Mae Hong Son, thailand

It all began with 1864 curves.

Funny, how small things can change the course of your life. For me, it was a brief mention in a guide book, about a collection of 19th-century reverse paintings on glass in a Buddhist temple in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. As an artist who paints on glass, I was intrigued.

Originally established in the early 19th century as an elephant training camp, Mae Hong Son’s mountainous isolation also made it an ideal punishment posting for civil servants who’d fallen out of favor. Until the early 1960s, it was only accessible by a dirt road, washed out for almost six months a year by the monsoons—which must have been hell for ambitious administrators.

These days, most people who drive northwest from Chiang Mai are heading to Pai, the bustling backpacker/trekker capital of northern Thailand. In November 2000, though, Pai was just a dot on a map, and we breezed through it on our torturous, spectacular drive to Mae Hong Son. One of the only four sentences about Mae Hong Son on the Tourism Thailand web site describes the drive well: “Those who have a carsick should take medicine with you.”

As we approached the city on hairpin turns, the scenery grew increasingly more dramatic, with higher mountains, and lush valleys. At one point, hemmed in by trees on one side, a cliff on the other, a view beyond, and no shoulder, a Thai family had elected to stop the car in the road, so they could spread a blanket, and have a picnic in front of their car. They beamed at us as we skirted around them, so happy with their own ingenuity. I fell in love with Thailand on that drive, and the love deepened after we arrived in Mae Hong Son.