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Mae Hong Son (แม่ฮ่องสอน)

The small capital of a jangwat of the same name in Northwest Thailand (map), at 924 kms from Bangkok and by mountain road over Pai, 1,864 curves and 245 kms from Chiang Mai. In the North Mae Hong Son province borders Myanmar's Shan State and in the West its Kayin and Kayah States. With a population of less than 7,000 in town and about 254,800 in the province, half of them being Shan-Thai Yai, it has the lowest population density of all Thai provinces. It is believed that the Lua or Lawa hill tribe peoples already lived on these lands long before Chao Kaew Meuang Ma (เจ้าแก้วเมืองมา) arrived in the area in 1831 AD. Historical records show that he was sent there by Phraya Mahawong (มหาวงศ์) of Chiang Mai, to capture the wild elephants that inhabited the forested mountains of the region. He built a post from where he could operate his expedition which later grew into the present-day town. The place-name is possibly derived, though with a different Thai spelling, from the name of an elephant training camp, that is an enclosed space or ‘room’ (hong - ห้อง) in between two mountains, in a valley several kilometers south of the city where wild elephants were formerly rounded up, tamed and ‘trained’ (son - สอน). The name Mae (แม่) which means ‘mother’, is also a general name for any village or small city in North Thailand and appears in many place-names. It is likely an abbreviation of Mae Nahm, the Thai word for ‘river’ which literally means ‘mother of the water’, as many villages are situated on river banks and their name often derives from the river they are located at, akin to the Central Thai word Bang, e.g. the northern city of Mae Taeng which is located at the Mae Taeng River or Mae Nahm Taeng, in Thai. Besides this, the name Mae (‘mother’) might also be understood as an allegorical reference to a place where one feels at home. Another story says that the dwelling near the elephant training camp was first called Ban Mae Rong Son (บ้านแม่ร่องสอน) with Ban, meaning ‘dwelling’ or ‘village’ and Rong being a ‘groove’, ‘cavity’ or ‘corner’. This version states that the name Mae Rong Son was corrupted to Mae Hong Son, as the initial R is often pronounced as H in the northern dialect of Lan Na, e.g. Chiang Rai which is pronounced Chiang Hai and the word Ban was dropped altogether when the place grew into a larger town. Mae Hong Son prospered and Shan began migrating there in increased numbers. In approximately 1856 political unrest arose on the western banks of the Salawin river, causing further influx of Shan who fled the troubled area, and again in 1876 war broke out between the principalities of Meuang Nai (เมืองนาย) and Meuang Mok Mai (เมืองหมอกใหม่) in which prince Kolan (โกหล่าน) of Mok Mai, unable to sustain the battle, fled with his family and peers to Mae Hong Son. With this constant influx of migrants Mae Hong Son had by 1874 become a large community and changed it status from a village to a meuang. A phaya was appointed and from then onward the area and town were governed by successive rulers, the first being the Shan leader Singha Nat Racha (fig.). In 1890, during the reign of king Rama V, several partially independent city-states in the region, including Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, Mae Sariang and Pai were incorporated into one single unit of government, named Boriwen Chiang Mai Tawantok (บริเวณเชียงใหม่ตะวันตก), i.e. ‘Chiang Mai's Western Precinct’ which in 1903 was renamed Boriwen Phayap Neua (บริเวณพายัพเหนือ), the ‘Northwestern Precinct’ and in 1910 made into a Thai province by royal decree, with the town of Mae Hong Son (fig.) as the administrative capital. Places of interest include Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang, two temples in Burmese style (map - fig.) near the lake in the centre of town (fig.); Tham Pla fish cave (map - fig.); Nahm Phiang Din Cave (map - fig.); Tham Lod cave (map - fig.) with a river running through (fig.) and the separate section of Tham Phi Maen (fig.); Pha Bong viewpoint (map - fig.), Kiw Lom (กิ่วลม) viewpoint (map - fig.) and Lisu market; Pai Memorial Bridge (map - fig.); and Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Moo (fig.), a hilltop temple offering an excellent view over the city (fig.) and the northern valley (fig.) with the Provincial Prison (map - fig.). This province of 7 amphur is known for its Poi Sang Long festival (fig.), Bua Thong Flower Blooming Season festival (fig.) and the Longneck Karen (fig.). Its provincial flower is the tithonia diversifolia (fig.). See also Mae Hong Son data file. See MAP.