Ok Phansa Trip to Mae Hong Son

The Buddhist Rain Retreat takes place every year for three month from July to October. The festival marking the end of this period is called Ok Phansa. Those events takes place nationwide, though the way it is celebrated is often different. One unique place is in Mae Hong Son province. This is where I went to join their celebrations.

Date of trip: 22-26 October 2018

DAY ONE: Good morning from Don Mueang Airport. I have an early morning flight to Chiang Mai and then a van transfer to Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang. I’m there for two festivals marking the end of the Buddhist Lent.

Boarding Nok Air DD8302 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Flight time is just over an hour.

Breakfast at Ton Payom Congee on Suthep Road in Chiang Mai. I had Johk which is a rice porridge with egg. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/jHfytmqGwAv

We’re now off to Mae Hong Son by road. It’s at least a five hour road trip from Chiang Mai on very winding roads. We will stop for lunch in Pai. Tonight we are in the provincial city for the Jong Para Festival. Then tomorrow we will go to Mae Sariang for the Ok Wa Festival.

A brief stop in Pai for lunch while on the way to Mae Hong Son city. We passed through some low cloud and rain on the way, but dry here. Though forecast is for more rain this afternoon. Lunch was at at Belle Villa Resort. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/6GNmCFod65P2

Some aerial photos of the countryside around Pai in Mae Hong Son province. Light rain today and low cloud on the hills.

Pang Mapha Viewpoint in Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/qKFdorPLAWz

Coffee break on the road to Mae Hong Son at Chang Thai (ร้านช้างไทย กาแฟสด). Map: https://goo.gl/maps/LwFdgNFJixD2

Light rain in Mae Hong Son and a temperature of 25°C. I think it might be a little chilly tonight. I packed my rain gear but didn’t think about bringing any warm clothes. Tonight we’re staying at The Imperial Maehongson Hotel.

In the days leading up to the end of the three month Buddhist Rains Retreat, a festival called Poi Lern Sib Et takes place in Mae Hong Son. The highlight is the Nok Toh Chong Phara parade through the town two days before the full moon.

In the Chong Phara parade, performers are dressed in animal costumes such as birds and lions. However the highlight is the Chong Phara which are castles made of wood and decorated with colorful perforated paper. During the night-time parade they are also lit up.

The colourful Chong Phara castles in Mae Hong Son are put on display to welcome back the Lord Buddha after visiting his mother in heaven.

Dinner tonight was at the popular Bai Fern Restaurant on Khunlumprapas Road in Mae Hong Son. Some good local food and reasonable prices. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/MtwPEC7wiRQ2

A night shot of the Burmese style chedi at Wat Chong Klang in Mae Hong Son reflected in the lake. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/VFyABHkWw362

DAY TWO: Good morning from Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand. Low cloud and light rain. Photo taken from Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu on top of the hill overlooking the city. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/xRhrY6ttrkD2

Breakfast this morning near the market in Mae Hong Son was Kai Kra Ta and two bread rolls for 40 Baht.

Monks collecting alms this morning in front of the market in Mae Hong Son.

The “Bird Monk of Mae Hong Son”. A familiar sight in the city is this elderly monk who comes out early every morning with his walking frame to feed the pigeons. Come rain or shine, locals say that he has been doing like this for some years now.

A brief stop in Pha Bong to buy some peanuts and beans which is a well-known local product here. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/AmfWSSXsJRK2

Viewpoint in Pha Bong, Mae Hong Son. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/J9MtkYZTa3u

Drone photos of Mueang Pon (เมืองปอน) in Khun Yuam District of Mae Hong Son. Nice patterns of the rice fields and the houses in the community. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/JEBFyJ671Gv

This morning we visited Mueang Pon in Khun Yuam District of Mae Hong Son to see their preparations for the end of the Buddhist Lent. Of interest were the Chong Phara which are castles made of wood and decorated with colorful perforated paper. Hanging below are food offerings.

The Chong Phara are placed in temples and in the compound of houses to welcome the Lord Buddha back from heaven where he went to visit his mother. This festival takes place all around Mae Hong Son.

Eating lunch at a homestay in Mueang Pon in Khun Yuam District of Mae Hong Son. A night in one of 14 homestays costs 400B per night which includes two meals. Call 081-7844340 for more information. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/wtxewtXbxCU2

The people of Mueang Pon in Mae Hong Son are an ethnic minority called Tai Yai. There is a heavy Burmese influence in both their food and culture. Even more so at Wat Mueang Pon, their local temple. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/7gviPpG6zNS2

For the next few nights we are in Mae Sariang, about 160km south of Mae Hong Son city. We are here for the annual Ok Wa festival that marks the end of the Buddhist Lent. The festival is celebrated by the Shan (Tai Yai) people and is unique to the rest of the country.

To celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent, the people of Mae Sariang district will host the Ok Wa festival at Wat Utthayarom and in front of the Mae Sariang Police Station & Municipality Office from today until Thursday https://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/art/1562998/the-end-of-lent

We’re staying at Riverhouse Resort in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Views are good, and the hotel looks comfortable. Though the bed is very creaky. Hopefully my room mate (a cameraman for Channel 3) isn’t a restless sleeper. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/jPvsJkoykMM2

Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province is beautifully lit up this week for the Ok Wa Festival marking the end of the three month long Buddhist Lent.

Most of the celebrations for Ok Wa in Mae Sariang are around Wat Utthayarom (Wat Chong Sung).

The Buddhist Lent ends on the full moon in October. This year it is on Wednesday 24th October 2018.

Dinner tonight at Easy Restaurant in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/zNQBWeDFurQ2

DAY THREE: Good morning from Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province. During the Ok Wa festival marking the end of Buddhist Lent, the monks are out collecting alms at 4am.

