Pang Ung is my favorite place in Thailand. Hidden away in the mountains of Mae Hon Son province lies a small alpine lake and hill tribe village often called the “Switzerland of Thailand”. The road to reach Pang Ung is steep and windy keeping Thai tourism to a minimum let alone foreign tourism.
I’ve been to Pang Ung twice, and both were absolutely incredible. While there isn’t a whole bunch to do at the actual lake besides hangout, eat, and enjoy the views, there are many cool areas on the way to and around Pang Ung to explore. This article will first focus on Pang Ung and then discuss other things to do in the area. My most recent trip to Pang Ung was a part of a much larger three week Northern Thailand motorcycle adventure.
Pang Ung was originally an area where local minority hill tribe villagers grew opium which heavily degraded the surrounding forest and wildlife. In 1979, the King of Thailand visited the area and decided to start a royal development project in order to protect the land. The King wanted to give the local villagers jobs that would encourage them to stop growing opium. The lake was dammed and turned into a tourist destination which helped open up this whole area in Mae Hong Son province to tourism. The King also started an agricultural research center to help the locals cultivate different kinds of crops. In turn these projects have provided more sustainable jobs to the locals living in the mountains.
Getting to Pang Ung
According to my understanding there is no public transportation to Pang Ung, but there have been reports of a twice daily bus to the lake. Discovery Thailand says there is a local bus leaving Sai-Yud market in Mae Hong Son for Pang Ung at 09:00 a.m. and 03:00 p.m.
Given that its not certain this bus is still running, the best way to get to this area is to rent a car or motorbike from Mae Hong Son’s provincial capital and make the hour trip independently. Some Thai tourists rent out vans and visit locations in this area as a tour group, but with a hired driver it would not be possible to spend the night in Pang Ung which is one of the main highlights.
Where to Stay in Pang Ung
The best place to stay of course is in one of the tents right on the lake. Before getting to Pang Ung, there is a small Shan minority village called Ban Ruam Thai after which the road continues into the royal development project area. There is usually a man at a small gate guarding the entrance. Even though the sign says there is a fee to enter the area, I’ve never been charged. Once inside the park there are several accommodation options. There are small privately owned bungalows in the first area, but further down the road there are a series of privately owned tents set up with bedding already inside. These tents are pretty much ready-to-go and can be rented from the folks selling tea, coffee, and supplies nearby.
The park also rents out government-owned bungalows and private rooms that are of a nicer quality, but much more expensive than the other accommodation. Most of these bungalows are meant for large groups though I believe a few are smaller ones. There are a few set back in a garden area and a few more inside a building that looks a bit like a park ranger office. There are also on-site showers, toilets, and sinks, but they only have cold water. Make sure to take a shower during the day!
In the town before the park there are also a few more bungalows and home stays. Around Christmas, New Years, and weekends during January it is advised to call ahead and make a reservation or arrive early, but during the week and off-peak season there is no need.
According to Discovery Thailand, the Pang Ung park office is open everyday from 08:00 a.m. – 04:30 p.m. For more information and to reserve accommodations, call +66 5361 1244 or +66 5361 1649.
Enjoying Pang Ung
One of the best things to do in Pang Ung is to just hang out and enjoy the lake. There are various restaurants in town and coffee shops as well as more restaurants along the lake. It is a great place to sit back and enjoy a picnic or have drinks with friends.
Besides hanging out, it is possible to rent a bamboo boat with a guide and go for short trip on the lake. There are also plenty of hiking options in the area, but there are no designated paths so one would need to hire a local guide to go hiking. I’ve never done this before, but I am sure it would be possible by asking around.
Attractions Around Pang Ung
Pang Ung is actually just one of many destinations in this mountainous area. There are tons of things to do for all kinds of adventure seekers.
Along the main road before the Pang Ung turnoff, one of my favorite places is Nam Tok Pha Suea or Pha Suea Waterfall. This waterfall is nearly impossible to miss along road leading to Pang Ung as there is a large vehicle turnout and parking area at the entrance to the waterfall. The name Pha Suea means “sheet of cloth” in Thai because when the waterfall is running at full blast during the rainy season, the cascading waterfall looks like one giant sheet of white cloth.
Pang Tong Palace is another interesting attraction worth a visit. It is another royal development project like Pang Ung, but instead of a lake, this area focuses on agriculture. There are several beautiful gardens that are nice to walk through as well as coffee and fruit plantations. There are sheep and horses in the area that visitors can feed and a small zoo with peacocks, hornbills and other birds. All the information is in Thai and it would likely be difficult understanding anything without a translator, but the area is nice to enjoy for the beautiful scenery.
For an interesting accommodation really off-the-beaten-path there are a few home stays in this area of the mountains rarely visited by foreigners (if ever). One I particularly noticed was in a small village right before the turn off to Pang Ung. It was a traditional Mon home stay. I have never stayed here before, but I have always wanted to check it out both times I’ve come to this area. If you do, let me know how it is in the comments. The contact information for this home stay is in the photo below. Also if you’re looking for another home stay program in the area, check out my article on Ban Muang Pon Home Stay.
Near Nam Tok Pha Suea there is a small bamboo forest/park worth a short visit. It is clearly visible for the small parking area along the side of the road. It it essentially just a giant bamboo forest with massive trees. Some areas have been cleared to make way for a small garden and buildings that probably used to be restaurants but they never had enough demand to keep them open. There is also a nice 15 minute hike through the bamboo forest on a clearly marked path.
Ban Rak Thai
The most popular destination in this area is Ban Rak Thai located at the very end of the main road right near the Burmese border. Ban Rak Thai is a small village and enclave of Chinese immigrants that fled China after clashing with Mao Zedong’s armies in 1949. Their history is long, but they have now opened up a series of tea shops, hotels, and Chinese restaurants around a small lake. You can read more about Ban Rak Thai in this excellent New York Times article.
Ban Rak Thai can be a little on the commercial side, but this place primarily is geared toward Thai tourists so there are hardly any foreigners visiting. It is a nice place to relax, enjoy some tea, and hike in the surrounding mountains. In the winter the area will get extremely cold at night. Usually early in the morning the town is filled with a thick blinding fog from the lake that is definitly worth seeing in person.
As is probably clear by the photos, this is my favorite area in Thailand and probably even in the world. Its number one on my list favorite destinations. If you got a chance to visit and this article helped you, let me know in the comments below.