Soppong [ สบป่อง ] is sometimes mistakenly spelled as Sappong - the Thai pronunciation and transliteration is more accurately spelled as Soppong rather than Sappong. Soppong is a small village located in a small valley in Amphur (County) Pang Mapha, not far from the Burmese border in Mae Hong Son province, Thailand. Soppong is on the main road, between Pai and Mae Hong Son town on the Mae Hong Son loop. The village is a trading and market centre for the many hilltribe villages that populate the area. There is a total of about 300 homes in the whole village area. The population is about 40% hilltribe (mostly Karen, Lisu and Lahu), 40% Burmese Shan, and 20% Thai and a few Haw Chinese muslim families as well. There are also a few Western tourists and even fewer Western residents. On any given day, you might hear four or five different languages spoken during a trip to the village market!
Soppong is far removed from the package tourist hordes and it is one of the most remote areas of Thailand. With the huge growth of tourism in Pai, many travelers now continue on across the mountain to Soppong for a more quiet stay in a traditional small village.
So is it really called Soppong or Pangmapha? Several years ago, the government created a new district ("Amphur" in Thai) in Mae Hong Son, and this was named Pangmapha (ปางมะผ้า). Since every new district also comes with a village name by the same name as the districts, Pangmapha became the name for the district including Soppong, and also for the village in the area where the government offices are located. There is a lot of confusion regarding this, and some references state that "Soppong" has been replaced by "Pang Mapha". Some travel publications will tell you that Soppong and Pangmapha "are used interchangeably". Neither of those statements is accurate. There is still a place called "Baan Soppong" (Soppong village or บ้านสบป่อง in Thai), and that is where the main market area and bus stop is located. There are 38 villages with their own names sprinkled around Pangmapha district, and all those names remain as well, including Baan Pangmapha, which is about 1km from Baan Soppong. So, Soppong still exists, as well as the name for the district, Pangmapha, as well as a village by the same name. You will see the district name "Pangmapha"( ปางมะผ้า ) in the directional and distance signs, and using the district name for such signs is standard in Thailand. It just happens that Soppong village is located very close to the Pang Mapha district centre, and if you follow those signs, you will arrive in Soppong.
Pangmapha district is about 800 sq. km in size, and according to the most recent information we could find, the entire district had a population of 20,653 people, of which 7,882 lived in Soppong sub-district (Tambon). With a population density of only 20 inhabitants/sq km, Pangmapha is one of the least densely populated districts in Thailand. And a bit of trivia: in the Shan language, 'Pang' translates to 'stopping point' and 'Mapha' to 'lime'. According to local Shan residents, Pangmapha was once a stopover point for the then long journey between Pai and Mae Hong Son town. Apparently, wild limes once grew abundantly in the area.
There are two Buddhist temples in Soppong, at either end of the village. The temple at our end of the village (Wat Ming Muang) is a forest monk temple, very simple and peaceful in the trees on a hillside. The head monk there has performed a traditional marriage ceremony for at least one western couple who stayed with us, and if you are so inclined, we can help. There is also a Christian church located in Soppong, a Chinese temple on the road to Tham Lot, and a Haw Chinese Muslim mosque in old Soppong.
Through Soppong and our property runs a clean, year round river (the Lang River) that passes through a well-known cave (Tham Lot) about 10 km upstream. We have built some steps down to the river if you would like to do some exploring or swimming. There are passion fruit vines, guava, custard apple, jackfruit, coconut, mango, lime, avocado trees and bananas growing on the property. We have also planted coffee, but it's likely going to be a while before we start roasting any beans. The gardens include more than twenty different types of tropicals, with several types of heliconia, frangiapani, seven different types of palms, and four different varieties of wild bananas – you might just have a taste of those bananas with your breakfast. We also have a small garden where we organically grow some of the herbs and vegetables that we use in our cafe. The land across the river and behind our property is all National Forest, with nothing but jungle and birds. For the chilly winter nights, we offer the "Soppong River Inn Conference Centre" (photo below left) where you can have a drink and chat around the fire while sitting under the stars.
Soppong is known for the abundance of caves in the area, and some are among the largest in the world. Many have prehistoric relics that date back nearly two thousand years. One such cave (Coffin Cave) is within walking distance of the Inn. Also, there is still real forest (including teak) and jungle in the area, unlike many other areas of Thailand that have been completely stripped of trees as a result of slash and burn agriculture. Unfortunately, as you travel down the mountain across from Pai to Mae Hong Son, you will see large new areas of slash and burn agriculture in the area of the Lisu village called Baan Nam Rin that has destroyed large swaths of native jungle, but not nearly as much as you will see in nearby Pai valley, which has been nearly completely stripped of old growth jungle. Given the forest cover, Soppong is known to be a good place for birding and butterfly watching. Wild orchids are in abundance everywhere, with the peak orchid blooming season being around March through May. On our property alone, there are at least eight different species of wild orchids growing in the trees.
