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!

So is it really called Soppong or Pang Mapha? Several years ago, the government created a new district ("Amphur" in Thai) in Mae Hong Son, and this was named Pang Mapha (ปางมะผ้า). Since every new district also comes with a village name by the same name as the districts, Pangmapha became the name for the Soppong area, and specifically for the area just outside the main village 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 There is a lot of confusion regarding this, and some references state that "Soppong" has been replaced by "Pang Mapha".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 several other villages with their own names sprinkled around Pang Mapha 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, Pang Mapha, 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.

Pang Mapha 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 19, 708 people, of which 7,882 lived in Soppong sub-district (Tambon). With a population density of only 20 inhabitants/sq km, Pang Mapha 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.

Temples, etc.

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 and a Chinese temple on the road to Tham Lot.

Gardens

Soppong is far removed from the package tourist hordes and it's one of the most remote areas of Thailand. 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 Spirit House in the Gardenriver 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. 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 Conference CentreNature

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 more than a 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 also 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. Update: in August 2012, we had a small gibbon swinging through the trees around our river terrace.

Practicalities

There are no banks or money changers in Soppong, but there is one ATM (Krung Thai Bank) 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. Although there is now a mini-mart located at the market, there are no supermarkets and not even a 7-11. (Update: a 7-11 is now being build in front of the market, and will open in late December 2013). 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 post any letters or postcards.

Soppong MorningSoppong also 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, or much of any else to do in the evening except to relax on our river terrace and listen to the frogs and crickets. Thankfully, there is not even an annoying karaoke bar in Soppong; however the first tourist oriented bar, "Border Bar" is located across from the market if you feel the need to go out after dark. 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 Honda Waves for 200 baht/day.

If you would like to learn how to cook some traditional Thai meals, Soppong's curiously named (we have verified that they do not serve turtle!) is located in a beautiful hillside location. The school is operated by Ms. Bootsaba, who has years of cooking experience and used to work in our Seven Elephants Café kitchen. Many of the ingredients come from her own organic garden located adjacent to her kitchen classroom. We can help you get together with Ms. Bootsaba if you are interested.

Since we are at about 700 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.

Transportation

Most people begin their trip to Soppong from Chiang Mai. Here are some options for getting to Soppong from Chiang Mai :

Kan Air  flies to Mae Hong Son, with two or three flights per day. The flight takes about 25 minutes. 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 bus (about two hours and 35 baht), or hire some transport. You can arrange a private car to Soppong at the airport for about 1500 baht or we can arrange it for you. Try to give us a call 24 hours in advance if you would like us to arrange a transfer for you.

Nok Air also operate flights each day between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.

Kan Air  offer one nonstop 25 minute flight each day between Chiang Mai and Pai, currently departing Chiang Mai at 10:15 am and returning to Chiang Mai at 12:40 pm. Flights are on high-wing Cessna Caravan turboprops, and on a clear day the views are fantastic, flying at 9,000 feet over the mountains. From Pai, it is a 45 minute drive by car to Soppong, or a cheap 90 minute bus ride. You can catch the bus from the road in front of the entrance to the Pai airport.

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 easy 4WDing to some sights and hilltribe villages in our area.

If you are driving to Soppong, be certain 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 bus. It's cheap (95 baht), but quite long (about 5.5 - 6 hours) as the buses are slow and most are unairconditioned. That said, it can be a fun ride and it's still a great way to take in some local character. There are a couple of air conditioned buses, but as far as we can tell there is no set schedule for those. The buses make a couple of stops along the way (in Mae Malai market, Mae Sae and Pai) for pit stops and quick food. There is also a minibus service costing 250 baht. The minubus takes about 4 hours and is more comfortable. Both the regular buses and minibus leave from the Arcade Bus Terminal in Chiang Mai. The first buses and minivans leave at 0700 to 0730. Here are the departure times from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station for both when we last checked:

Minibus: 06:30/ 07:30/ 08:30/ 09:30/ 10:30/ 11:30/ 12:30/ 13:30/ 14:30

Regular bus 7:00/ 9:30/ 12:30

Our address:

We even have a mailbox and postal service:

[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 general.

Loy Krathong in Soppong
Our page about Loy Krathong 2013 at our Inn, the most beautiful festival of the year and a traditional one in Soppong.
Loy Kratong 2014 should fall on 7 November this year, and we will update our Loy Krathong page once we have all the details.

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.

Guest Blog
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 new Java Hut, located just along the road outside our gate.

Caves and Prehistory in the Soppong Area
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.

There are so many caves to explore in Pangmapha District - more than one hundred. You can download a complete directory in PDF format here, with descriptions of all of them, and choose which ones you would like to explore.

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."

"Tai Centre"
A website with lots of information regarding the culture of the Tai people. The Tai Yai are also called "Shan", and this is the major ethnic group living in Soppong.

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.

Golden Triangle Rider
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.

Budget Car Rental Self-Drive Tours-The Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son Loop (adobe acrobat file)
Budget Car Rental have posted this guide to the loop, complete with some good maps. and even a small map of Soppong. The file includes detailed driving notations for the Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son loop. Contains some good descriptions of the route, along with some potential side trips and lodging information, including Soppong River Inn. Click on the above link to download the .pdf file (about 1 meg), or click here for the Budget Thailand homepage.

Pangmapha Community Hospital
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.

About 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.
 

Lisu girl in the river in Soppong

(photo courtesy of Artie Probst)


 

Current weather in Mae Hong Son Province

 

 

Current weather conditions at Mae Hong Son Airport. It's usually about 5°C cooler in Soppong.

Northern Thailand Weather Radar

Current 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.

 

 

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Last updated  20 February 2014