Monks on a very early alms round in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. During the Ok Wa festival, the local Shan people (Tai Yai) offer alms to monks at 4am. Today, which coincides with the full moon day in October, marks the end of the 3 month long Buddhist Lent.

This morning we’re visiting Ban Mae Sam Laep, a remote village in Mae Hong Son on the border with Myanmar. These views are from the temple on the hill. Burma is beyond the Salween River. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/jSszbaaSDLC2

Ban Mae Sam Laep on the Burmese border in Mae Hong Son is not really a touristy town. There are no souvenir shops or coffee shops. Certainly no 7-Eleven. However, it is the scenery and the inhabitants, who are mainly Burmese, which are the highlights of any trip here.

If you do decide to visit Ban Mae Sam Laep, you can take a songtaew from Mae Sariang & then return in the afternoon. There is no fixed schedule as it won’t go if not enough people. The distance is about 50km & will probably take about 90 minutes due to steep and winding roads.

There isn’t much to do in Mae Sam Laep. However, you can hire a boat for 600B per hour to explore up & down the river. If you miss the last songtaew back to Mae Sariang, there are a couple of guesthouses. Though one of them looked like it was closed.

The lights of Mae Sariang this evening. The weather was quite good all day but it’s now pouring down.

Dinner tonight at Inthira Restaurant in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/UF4TPJs1hbT2

DAY FOUR: Good morning from Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand. Monks on the 4am alms round marking the end of Buddhist Lent.

This is the third and final morning for the 4am alms round in Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand. The Ok Wa festival marks the end of the three month long Buddhist Lent. The highlight of the festival is a parade this evening.

Sirirat Chumuppakarn, the governor of Mae Hong Son province, offering alms to monks in Mae Sariang at 4am marking the end of the Buddhist Lent.

Tak Bat Thewo at Wat Chom Chaeng in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. This is a Buddhist festival that is celebrated a day after Ok Phansa. This is the celebration of Lord Buddha’s return to Earth after delivering a semon to his dead mother in heaven.

Drone photos of the outskirts of Mae Sariang from Wat Chom Chaeng. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/a8SYNKqEoM42

Drone photos of the Big Buddha at Phrathat Chom Thong in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/Mhh94KbUzpA2

Phrathat Chom Thong in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/Mhh94KbUzpA2

Water lotuses at a temple in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province.

Drone photos of Wat Phrathat Chom Kiti (วัดพระธาตุจอมกิตติ) in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/AEKCYKxojiB2

Wat Phrathat Chom Mon in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Some really good views from the top of the hill of rice fields, villages and forests. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/MfZLPpeGscC2

Drone photos of the countryside around Wat Phrathat Chom Mon in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province.

The Thian Heng parade in Mae Sariang this evening. The Ok Wa festival marks the end of the Buddhist Lent.

A late dinner after the parade at a Khao Tom restaurant called Krua Im Un (ครัวอิ่มอุ่น) in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son province. Very delicious. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/TW22BKRcEK32

DAY FIVE: Good morning from Mae Sariang in Northern Thailand. This is our fifth and last day in Mae Hong Son province. Today is mainly a travel day. The journey back to the provincial city is about three hours and then we will fly direct from Mae Hong Son to Bangkok.

Some early morning drone photos of Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province. The photos were shot around the Riverhouse Resort where we stayed on the Yuam River.

On the Mae Sariang-Mae Hong Son route, a good place to take a break is in Mae La Luang. Drink some coffee or order some food while enjoying the view at the Three Mist Coffee Shop. You can also take a selfie in hilltribe costume for free. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/E2ub6jiZvht

Drone photos taken at Mae La Luang Viewpoint in Mae Hong Son province.

Memorial of Japanese Soldiers in Khun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son. Here you will find artifacts left behind by soldiers after the last war. 100B for foreigners, 40B for Thais

Wat Toh Phae in Khun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son province. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/4WE6yYtA8t32

Drone photos of the rice fields and countryside around Wat Toh Phae in Khun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son province.

Lunch with a view at Suan Ahan Chai Tung (สวนอาหารชายทุ่ง) about 15km south of Mae Hong Son township. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/eVho61j1HaE2

What a difference a few days make. It was stormy when we first arrived in Mae Hong Son on Monday. Now today there is a beautiful blue sky. Typical this happens as we are about to fly home. But at least it didn’t rain all of the time.

I shouldn’t really complain about the weather. It could have been a lot worse. During my last trip to Mae Hong Son in April, I was wearing a smog mask for much of the time. The best time to visit is from November to January when it is cool & dry.

Lovely view today from Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu on top of a hill overlooking Mae Hong Son township. We came here early on Tuesday morning for the sunrise and then it started to rain. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/nPMP5sPFCWC2

Mae Hong Son is only a small town and the airport is conveniently right next to it. Unfortunately this also means I cannot fly my drone anywhere around the town.

If you’re interested in visiting any of the places that I went to this week in Mae Hong Son province, I’ve put together a Google Map listing them all: https://www.google.com/maps/placelists/list/wWbixClomcKiUErAY0oAGApJj7dJmQ?hl=en

Boarding Nok Air DD8215 from Mae Hong Son to Bangkok. Flight time is just under two hours. Just enough time for an in-flight movie on my iPad. Usually most flights I do around Thailand are about an hour. But this is a smaller plane.

That’s a wrap on my trip to Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand for the Ok Wa Festival. I hope you enjoyed my photos and I’ve inspired you to visit. Please check out my travel blog for photos from some of my recent trips around Thailand: http://www.thaitravelblogs.com/category/latest-trips

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