Other wildlife spotted:
Water monitors, squirrels, flying lizards,
slow loris, fruit bats (both the winged and the larger
two-legged varieties), and fish in the river. There are also
flying squirrels in the area and sometimes you can hear the
calls of gibbons off in the distance, and gibbons have been
spotted in the jungle across the river from us. We once
spotted a lone macaque monkey swinging his way through the
trees on the other side of the river. And of course, there are all those frogs
along the river that sing you to sleep each night.
There are no banks or money changers in Soppong, but there is there are ATMs located just next to the main police station, about 500 metres to the right from the Inn, and two more located in the main market area, also about 500 metres away. Soppong has a small pharmacy and a couple of shops selling basic necessities such as toiletries, stationery, clothes and even Thai and Burmese country music. Also, there is now a 7-11 located at the market area. There is a large traveling market held each Tuesday morning along both sides of the road near the market. Tuesday morning is a good day to be in the village, with many of the hilltribe people coming down out of the mountains that day to buy and sell their wares and produce. Soppong also has a post office if you would like to send any letters or postcards.
Soppong has a small
hospital with physicians in residence, for emergency care. We
have international phone and fax service at the Inn should you
require that. We offer free fibre connected WiFi access for
guests who are staying with us and for our café customers.
Evenings are very quiet in Soppong. Still being a traditional
country village, there are no tourist oriented attractions,
bars, or much of any else to do in the evening except to
perhaps have a drink in our cafe or relax on our river terrace
and listen to the water, frogs and crickets. Thankfully, there
is not even an annoying karaoke bar in Soppong. We also have a
lot of DVDs if you would like to watch a movie on the DVD
player in your room. Unlike in Pai, there are no souvenir
shops selling Soppong t-shirts or tie-dyed clothing, so be
sure to stock up on those before you arrive.
There is one motorcycle rental shop about 150
metres from our entrance, offering bikes for 250 baht/day.
Since we are at about 600 metres in elevation, evenings can get very chilly from November to February, so bring something warm to wear for nights and early mornings at that time of the year. We provide cozy comforters for our beds. Nighttime is always cool year round, so we rarely need air conditioning at night.
Most people begin their trip to Soppong from Chiang Mai. Here are some options for getting to Soppong from Chiang Mai :
Bangkok Airways fly to Mae Hong Son,
with two flights per day, currently using ATR 72 aircraft. The
flight takes about 25 minutes.
Nokair have a new nonstop service from Bangkok (Don
Mueang Airport) operating on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Once in Mae Hong Son, you can rent a car at the airport (the
drive requires a little more than an hour), you can take the
public minivan from Prempracha Transport (about two hours),
or hire some transport. We can arrange a private car to
Soppong from the airport for 2000 baht.
Other options from Chiang Mai:
- rent a car there and drive. This is a great option so that you can see the sites along the way and travel at your own pace. The road is good, so no problems there. Not including any stops along the way (and of course you will want to), it will take you about 3.5 to 4 hours to drive the 175 KMs from Chiang Mai to Soppong. We like Budget car rental, as they have good, new cars with full insurance included, and they also provide excellent free maps. See the Budget link below for some driving descriptions and maps. We honestly don't think there is any problem with driving, so long as you drive defensively and take it slow. This would be our preferred option, as it really gives you a lot of freedom, and you could even do some nice drives to some sights and hilltribe villages in our area.
If you are driving to Soppong, look for "Pangmapha" in the Thai and English signs (and in Thai on the small KM posts) along the way. As mentioned above, Soppong is a village in Pang Mapha district, and this is how the road signs are indicated. Pangmapha proper is about 1 km past Soppong in the direction of Mae Hong Son.
- take the minibus. It's cheap (250 baht), and takes about four hours from Chiang Mai. The minibuses leave from the Arcade Bus Terminal in Chiang Mai, beginning at 0630 and take four hours. The minibuses are operated by Premprachai Transport. You can buy your ticket in advance to ensure a seat, or even book one from their website.
- if our car is available, we can drive you
from Chiang Mai to Soppong for 3000 baht. No rushing, and we
can stop along the way for site seeing and lunch if you like.
We can also arrange a private car for you to
or from our inn to Pai, and Mae Hong Son. For Mae Hong Son,
our rate is 2000 baht and we can stop along the way at the
Fish Cave, maybe some coffee at Jabo, and a hilltribe market with nice
views at Luk Khao Lam overlook. If you are going
to Mae Hong Son for the first time, we can also take you up to
Doi Kong Mu temple before delivering you
to the airport or your hotel.
