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|Capital:||Mae Hong Son|
|Area:||12,681.3 km² |
|Inhabitants:||210,537 (2000) |
|Pop. density:||17 inh./km² |
|Governor:||Thongchai Wongrianthong |
(since October 2007)
Mae Hong Son (Thai แม่ฮ่องสอน) (also Maehongson, Mae Hong Sorn or Maehongsorn) is one of the northern provinces (changwat) of Thailand, and at the same time the westernmost. Neighboring provinces are (from north clockwise) Shan State of Myanmar, Chiang Mai and Tak. To the west it borders Kayin State and Kayah State of Myanmar again. It was formerly called Mae Rong Son (also Maerongson, Mae Rong Sorn or Maerongsorn).
 Location and boundaries
Mae Hong Son Province is situated in northern and northwestern Thailand at 17° 38′ - 19° 48′ N and 97° 20′ - 98° 39′ E and furthest from Bangkok in the north at a distance of approximately 924 km. It boasts an area of approximately 12,681.259 km² or around 7,925,812.5 rai, which is third largest in Northern Thailand and seventh largest in the country. It is approximately 250 km from north to south and approximately 95 km from east to west.
To the north and west it connects to a total of three states in the Union of Burma, namely the southern portion of Shan State; Kayah State and Kawthoolei State via the West Thanon Thongchai Mountains and the rivers Salween and Moei which serve as natural boundaries between the countries. To the south it connects to the district of Tha Song Yang, Tak via the rivers Yuam and Ngao which serve as a provincial boundary. To the east it connects to the districts of Wiang Haeng, Chiang Dao, Mae Taeng, Mae Chaem, Hot and Omkoi in Chieng Mai Province via the Central and East Thanon Thongchai mountain ranges that serve as a boundary line between the two provinces.
Every district in Mae Hong Son Province shares a common border with the Union of Burma approximately 483 kilometres in total length. Of this, approximately 326 kilometres is land and 157 kilometres are rivers (not counting the Salween, 127 km, and Moei, 30 km).
Most of the areas of Mae Hong Son Province are complex mountain ranges and likely still pristine virgin forest. Of the approximately 6,976,650 rai of national forest reserves, 88.02% is thought to be pristine virgin forest. Mountain ranges run unbroken from north to south with important mountain ranges being the Lao-territory mountains located on the northernmost portion of the province that serve as a boundary between Thailand and the Union of Burma and the Thanon Thongchai Mountains which are in fact three adjoining ranges, the East, West and Central Thanon Thongchai mountain ranges respectively; the West Thanon Thongchai Mountains serve as a boundary between Thailand and the Union of Burma. The mountains in the east of the province serves as the boundary between the provinces of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. The tallest point is Mae Ya Peak (ยอดเขาแม่ยะ) of the East Thanon Thongchai Mountains in the Pai District in the province's northeast, at 2005 metres above sea level.
It is believed that the lands of Mae Hong Son had already been settled before the arrival of Lord Kaeo of Ma (เจ้าแก้วเมืองมา; Chao Kaeo Mueang Ma) and his consequent resettlement in the area. However, there is no evidence as to what time or period they arrived, nor of their migrations thereafter. These former inhabitants have left evidence of their activity in the area and are believed to have been Lua, or Lawa, tribespeoples. Evidence to date includes gravesites and discarded housing structures such as those found in the vicinity of the Mae Hong Son Municipal Hall (หอประชุมเทศบาลเมืองแม่ฮ่องสอน), nowadays the Morning Markets (ตลาดโต้รุ่ง) and Dharma School (โรงเรียนปริยัติธรรม), by the Chong Klang (จองกลาง) and Chong Kham (จองคำ) monasterial compound. These first settlers were likely depopulated by either malaria or war, with survivors then dispersing out to safer areas.
The old, pre-Rattanakosin lands of Mae Hong Son was merely a collective of forest settlements without a central government, with Shan peoples who had crossed into the area from beyond the frontier with the Union of Burma in search of a means to find food, working in agroforestry and joint plantations as the seasons permitted. During this period the area was significant only as a passage for Burman troops marching on the capital at Ayutthaya or to the various Siamese capitals of Northern Thailand.
Mae Hong Son historical records state that in the year 1831, which corresponds to the reign of King Nangklao (Rama III) of the Rattanakosin Period, in the mueang of Phing Nakhon (เมืองพิงค์นคร) known today as Chiang Mai, in the lands of the Kingdom of Lannathai, was Phraya Chiang Mai Mahawong (พระยาเชียงใหม่มหาวงศ์), who was later to ascend to the rank of Phra Chao Mahottraprathet Racha Thibodi (พระเจ้ามโหตรประเทศราชาธิบดี), who knew that to the west of Chiang Mai, which meant the lands of today’s Mae Hong Son, was a geography of tall mountains and dense forests inhabited by a myriad of forest creatures of which wild elephants in particular were in great abundance, and thus ordered Lord Kaeo, who was a relative of his and a local military chief and governor, to herd these elephants out into the custody of mahouts, to survey the feasibility of this task on such western frontierlands and to be of further service in the capturing of the elephants so that they might be trained for labour thereafter.
