Mae Salong

One of the many valleys of Mae Salong

Mae Salong (แม่สลอง), also known as Doi Mae Salong (ดอยแม่สลอง) and officially called Santikhiri (สันติคีรี), is a village in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.

Understand

Mae Salong's early history centered on the opium trade of the Golden Triangle. Its recent history was shaped by the 93rd Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army that refused to surrender to Chinese communists after the Nationalist Kuomintang government was routed in 1949.

Unlike most of the unrelenting nationalists that fled to Taiwan in 1949, a force of 12,000 escaped from Yunnan to Burma and continued an insurgency against the Peoples' Republic. They were at first supported by Taiwan and the USA, but diplomatic shifts—which included US ambivalence towards the nationalists and improved relations between Burma and communist China—later led to the partial disbanding of the nationalist forces in Burma. While thousands left for Thailand in 1961, many remained in Burma.

The soldiers who settled in Mae Salong kept it as a military base in preparation for an eventual counter-attack against communist China. They funded their arms purchases with opium production and rubbed shoulders with notorious Burmese warlord and drug baron Khun Sa, who lived a few kilometres away in Ban Hin Taek and who initially trained with the Kuomintang before founding his own army.

In the 1970s the Thai government struck a deal with the renegades: the battle-hardened soldiers would help them fight Thailand's own communist insurgents in exchange for legitimacy and Thai citizenship. Part of their going straight involved the soldiers' cessation of opium production in favour of the cultivation of mushrooms and above all oolong tea, which is now Mae Salong's main product.

Some guidebooks wax lyrical about today's Mae Salong as a miniature Yunnanese Shangri-La, but if you come with this image in mind you may be a little disappointed: at first glance, Mae Salong looks much like the little Thai town it is. However, the crisp climate, the lingering Chinese influence, delicious native Yunnanese dishes and small hotels and guesthouses catering to visitors still make this a popular getaway, worth visiting even on a hurried day trip, but worth stopping in overnight.

Climate

Sunflowers in Mae Salong

In November, sunflowers bloom, but the peak tourist season is during Dec-Feb when the hills are alive with white plum blossoms and pinkish sakura cherry blossoms. It gets misty and cold during this time, so pack a sweater and decent shoes. Tea production gets into gear toward the end of this season, with the smell of roasting tea wafting through the streets, but the same haze and rising temperatures that affect the rest of northern Thailand are in evidence here too from March onward, and the rainy season from June-October is rainy indeed.

Get in

Map of Mae Salong

There are two roads to Mae Salong: one from Pasang, a hamlet north of Chiang Rai on Hwy 1, which is the main road north from Bangkok to the Mae Sai border; and a second from Thaton, which is on the main road north (at first Hwy 107, and later Hwy 1089) from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai. Both are scenic and very twisty. Pop a pill beforehand if you're prone to motion sickness.

Public transport to Mae Salong is surprisingly spotty, and having your own wheels may come in handy.

By bus

From Chiang Rai, from platform 5 take a bus towards Mae Sai. You can either:

  • ask to be dropped off at Pasang (ป่าซาง)/Mae Salong (25 baht, 1 hr). This will put you at the end of Rte 1089, which heads to Chiang Mai. Beware: there's another Pasang to the east of Chiang Rai, signposted at platform 9, but this will take you in entirely the wrong direction! At the Pasang T-junction, there are blue songthaews (50 baht/person or 400 baht/songthaew). Try to arrive as early as possible, since otherwise, especially in the off season, you'll be in for a long wait.

or you can:

  • head a little further beyond Pasang to the market in Mae Chan (แม่จัน), whence there are four daily scheduled services to Mae Salong (07:30, 09:00, 11:00 and 13:00). The cost is 60 baht and may involve a change of vehicle at the half-way point, in which case the fare is 30 baht.

