Unique sights south of Mae Sot

Mark Levitin | Live the World

May 29, 2024

The town of Mae Sot in the extreme west of Thailand, on the Burmese border, used to be the classical gateway to Myanmar for overland travellers. Nowadays, with the junta back in power, and the rules rolled back to pre-2016 state, Burmese land borders are closed to foreigners, but the vicinity of Mae Sot still justifies the trip here. The town itself has some nice street markets full of smuggled goods from Myanmar, and temples in Thai, Chinese and Burmese styles. But the truly unique sights are mostly found south of Mae Sot, on the way to (and including) Umphang. 

Blue Cave

© Mark Levitin

There is no exaggeration here: many chambers of this the cave are stunningly blue. Yellow electric lighting dilutes the colour somewhat, so make sure to adjust the white balance when photographing the interior. The cave is not very big, and has few speleothems, but the striped blue walls make it unique. A few natural niches are occupied by gilded Buddha images - well, it's Thailand, go find a cave here without a Buddha inside - and the gold looks particularly contrasting on this background. Infrastructure is minimal, but the floor seems to have been flat even before it was levelled, making it an easy subterranean stroll.  

Thararak Waterfall

© Mark Levitin

The area around Mae Sot is quite hilly, providing the necessary gradient for a large number of waterfalls. Some are lovely, some are boring, but Thararak stands out (literally) in one aspect: for whatever reason, it crashes down from the end of a craggy promontory. Normally, waterfalls are found inside gullies - they actually carve those gullies in the bedrock over millennia. Where you see a concave bend in a cliff, you find a cataract - but not leaping off a convex outcrop. Together with the Blue Cave, it makes one suspect nature selected this region for artistic experiments, and to hell with old boring stuff like physics. The grounds underneath Thararak has been developed, with a pond for swimming and a bunch of cafes. The top of the waterfall can be accessed via steep metal stairs; to get right to the falls from below, one has to climb up a small brook (very easy, but wet).

Marigold farms

© Mark Levitin

Not exactly unique, but still very photogenic are the marigold farms located on both sides of the road from Mae Sot to Khirirat. The workers are mostly Burmese, with faces covered in thanaka - traditional cosmetic powder of Myanmar, also efficient as sunblock. Marigolds are used for temple offerings in many Buddhist ceremonies, and the demand for them is high. The best time to visit is around January - this is when the marigolds bloom, and the workers harvest, sort, and package them. Heaps of bright orange flowers manhandled by whole families, old and young working together, are as good for culture photography as anything this side of the Burmese border.


© Mark Levitin

The sights - those mentioned above, and many more, less unique but still worthy of a visit - are strung roughly along the highway leading south of Mae Sot, at significant distances from each other. There is no way to cover them in any reasonable period of time by public transport. Hitchhiking would definitely help, but the most practical approach would be to hire a motorbike. If you don't drive, it makes much more sense to stay in some spot on this road and explore the area from there, without backtracking to the city. 

There are roadside motels, nature resorts, and glamping sites; the town of Mae Sot, should you opt for more comfort and variety, offers anything you would expect in a modern provincial capital: from nicely designed villas to basic but comfortable bungalows. There is even a camping site on the grounds of hippie commune - for a nominal fee you get to immerse in the simple life of local Epicurean free-thinkers (and in the clouds of typical greenish smoke, now that it's legal in Thailand).

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