Lord Kaeo assembled his troops, lure-elephants and mahouts and set out from Chiang Mai, bound for a shortcut which entered northeast along a brook leading them to complex mountain ranges. After a short trip they arrived in the hamlet of Wiang Pai (เวียงปาย), or Amphoe Pai as it is known today. Here, Kaeo and his commission stopped awhile before resuming their expedition. They then headed south to find a shortcut along the Pai River, so that they might ascend into the mountains once more.
After travelling for a longer period this time, they then headed back towards the Pai River. On arrival, they found a tiny community living in the area, either Shan or otherwise Tai, with hamlets along the Pai River amid vast areas of thick, virgin forest. Lord Kaeo deemed this location most suitable to build a village, with ample land to extend the scope of the village in the future and abundant saltlicks nearby the houses for boars; all one required in maintaining a successful village.
Lord Kaeo then rehabilitated the various scattered settlements into a single village and had them elect a leader referred to as a heng (เหง); Phakamong (พะก่าหม่อง), a Shan, was thus elected as the village heng. (The village elder, or kamnan, ruled over the village, and it was then named Ban Pong Mu, or Village of the Boar Saltlick (บ้านโป่งหมู). It later became Ban Pang Mu (บ้านปางหมู ), Tambon Pang Mu, Amphoe Pang Mu, Changwat Mae Hong Son. Lord Kaeo, together with Phakamong, then travelled further south with a number of their elephants in tow into the realm of what is today’s Mae Hong Son. Finding it a suitable location with a stream flowing by from east to west into the Pai River and a second brook running further north, he decided it would be most fitting to establish his elephant training camp there along with a residential base for personnel. Subsequently, he constructed an elephant pen on the banks of the stream and the area became another village for the Shan settlers, although with a smaller population than that of Ban Pong Mu. After Lord Kaeo had captured the satisfactory quota of elephants and had trained them as instructed, he decided to head back, and so elected the son-in-law of Phakamong, Saenkom (แสนโกม), as the kang (ก้าง) or village chief to oversee the village and it was then that the village was named Ban Mae Rong Son, or Village of the Elephant Training Camp Bayou (บ้านแม่ร่องสอน); later, the name Mae Rong Son was corrupted to Mae Hong Son, as pronounced in the brogue of the Lannanese (initial r’s are often pronounced as h’s), and the aforementioned second brook that ran north was named Lamnam Pu (ลำน้ำปุ๊) on finding water there splashing up from the earth (lamnam refers to any body of flowing water; pu is the sound produced when throwing a stone or brick into the mud or against a soft substance).
The village of Mae Rong Son flourished and prospered and Shan began migrating there in increased numbers. Aside from this wave, in around the year 1856 there arose much political unrest on the western banks of the Salween River which furthered the influx of peace-loving Shan, and again in 1876 when war broke out between the blood-princes of the principalities of Nai (เมืองนาย) and Mok Mai (เมืองหมอกใหม่) respectively. Prince Kolan (เจ้าฟ้าโกหล่าน) of Mok Mai, unable to sustain the battle, moved his family to live with Saenkom in Mae Rong Son along with his wife Nang Khiao (นางเขียว), their son Khun Long (ขุนโหลง), their grandson Khun Ae (ขุนแอ) and their granddaughters, Chao Nang Nu (เจ้านางนุ) and Chao Nang Mia (เจ้านางเมี๊ยะ).
By 1874, with the village of Mae Rong Son having become a huge community with a constant influx of migrants and so it was agreed that it should change its status to that of a fully fledged mueang. Lord Inthawichayanon, Lord of Chiengmai, thus elected a Shan named Chankale (ชานกะเล) to be its first partasakti (บรรดาศักดิ์; bandasak; somewhere between a count, in non-prerogative terms, and a governor) and bestowed on him the title of Phaya Singhanat Racha, or Sacred Voice of the King of the Singh (พญาสิงหนาทราชา), who would govern the mueang of Mae Hong Son from 1874, corresponding to the Rattanakosin Period of Rama V.
Later, in 1884, after caring for the mueang of Mae Hong Son for a decade, Phaya Singhanat Racha died. The next ruler was Chao Nang Mia, who ruled for seven years, bringing the realm to further great prosperity before passing away in 1891.