We even have a mailbox and postal service:
And our address in Thai: 356
หมู่ 1 ตำบลสบป่อง อำเภอปางมะผ้า จังหวัดแม่ฮ่องสอน 58150
[We are about 150 metres from the market, on the right, along the main road towards Mae Hong Son]
Some links to pages
that provide information regarding Soppong or Mae Hong Son in
Finding Common Ground - the discovery of a hidden cemetary brings past realities alive
This is a February 2018 article from the Bangkok Post about Phi Man Loong Long Rak cave, located in Pangmapha, and the archaeological research there regarding the coffins, bones and tools that have been found inside. There are 20 teak coffins inside that are thought to be around 1,600 to 1,900 years old.
Karen weaving at Muang Paem village
Muang Paem village is about 10 km from us. They are one of the few Karen villages still doing traditional weaving using back strap looms and natural dyes. It is a wonderful village to visit and you can also purchase their woven products and thereby support the continuation of their traditional arts and crafts.
CNN's "On the Road" series with Paula Newton was in Pangmapha in November 2014, although in the video segment Paula pronounced it "Paeng Maeng Pah". As part of the show on Chiang Mai, they decided to find a hilltribe village away from the tourist crowds, and they chose Goot Sam Sib, about 14 km up the road across from Soppong River Inn.
Here is the article and video clip from CNN. Or if you would like to see it in person, just stop by and we will point you in the right direction – it's easy to get to. In the article, they call it "Ban Man Pa", but rest assured it is Goot Sam Sib and not Ban Ma Pa or Baeng Maeng Pa as they call it in the video. We assume they meant Pangmapha.
Yes, Goot Sam Sib is rather remote and they don't get a lot of tourists, but they still have a Goot Sam Sib Facebook Page! It's in Thai, but there are lots of nice photos there.
Krathong in Soppong
Our page about Loy Krathong at our Inn, the most beautiful festival of the year and a traditional one in Soppong.
New Year's Eve Shan Dance
We usually try to do something a bit different for New Year's Eve, such as inviting some Shan musicians and dancers to get things going. Here's a short video.
This is a Thai language blog page from one of our guests. Yes, the text is in Thai, but there are loads of photos from around our Inn that you can view, even if you cannot read Thai. A more recent link is here, with some photos of our Java Hut, located just along the road outside our gate.
Caves and Prehistory in the
An article from Citylife Chiang Mai magazine entitled "Discovering the Prehistory of Northwest Thailand", focusing on the caves in Pang Mapha, and the associated prehistoric culture that has existed here beginning perhaps 20,000 years ago. A very interesting article, with some good photos of old stuff like coffins, bones, ceramics found inside the caves.
Secrets of Soppong
Another article from Citylife Chiang Mai magazine. A brief article about some of the things of interest around Soppong, with some details and photos about the well-known caves in our area. And we were flattered with our favourable mention in the article: "By far the prettiest place in town is Soppong River Inn, with a lush tropical garden and a terrace overhanging the river."
Thai Hilltribe Culture Information
A section from sawasdee.com with pages of information on the various Thai hilltribes, their culture, and their orginins. Keep in mind that the Thai hilltribes are not truly "indigenous", but immigrants to northern Thailand over the last several decades, thus creating a real mix of cultures in our area. The predominant hilltribe people living in our area are the Lisu, Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu), Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Pwo and Kayah Karen, and also Tai Yai (Shan). There is also one Hmong village near Ban Rai, a few KMs up the road. The Shan are not usually considered "hilltribe people" per se, but they are included in the above link. As mentioned above, the Shan are the predominant cultural group in Soppong.
The north of Thailand offers some of the best motorcycle riding anywhere, both on and off road. Golden Triangle Rider is operated by David Unkovich, a 20+ year resident of Chiang Mai and probably the most experienced authority on riding in our area. His website contains lots of useful information regarding bikes, routes, and also a forum where you can post ride reports and obtain information. They have recently updated and published their Mae Hong Son Loop map – highly recommended if you are doing a trip through our area.
The Pangmapha Community Hospital site is a really detailed site containing a lot of information not only about the hospital, but also about our area in general. The site is in Thai, so that might be a problem if you don't read Thai, but it's still worth having a look at the many nice photos taken in and around Soppong.
(ソッポン) in Japanese
A Japanese language page, with some nice photos and description of Soppong.
About Soppong River Inn ( 쏩퐁 리버인 ) in Korean
If you prefer Korean language, here is a page with some photos and a description of our Inn.
A Lisu girl cools off in
the Lang River, just upstream from the Inn.
(photo courtesy of Artie Probst)
weather radar from Lamphun, including Mae Hong Son
Province. Date/time is in GMT.
Thailand time GMT is +7 hours. Radar for other
locations in Thailand can be found here.
Last updated 1 May 2018 (B.E. 2561)