Mae Hong Son on my mind

December 30th, 2015 by Patricia Jehle Leave a reply »

What I would have written for a BA writing competition, had I qualified.


I decided to write something for the competition called cities even though I didn’t qualify. I was there a year ago and miss my friends and the place (and Chiang Mai and Pai) dearly. What would you write about?


The Shan City of Mae Hong Son, Thailand


Muang Mae Hong Son is an gateway, full of local charm. As a gateway, it receives refugees and visitors from Myanmar on a regular basis. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) has an official office there and, of course, works with various non-profit organizations, especially the Border Consortium, to help the incoming refugees to be processed and cared for. You can find it right near the airport, just around the corner from the nearest seven-eleven.


Visitors travelling via local ground transport from the southern Shan State in Myanmar are allowed to stay and visit the hospital in Mae Hong Son with a special permit. The Thai government sees this provision as part of its humanitarian effort to help those on the other side of the border who have little access to health care.


The city of Mae Hong Son itself is as Shan as the other side of border in Myanmar.   One can get a truck to Myanmar at the market. Usually, it is the Shan and the Karen peoples who use this cross-border ground travel. Although it is commonly known that Burmese insurgents live just on the other side of the border, it is not a dangerous city at all. The insurgents also make use the hospital and shopping in Mae Hong Son and they run some of the informal travel between the two parts of the Shan-kin network, as well as a few of the border check-points. The rest of the border controls are under the Burmese military or the police.


Thus, one can say that Mae Hong Son is pretty Shan in culture. If you don’t know what that is, Google it. I have a friend who recently published a book, From Princes to Persecuted, by Shona Goodman, PhD, for the more curious. Mae Hong Son sports a lake (called a pond in the local language) surrounded by Buddhist temples, one of them being of Shan architecture. The Wat on the local mountain is not Thai, but also Burmese and Shan inspired in its making. The food in the market, although it can also be ethnic Thai, much is Shan and one can taste such delicacies such as the dark-colored sticky rice called kao phuk. My favorite Shan food is the savory breakfast porridge made up of chick pea flour. I can say it is only for the adventurous, but it’s probably even gluten free.


For the rather adventurous types, you might want to try and meet up with some of the Free Burma Rangers. There are people at the night market and in the restaurants that know other people who know people. Just ask, or they may approach you as happened to me. Also, you can be sure to enjoy the parade of nations at the night market. The city has, at any time of the year, visitors from all over the world. The people watching is at its best, because these are not the typical travellers you find in Bangkok, but those who prefer the off the beaten track type of holiday, as I do.


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