorts of things that we had seen. We really enjoyed this - too often, guides assume that you want to be on your own, and will make themselves scarce during meals. We were so happy when La stayed with us - he is a lovely man.
We walked around the village for a while after lunch, mostly in the old section where you can see the mud buildings characteristic of this village. Typically of what happens, residents found the old mud huts a bit uncomfortable and started building newer, longer-lasting structures. Then western tourists came by and demanded to see 'the old ways', so the mud huts are being preserved now. You'll see a combination of hobbit-house looking buildings now being used as shops, or crumbling little buildings being used as storage sheds, and new cement and brick houses. The remnants of old walls with their Chinese characters painted into the clayey substrates make for some great photographs! Many have round holes for windows. See this village soon before the buildings melt into the background! One road that we strolled along led us past a sparsely settled part of the outskirts of town, and as we waved casually to friendly occupants, we asked La how far we were from the Burmese border here. Oh, about 200 metres, he said. The odd bike pottered past bearing Army patrol guys, but it was a very low-key border, and we felt we could have just wandered over. But we felt we had better not.
Further wanderings took us around the lake. We could have stayed longer in this very pleasant far corner of Thailand - recommended. However, we were back in the car for the trip back along the beautiful scenic road, where we stopped for a look at a waterfall (with apologies for the name, I can't remember!). The recent plentiful rain had fed the falls, making it a spectacular and worth-while stop. We arrived back at the Fern Resort at about 6.00, very happy with our day. La Tongkam is a wonderful guide, full of knowledge but also very happy to engage and listen to the little bits that we had to say, so the learning was both ways. We enjoyed every minute with him and would recommend him whole heartedly. We could have done more - but we had made it clear that it was more important for us to go slowly and see and learn more, so La sensibly restricted our day to a few sights. A great guy.
Sunday: Back at the Fern Resort, there was more rain overnight, but it eased as the morning progressed. We caught the resort van into town and did some browsing. It was fairly quiet - both because of the weather, we thought, and the fact that it was Sunday. We had noticed last time that a few of the shops close on Sundays. One shop that we like is an antique/junk shop where a lady sits watching over her collection of dusty bits and pieces - old equipment, bells, Buddhas, general bric-a-brac... We bought some little cow-bells - lovely! We walked a bit more, then back to the lake for a look at the interesting wats and their grounds. Finally, the sun came out and baked MHS. These wats are well worth an hour or two. There is an interesting museum in one, but I wish we had La with us to explain the meaning of the displays! Perhaps next time... Sadly, our favourite cafe was closed, the Meeting Cafe opposite the lake, so we had our iced coffee at the Fern Restaurant. The outdoor area at the front is a great spot to sit and drink their delicious coffee.
The late afternoon sun lit everything beautifully back at the Fern Resort, into a golden/green gardeny amphitheatre. The rice paddies had been harvested but were still lovely, so we spent an hour or so wandering the grounds and taking photos of the many plants, insects, dogs and just lovely things. The final evening at the Rice Terrace bar put on a beautiful sunset for us. This is what the Fern Resort is all about.
I wrote a review last year and will write another one for this lovely place. I can't say enough to praise the wonderful, kind and friendly staff here. We were sad to leave for the longish day of travelling via Nok Air and Thai Airways to Bangkok and the final part of our trip.