Doi Tung is located in Mae Fa Luang District and can be reached by taking Highway No.110 for about 48 kilometers and turning left onto Highway No. 1149, an asphalt road leading directly to Doi Tung. The route winds through beautiful scenery with many interesting sites including the Doi Tung Palace (Pra Tamnak Doi tung), the Mae Fa Luang Garden and Akha and Muser tribal villages. IN addition to scenic lookouts, the most notable attraction is the Phra That Doi Tung Holy Relic, an old religious site atop the mountain.
Also located on Doi Tung Mountain is a beautiful royal residence known as Phra Tamnak Doi Tung. The royal villa, situated on the slopes of the adjacent Pa Kluay Reservoir, was to serve as a royal winter retreat for the Princess Mother, who passed away in 1995 and was originally built on the theory that the local hill tribes would be honored by the royal presence and thereby cease their opium cultivation.
The main attraction for visitors to Phra Tamnak Doi Tung is ‘Suan Mae Fa Luang’, the beautiful landscaped gardens filled with hundreds of different kinds of plants and flowers, named in honor of the Princess Mother and the Doi Tung Development Project established by the late Princess Mother in 1987.
About halfway between Mae Chan and Mae Sal on Rte 110 is the turn-off west for Doi Tung. The name means ‘Flag Peak’, from the northern Thai word for flag (tung). King Achutarat of Chiang Saen ordered a giant flag to be flown from the peak to mark the spot where two chedi were constructed in AD 911; the chedi are still there, a pil-grimage site for Thai, Shan and Chinese Buddhists. But the main attraction at Doi Tung is getting there. The ‘easy’ way is via Rte 1149, which is mostly paved to the peak of Doi Tung. But it’s winding, steep and narrow, so if you’re driving or riding a motorcycle, take it slowly. Along the way are Shan, Akha and Musoe (Lahu) villages. Travelling after 4pm – when traffic thins out is not advised except along the main routes. It is not safe to trek in this area without a Thai or hill-tribe guide simply because you could be mistaken for a United States Drug Enforcement Agency agent (by the drug traders) or drug dealer (by the Thai army rangers who patrol the area). You may hear gunfire from time to time, which might indicate that the rangers are in pursuit of the Mong Thai Army (MTA) or Karen rebels or others who have been caught between two hostile governments.
On the theory that local hill tribes would be so honoured by a royal presence that they will stop cultivating opium, the late Princess Mother (the king’s mother) built the Doi Tung Royal Villa, a summer palace, on the slopes of Doi Tung near Pa Kluay Reservoir. The beautifully landscaped Mae Fah Luang Garden is open to the public, and the royal villa itself has been converted into a museum that preserves everything in the house almost exactly as it was before the I’rtncess Mother’s death in 1995.
Another royal project nearby, Doi TungZoo, covers an open space of over 32 hectares. The zoo was first established as a wildlife breeding and animal conservation nation, to help reintroduce many species to a reforested Doi Tung. These include Siamene fireback pheasants, peacocks, bears, rnmhar deer, barking deer and hog deer.
At the peak. 1800m above sea level, Wat Phra That Doi Tung is built around the twin I.unna-style chedi. The chedi were renovated by famous Chiang Mai monk Khruba Siwichai early in the 20th century.
Pilgrims bang on the usual row of temple hells to gain merit. Although the wat isn’t that impressive, the high, forested setting will make the trip worthwhile. From the walled edge of the temple you can get an aerial view of the snaky road you’ve just climbed.
A walking path next to the wat leads to a spring and there are other short walking trails in the vicinity. A hit below the peak is the smaller Wat Noi Doi Tung, where food and beverages are available from vendors.
Places to Stay & Eat
If you want to spend the night. Baan Ton Nam (0 5376 7003, fax 0 5376 7077; Doi lung Development Project, Mae Fah Luang District; singles/doubles Jan-Sept 1800/2300B;
Oct-Dec 2000/2500B) opened in 2000 and offers 45 deluxe twin rooms with attached hot-water shower, air-con, refrigerators and satellite TV. A semi-outdoor restaurant (open 7am-9pm) offers excellent meals made with local produce, including lots of fresh mushrooms.
Getting There & Away
Buses to the turn-oft for Doi lung arc I5B from either Mae Chan or Mae Sai. From Ban Huay Khrai, at the Doi Tung turn-off, a siawngthaew to Ban Pakha is 30B (30 minutes), or 60B all the way to Doi Tung, 18km away (one hour). Road conditions to Doi Tung vary from year to year depending on the state of repair; during bad spells, the section above Baa Pakha can be quite a challenge to climb, whether you’re in a truck, 4WD or motorcycle.
You can also travel by motorcycle between Doi Tung and Mae Sai along an even more challenging, 16km, unevenly sealed road that starts in the Akha village of Ban Phame, 8km south of Mae Sai (4kn, south along Rte 110, then 4km west), and joins the main road about two-thirds of the way up Doi Tung about 11km from the latter. You can also pick up this road by following the dirt road that starts in front of Mae Sai’s Wat Phra That Doi Wao. West of Ban Phame the road has lots of tight curves, mud, rocks, precipitous drops, passing lorries and occasional road repair equipment – figure on at least an hour by motorcycle or 4WD from Mae Sai. Although now paved, this is a route for experienced bikers only.