The next Lord of Mae Hong Son was Tho (โท้ะ), referred to as Pu Khun Tho or Old Man Tho the Mandarin (ปู่ขุนโท้ะ), who was made partasakti with the title Phaya Phithak Sayam Khet, or Lord Protector of the Fertile Soils of Siam (พญาพิทักษ์สยามเขต). He governed the mueang of Mae Hong Son between 1891 to 1905 before his own passing that year.
The next figure to rule as Lord of Mae Hong Son was Khun Lu (ขุนหลู่), the son of Pu Khun Tho, who reigned in his place as partasakti with the title Phaya Phisan Hong Son Buri, or Lord of the Metropolis of Hong Son Most Vast (พญาพิศาลฮ่องสอนบุรี). He governed over Mae Hong Son between the years 1905 to 1941. To follow was a period of change in government administration and there would be no more such ranks and titles.
In 1890, during the reign of Rama V of Bangkok, Phraya Si Sahathep (พระยาศรีสหเทพ), Plat Thun Chalong (ปลัดทูลฉลอง) of the Ministry of the Interior, completed an inspection tour of the cities in the Northwestern Mandala (see also Mandala (Southeast Asian history) and Mandala for perspective) and consulted with High Commmisioner Phraya Ritsaratchakit (พระยาริศราชกิจ ข้าหลวงใหญ่), who oversaw the Northwestern Mandala, to organise a new order of governance, namely, he would incorporate the partially independent city-states of Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam (เมืองขุนยวม), Yuam (เมืองยวม) (Mae Sariang) and Pai into a single unit of government to be called the Boriwen Chiang Mai Tawantok, or Shire of Western Chiang Mai (บริเวณเชียงใหม่ตะวันตก), and placed the government of the shire (which was now comparable to that of a single mueang) at Khun Yuem by appointing Nai Mot (นายโหมด) as shire reeve (as stated by the Minister for the Interior on July 11, 1901).
In 1903, the seat of government was moved from Khun Yuam to Yuam and the administrative division was renamed from Western Chiang Mai (บริเวณเชียงใหม่ตะวันตก) to Northern Phayap (บริเวณพายัพเหนือ). In 1910, a royal decree saw the merging of Mae Hong Son, Yuam and Pai into a fourfold realm alongside the Mandala of Phayap, and moved the administrative capital to Mae Hong Son with Phraya Sonsurarat (Plueng) (พระยาศรสุรราช (เปลื้อง)) as the first Governor of Mae Hong Son Province. In 1933, governance as a territory was ceased and then reinstated as a constitutional administrative government as per the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand as remains in place today.
63% of the population in the province are members of the hill tribes, among them the Hmong, Yao, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Karen. Another big ethnic group are the Shan. The province has the lowest population density of all the provinces of Thailand.
The provincial seal, Rup chang nai thong nam (รูปช้างในท้องน้ำ), is a reference to the training of wild elephants to be able to take orders in battle and for various types of animal labour.
The decision behind the selection of Rup chang nai thong nam, meaning Image of an Elephant in a Body of Water, as the provincial seal was because this was the origin of Mae Hong Son's founding, which first began with Lord Kaeo of Ma being sent to capture elephants for the Lord of Chiang Mai (1825-1846). Once in Mae Hong Son, he gathered the scattered Shan settlements to establish two main villages to be ruled over by their elected leaders, the villages of Ban Pang Mu and Ban Mae Hong Son. Indeed, the reason for the name Mae Hong Son or Village of the Elephant Training Camp Bayou was simply because the elephant training camp established there was in an area with a nearby brook.
The provincial tree is Millettia brandisiana, and the provincial flower is the tree marigold.
The official province slogan as promoted by the Thai government is:
- Thai: หมอกสามฤดู กองมูเสียดฟ้า ป่าเขียวขจี ผู้คนดี ประเพณีงาม ลือนามถิ่นบัวตอง
- RTGS: mok sam ruedu, Kong Mu siat fa, pa khiao khachi, phu khon di, prapheni ngam, lue nam thin bua tong
- Mists thoughout the three seasons, the Kong Mu (Monastery) that scrapes the sky, verdant forests, gentle people, beautiful customs; renowned land of sunflowers
 Administrative divisions
The province is subdivided in 7 districts (Amphoe). These are further subdivided into 45 communes (tambon) and 402 villages (muban).
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 Further reading
- Goodden, Christian. Hinterlands: Sixteen New Do-It-Yourself Jungle Treks in Thailand's Nan & Mae Hong Son Provinces. Halesworth, England: Jungle Books, 2001. ISBN 0952738333
 See also
- Nai Soi Community Learning Center
 External links
- Province page from the Tourist Authority of Thailand
- Website of province (Thai only)
- Mae Hong Son provincial map, coat of arms and postal stamp