Mae Sariang: Completing The Mae Hong Son Loop
180km (112 miles) W of Chiang Mai; 130km (81 miles) S of Mae Hong Son
The tiny town of Mae Sariang proper boasts no grand museums or shiny hilltop temples; it is just a cozy river town along the border with Myanmar and the best halfway stopover on the long southern link between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. Driving in the area, along Route 108, takes you past pastoral villages, scenic rolling hills, and a few enticing side trips to small local temples and waterfalls. Spend time exploring nearby national parks or floating on the Salawin River near to Myanmar. (Both NG River Guides, www.ng-river-guides.com, or Dragon Sabaii Tours, www.thailandhilltribeholidays.com are reputable outfitters for that.)
By Car -- Navigation is a cinch, but watch out for bends (there must be a thousand between Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang). Just follow Route 108 between Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang, and Chiang Mai. Carry a good road map for following the side roads, and set aside a day for travel time.
By Bus -- Standard and air-conditioned buses connect Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang, and Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal (tel. 05324-2664) along the southern leg of Route 108. Tickets for the 8- to 9-hour journey and cost between 200B and 300B.
What to See & Do
The road is good and the scenery is lush on the long stretch of Route 108 west of Chiang Mai. Don't forget to stop and smell the fertilizer or take side trips wherever possible. Roadside dining and service facilities are limited, but adequate.
Sixty-three kilometers (39 miles) south of Mae Hong Son, in the village of Khun Yuam, you'll come to a junction with a road that no longer exists: a ghost trail remembered as "The Road of Japanese Skeletons," the path of retreat for Japanese soldiers fleeing what was Burma (now Myanmar) at the end of WWII. The road lives only in the memory of those who met the starved and dying troops, an estimated 20,000 of whom lie in mass graves in the surrounding area. The Japanese War Museum (just south of the junction of Rte. 108 and Rte. 163) commemorates this sorry chapter in history and is worth a visit. The museum features rusting tanks and weaponry, photos, personal effects, and written accounts (in Japanese, English, and Thai) of soldiers' struggles and the kindness of the locals.
Mae Sariang has a few outfits offering day treks and rafting (stop in any of the riverside cafes or hotels), but most people just spend a night here before making their way to Chiang Mai. It's worth a stroll around the small town center, particularly for the atmospheric, Burmese-style temples of Wat Si Boonruang and Wat Utthayarom on Wiang Mai Road.
Between Mae Sariang and Hot, you'll pass a turning on the left to Mae Chaem (H1088), a route that leads into Doi Inthanon National Park from the west. It is possible to return to Chiang Mai by this route, going over Thailand's highest peak (well, near the top anyway), though the more straightforward alternative is to keep on H108 to Hot, where the road turns north and passes through Chom Thong en route to Chiang Mai.
Where to Stay & Dine
There are lots of budget accommodations along the Mae Yuam River in the town center. The best choice is the Riverhouse Resort (6/1 Moo 2, Mae Sariang; www.riverhousehotels.com; tel. 05368-3066), a small resort of cozy wooden pavilions overlooking the Yuam River. Rooms start at 1,200B. Riverhouse is also the best bet for dining in their riverside sala (open pavilion), but a short stroll through town will take you past any number of local greasy spoons, where the adventurous can find one-dish noodle or rice meals for next to nothing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.