The road also runs high in the mountains along the Myanmar border and should not be travelled alone or after 4pm. Ask first in Mae Sai about border conditions. If you want to do a full loop from Mae Sai, ride/ drive to Doi Tung via Rte 110 south of Mae Sai, then Rte 1149 up to Doi Tung. Once you’ve had a look around the summit, return to Mae Sai via the Bang Phame aforementioned roads; this means you’ll be running downhill much of the way.
Cross-Border Trips to Tachileik & Beyond
Foreigners are ordinarily permitted to cross the bridge over the Nam Ruak into Tachileik. On occasion the border may close temporarily for security reasons, so be prepared for possible disappointment if the political situation between Bangkok and Yangon deteriorates again.
For now you can enter Myanmar at Tachileik and travel to Kengtung or Mengla for two weeks upon payment of a US$10 fee and the exchange of US$100 for 100 FEC (foreign exchange certificates), the phoney money Myanmar’s government uses to dampen black-market currency exchange. You can use the FEC to pay for hotel rooms and plane tickets, but that’s about all. Or change them for Myanmar kyat at the going black-market rate. Your two-week tourist visa can be extended for another two weeks at the immigration office in Kengtung.
If you only want to cross the border into Tachileik for the day, the cost is US$5 or 250B. There is no FEC exchange require ment for day trips. Besides shopping Ian Shan handicrafts (about the same pen c n, on the Thai side, and everyone accept. b,,ht ) and eating Shan/Burmese food.tittle
to do in Tachileik. About 4000 people cross the bridge to Tachileik daily, most of them Thais shopping for dried mushrooms, herbal medicines, cigarettes and other cheap imports from China. Be wary of cheap cartons of Marlboros and other Western-brand cigarettes, as many are filled with Burmese cigarettes instead of the real thing.
Three-night, four-day excursions to the town of Kengtung (called Chiang Tung by the Thais and usually spelt Kyinetong by the Burmese), 163km north. may be arranged on your own as described earlier.
Kengtung is a sleepy but historic capital for the Shan State’s Khiin culture the Khun speak a northern Thai language re-lated to Shan and Thai Lii and use a writing script similar to the ancient Lanna script. It’s a bit more than halfway between the Thai and Chinese borders eventually the road will be open all the way to China but for now Kengtung is the limit. Built around a small lake and dotted with ageing Buddhist temples and crumbling British colonial architecture, it’s a much more scenic town than Tachileik. and one of the most interesting towns in Myanmar’s entire Shan State. About 70% of all foreign visitors to Kengtung are Thais seeking a glimpse of ancient Lanna. Few westerners are seen around town save for contract employees working for the United Nations Drug Control Project (UNDCP).
Harry’s Guest House & Trekking ( 01012 1418; 132 Mai Yang Lan) in Kengtung rents out basic rooms in a large house for US$5 per person. Harry is an English-speaking Kengtung native who spent many years as a trekking guide in Chiang Mai. Noi Yee Hotel (rooms per person US$8-15), near the centre of town, has large multibed rooms.
For a complete description of Kengtung and the surrounding area, see Lonely Planet’s Mr’anmar guidebook.
Beyond Kengtung Eighty-five kilometres north of Kengtung lies the Sino-Burmese border district of Mengla (or Mong La as it’s sometimes spelt). Although Mengla is mainly a Thai Lu district, in a deal worked out with the Myanmar military it’s currently controlled by ethnic Wa. who once fought against Yangon troops but who now enjoy peaceful relations with Yangon (in return for a sizable share in the Wa’s thriving amphetamine and opium trade, it is suspected). A Drug Free Museum contains an exhibit on how to refine heroin from opium. The district receives lots of Chinese tourists, who come to peruse Mengla’s well-known wildlife market and to gamble in the district’s several casinos. The largest and plushest, the Myanmar Royal Casino, is an Australian-Chinese joint venture. There are also plenty of karaoke bars, discos and other staples of modern Chinese entertainment life. The main currency used in town is the Chinese yuan. In order to proceed to Mengla from Kengtung, you must first register at the Kengtung immigration office. The staff at Harry’s Guest House can help you accomplish this. The obvious question is, can you cross the border from Mengla into Daluo, China? The simple answer is we haven’t tried, and we don’t know anyone who has.
Getting There & Away
The cheapest form of transport to Kengtung is the siawngthaew that leave each morning from Tachileik, but reports say Myanmar authorities aren’t allowing foreigners to board these. Give it a try anyway, as this sort of situation tends to change. You can rent 4WDs on either side of the border, but Thai vehicles with a capacity of five or fewer passengers are charged a flat US$50 entry fee. US$100 for vehicles with a capacity of over five. Burmese vehicle hire is more expensive and requires the use of a driver. Whatever the form of transport, count on at least six to 10 gruelling hours (depending on road conditions) to cover the 163km stretch between the border and Kengtung.
The road trip allows glimpses of Shan, Akha. Wa and Lahu villages along the way.