Mae Sariang is a very small town with a population of just 50,000. As a tourist destination it often gets overlooked, its true there are very few recreational or entertainment facilities in town but what it lacks in entertainment it makes up for in authenticity, tradition and culture. Once an important trading town with Burma in the 1950s many buildings from this era still remain, the town is characterized by old wooden shophouses and ornate Shan temples. A good friend of mine and local in Mae Sariang once told me that going to the temple was so pivotal in Shan culture, that in prior times people could never live somewhere that was further than walking distance to a temple. Which explains why Mae Sariang has so many temples- it is true there’s always a temple at arms length
In Mae Sariang it is still possible to see a Shan lady dressed fully in tranditional Shan attire riding her bicycle on her way to the local market or temple. Traditional festivals such as Ork Pansa and Loi Kratong are still huge celebrations here where everyone in the community gets involved. What is nice sawaddee99 to see is that the locals are a mix of religions, Buddhism dominates but there are also a large number of Muslims and Christians who all reside peacefully with each other.
For a town on the popular Mae Hong Son Loop tourist route, it has managed to stay under commercialised surprisingly well. One indicator of how developed a town is in Thailand is the number of 7/11s there are. In May 2008 there was a grand total of one 7/11 on the main highway outlying the town, now 20 months later 2 more stores have opened their doors, this may be just the start of more to come.
Part of Mae Sariang’s charm is its warmth and accessibility. There are very few places left where people offer you the time and hospitality that the locals here do – a typical trait of Northern Thai culture.
Mae Sariang is a perfect blend of old and new. There are still elements of traditional life and it has all the basic amenities of a modern town – a few ATMs, a post office, hospital, grocery stores. Mae Sariang is not completely in the backwaters, neither is it a busy town. The pace is very slow and relaxed, and it has yet to be caught up in the tide of capitalism of its nearest city Chiang Mai.
Just a few minutes ride out of town will take you to the beauty of the surrounding mountains and countryside which is what makes Mae Sariang a great trekking destination. Those looking for a more non-touristic and authentic trekking experience bypass Chiang Mai and head to Mae Sariang.