Mae Salong Chinese Community
Mae Salong won the 2007 Thailand Tourism Award as an outstanding tourism-based community for tour guides and homestays. It is an exotic mountainside location embraced by nature. This is an ideal destination for rest, relaxation and fresh air, where they serve organic produce and organize activities to keep you entertained, with 20% of profits going to the local hill tribe student project.
Mae Salong was settled by remnants of the former Nationalist (Kuomintang) Chinese Army 93rd Division who moved from Burma to Thai territory in 1961, after the Communist Party under Mao Zedong consolidated its hold on China. Originally a military base biding its time for an attack back, funding its arms purchases with opium production notorious warlord Khun Sa lived a few kilometers away in Ban Hin Taek in the 1970s the Thai government struck a deal with the renegades: the battle-hardened KMT would help them fight Thailand’s own Communist insurgents, and would be granted citizenship in exchange. As part of the integration process, opium production was successfully substituted with mountain produce like 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, accessible even on a hurried day trip but worth stopping in overnight.
Sunflowers in Mae Salong
In November, sunflowers bloom, but the peak tourist season is during December-February 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 to October is rainy indeed.
– Homestay accommodation is either in shared or private rooms, with basic amenities, or tents are available for outdoor camping.
– There is an abundance of mountain activities at this homestay, including horseriding, archery, massage, trekking, cultural dance and hill tribe visits. You can hire a licensed tour guide to accompany you and embark on one and two-day activity programs organized by the homestay.
To see the flowers in full bloom December and January are great months to visit, otherwise if you need warmer weather then February through May really heat up.
Travel from Chiang Rai on Highway 1 towards Mae Chan and at the Mae Chan and Pa Sang junction, follow the sign to Doi Mae Salong. The homestay is located on Mae Salong Nok road in Mae Fa Luang in Chiang Rai.
There are two roads to Mae Salong: one from Pasang, a hamlet on the Chiang Rai-Mae Sai highway, and one from Tha Ton, on the northern border road from Chiang Mai. Both are scenic and very twisty â€” pop a pill beforehand if you’re prone to motion sickness.
From Chiang Rai, take a bus to Mae Sai (platform 5) and ask to be dropped off at Pasang/Mae Salong. The trip costs 25B and takes approximately an hour. (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 that leave when they get 8 passengers at 50 baht each, or when somebody ponies up the 400 baht to charter. Try to get here as early as you can, since otherwise, especially in the off season, you’ll be looking at a long wait. An even better option is to take the same bus mentioned above and ask to be dropped off at the market in Mae Chan. There are four scheduled services daily 07.30, 09.00, 11.00 and 13.00. The cost is THB60 and may involve a change in vehicle at the half way point, in which case the fare is THB30 (as at December 2011).
From Tha Ton, 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 Tha Ton-Mae Chan road (30B), hop aboard a Tha Ton-Mae Chan green songthaew to Mae Chan (another 30B), 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 colors of songthaew hang out at the 7-11 in the centre of town. They stop running around 5 PM, but in a pinch (or if in a hurry), the motorcycle cabbies can ferry you to Pasang for 300 baht.
The shorter route is via highway 1089 from Mae Chan (near Chiang Rai) towards Tha Ton (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 routes no. 1234 and no. 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hilltribe villages; you can also make a diversion north to visit the royal development projects and villas of Doi Tung.
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 wander around the hills and valleys. Renting fee is about 200 baht per day. However, bikes come with empty tanks, so you need to re-fuel first!