The short cut to Mae Hong Son

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BANGKOK, 21 February 2018: Nok Air has opened seat sales on its website quoting a one-way fare at THB1,600 for the 25 March launch of a Bangkok-Mae Hong Son service.

The airline announced its decision to fly the direct route from Bangkok, last week, probably in response to the government’s directive to open tourism to secondary destination.

Mae Hong Son has been without a direct service from Bangkok for decades, mainly due to low demand for both leisure and business travel.

At present the only air link is provided by Bangkok Airways, which serves Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai with daily flights.

Nok Air flew the identical route, Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son, originally three times daily and then due to poor demand reduced it to a single daily flight until 14 March 2014 when it cancelled the service.

While on paper the idea of a linking the Thai capital with a Mae Hong Son looks feasible, the travel realities suggest it might be a hard sell once the Songkran holiday week ends in April.

April’s scorching hot temperatures give way to the rainy season in late May and selling holiday travel to Mae Hong Son becomes problematic. Travel tails off to the entire northwest region even at the far more popular village destination of Pai that stands halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.

As for traders and residents in Mae Hong Son if they need to visit Bangkok on urgent business they are not going to wait for one of Nok Air’s three weekly services on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. They are more likely to book Bangkok Airways’ daily flight to Chiang Mai where they can connect with numerous flights to Bangkok many of them on low-cost airlines, including Nok Air.

Nok Air’s chosen flight days suggest the service is designed for Bangkok residents who want to take a long weekend break departing on a Friday morning and returning Sunday.

The Wednesday mid-week flight might appeal to international travellers who may want to fly direct to Mae Hong Song to explore the attractions of the remote valley and then drive to Pai and Chiang Mai to connect with a flight out of Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

The best part of the trip of course is the leisurely drive across the mountain ridges to Pai for a stopover before driving on to Chiang Mai.

Known as the Mae Hong Son Loop, the drive features breathtaking scenery and a mountain road that boasts 1,864 hairpin bends end-to-end.

Nok Air will use a 72-seat ATR72-500 aircraft for its latest route that will cover the distance from the Thai capital and Mae Hong Son in one hour and 50 minutes.

The airline will benefit from a codeshare agreement signed with Thai Airways International and Thai Smile so the flight will be available for bookings through overseas agents.

But it still comes down to demand and as one travel specialists from the UK, who was attending the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Chiang Mai in January, explained “Mae Hong Son should remain difficult to reach, it needs safeguarding and its remoteness is its attraction.”

The flights will depart at 0730 and arrive in Mae Hong Son at 0920.

For the launch week starting 25 March, a one-way fare was quoted at THB1,600 with no check-in luggage. To gain 15 kg of checked baggage the cost is an additional THB300.

In the peak season month of the April the highest fare on the airline’s website is THB2,100  on 11 April and THB2,299 on 13 April.  In May and June the airline is quoting one-way fares of around THB1,500  to 1,600.

To put the fare offers in perspective Nok Air is currently selling a one-way fare to Loei, a similar hill country destination in Northeast Thailand for THB588 before airport tax for a flight of one hour and 10 minutes also using the ATR72-500.