From Thaton (ท่าตอน), there are yellow songthaews that go directly to Mae Salong. This also offers an alternative route for Chiang Rai and Mae Sai: coming back, take the yellow songthaew to the Thaton-Mae Chan road (30 baht), hop aboard a Thaton-Mae Chan green songthaew to Mae Chan (another 30 baht), and then take the Chiang Rai-Mae Sai bus. This sounds complicated, but is probably faster than waiting for the "direct" songthaew to fill up.

For the return trip, both colours of songthaew hang out at the 7-Eleven in the centre of town. They stop running around 17:00, but in a pinch (or if in a hurry), the motorcycle cabbies can ferry you to Pasang for 300 baht.

By car

The shorter route is via Hwy 1089 from Mae Chan (near Chiang Rai) towards Thaton (to Chiang Mai). The signposted turn off is next to a police station. From here travel about 13 km on some of the most amazingly curvy roads imaginable. The return trip to Mae Chan can be undertaken on Rte 1234 and Rte 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hill tribe villages; you can also make a diversion north to visit the royal development projects and villas of Doi Tung.

Get around

Mae Salong is quite spread out, and while you can cover the central sights on foot, it is very convenient to rent a motorbike to motor around the hills and valleys. Rental cost is about 200 baht per day. Bikes come with empty tanks, so you need to fuel up first.

See

The Martyrs' Memorial Museum
Phra Boromathat Chedi
Princess Mother Hall

Do

There are many tribal villages (mostly Akha) within easy reach of Mae Salong, and local guesthouses can arrange treks in the area, either on foot or by horse (400 baht for 4 hours).

For those who would prefer to get involved, consider joining the volunteers working in the nearby Akha village. There is no charge or donation required and you can work as little or as much as you like. The volunteers stay at Shin Sane Guesthouse, so ask about the project there or find it on Facebook by searching for "Akha Hill Tribe Project - Mae Salong."

Buy

Tea leaves drying outside a factory

The thing to buy in Mae Salong is the excellent local oolong tea, grown on plantations all around. The tea bushes here was originally imported from Taiwan, well-known for its high mountain (gaoshan) teas grown in a very similar subtropical climate. As well as tea itself, tea sets from China as well as candies, fruits, and everything else you'd need for enjoying tea Chinese-style are also available.

For Akha handicrafts, Yunnanese street snacks and cheap Chinese imports, check out the two markets in town.

Eat

Yunnanese noodles with bean gravy

Take a break from Thai food and try out some Yunnanese cuisine. Dishes worth trying include:

Budget

There are a large number of noodle shops around town.

Drink

Aside from a few dodgy karaoke enterprises, there is virtually no nightlife in Mae Salong. Drink tea instead! Or, if you're feeling frisky, sample any of the numerous Chinese liquors with unfortunate pickled bugs and snakes inside.

Sleep

Outside peak season supply tends to exceed demand and prices are usually negotiable.

Budget

Saeng A Roon Hotel, 25/3 Doi Maesalong Maefaluang Chiangrai 57110 (Opposite the little home guest house), ☎ +66-89-1122808 or +66-89-8922732. checkin: before 8:PM; checkout: before 12:AM. There are eight rooms, four rooms with bath rooms, the other four rooms without bath room, two bath rooms are out side in the hotel, this eight rooms are very clean with spotless, each room with wifi and each bath room offers hot shower one room with bath room is 500 bath. edit

Mid-range[edit]

Mid-range

The fading charm of the Mae Salong Resort


Saeng A Roon Hotel, 25/3 Doi Maesalong Maefaluang Chiangrai 57110 (Opposite the little home guest house), ☎ +66-89-1122808 or +66-89-8922732. checkin: before 8:PM; checkout: before 12:AM. There are eight rooms, four rooms with bath rooms, the other four rooms without bath room, two bath rooms are out side in the hotel, this eight rooms are very clean without spotless, each room with wifi and each bath room offers hot shower one room with bath room is 500 bath. edit

Mid-range[edit]

Stay safe

Any opium warlord action has long since moved across the border to Myanmar. Still, this is a border area, so don't go trekking too close to the boundary and keep your papers with you as there are plenty of police checkpoints around.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 21, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.