peace in the valley
Before putting up the first Luang Prabang post, I neglected to mention Mae Hong Son, a sweet little town nestled in the Mai Pai valley, across the mountains from the nearby Burmese border, with a predominantly Shan and Karen population, and our first refuge after the hustle and bustle of the big city. The delightful Jong Kham lake, fronting the wat of the same name, helps this pearl of a place glitter as it should, and during the few days we spent in the town, I found the night time reflections of the illuminated wats Jong kham and Jong Klang unfailing delightful.
There are a lot of tourists in the place, many, though, coming in briefly to arrange a trek through the rugged local territory; you will see many hearty back packers around fueling this mainstay of the local economy. The humorous sign, below, pointed out to me by my traveling companion, Charlie, advertises a trek for those wanting a true, out-of-town, even beyond civilization experience. We opted for the luxuries of the quite prosperous village, staying in the commendable Baiyoke Chalet and choosing to explore the town itself, and the nearby mountaintop Wat Phra Tat. Prosperity, here as everywhere, hides a dark underbelly; much of Mae Hong Son's economic boom, according to Lonely Planet, comes from providing "rice and consumer goods" to drug lords on the Burmese side of the border.
No sign of scary drug activity mars the city itself, however. It is clean, quiet, and welcoming, with good restaurants and no discernible negatives. The young might find it boring after a day or two, but I found myself thinking I could very comfortably spend a quiet week here even without taking much advantage of the offerings in the surrounding countryside. Like I said, sweet.