We had planned a day out to the Western Thai/Myanmar border to visit Doi Ang Khang, largely unknown to foreign tourists, but a famous destination for Thai tourists. It is a wild and mountainous frontier range which lies at the edge of the Thai-Myanmar border.

Beautiful in itself we particularly wanted to see the Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station where there are supposed to be beautifully manicured gardens with lots of colourful flowers. There are also greenhouses where the serious cultivation stuff goes on growing organic crops normally found in colder climes such as strawberries, rhubarbs and persimmons.

Unfortunately the day turned out to be really cloudy mixed with some smoke as the farmers are burning off after the first harvest of corn and rice so we decided to give it a miss until later in the year.

Doi Angkhang mountain.

Doi Angkhang mountain.

Instead we spent the afternoon driving to Doi Chang mountain, Chiang Rai province’s highest peak, and visit the home of Doi Chaang Coffee, one of the world’s top boutique coffee producers.

BTW you may have noticed that Doi Chaang is spelt two different ways – Doi Chang and Doi Chaang. The village in which the coffee company, Doi Chaang resides is spelt Doi Chang. Both mean Elephant Mountain but because of old trademark restrictions, the coffee company added an “a.” to become Doi Chaang Coffee.

The logo image is based on the village headman who can still be seen having a cuppa at the Doi Chaang cafe.

Doi Chaang Coffee. The logo image is based on the village headman.

Doi Chaang logo

The road to Doi Chang is actually off Route 118, the road I wrote about in my post http://tonyinthailand.com/the-road-to-chiang-rai/. The turn off is about 5 km after Mai Suai on the Northern Chiang Rai side and for once is properly signposted to Doi Chang. There are many roadside stalls selling huge bags of limes and bunches of bamboo shoots at this point on the 118.

The turn to Doi Chang itself is a few km down this road on the right and not well signposted so look out for it.

Driving in on the left you will see the Mae Suai dam below you. If you don’t turn off to Doi Chang the road heads towards a small town called Wawi and follows the lake for quite a distance, which is a nice drive in itself.

The Mae Suai dam.

The Mae Suai dam.

The road eventually dips down to meet up with the lake.

The road dips and eventually meets up with the lake.

Is the hut hanging in space?

Look at the centre of the photo and the hut  seems to be hanging in space. All planned of course!

The road to Doi Chaang is sealed all the way now. The last part was dirt according to an article I read written 12 months ago but has been paved since then. The older lower section of the road is quite potholed and makes for a slow drive, which is the sabai sabai, relaxed relaxed, way one should deal with most things in Thailand.

Need to use the full road to navigate around the potholes. Very little traffic so no problems.

Need to use the full road to navigate around the potholes. Very little traffic so no problems.

The road is very scenic as it dips between hills and follows the ridges slowly climbing towards Doi Chang.

Made more dramatic by the misty looking sky.

Made more dramatic by the misty looking sky – actually smoke.

The Mae Suai dam in the distance.

The Mae Suai dam in the distance.

Could be

Could be the fog covered hills of Scotland…or not.

There are many natural photo stops along the way and makes the trip to Doi Chang more than just about the destination.

A small local village. A lot of houses with thatched roofs and bamboo walls in this area.

A small local village. A lot of houses with thatched roofs and bamboo walls in this area.

There were quite a few kids around and I have no idea what they were saying but I did catch a lot of “falang” mentions in their shouted remarks. All good I’m sure. Falang = farang or western foreigner. Thais don’t do “R’s” and often replace the letter with an “L”.

Photogenic but also continues on my often mentioned "rice" theme. This is "dry" rice being grown on this hill.

Photogenic but also continues my often mentioned “rice” theme. This is “dry” rice being grown here. A brief moment of sunshine on the return trip.

Will do the trip again on a sunny day just to see the difference.

Will do the trip again on a sunny day just to see the difference.

I had to take a photo of this sign shown below. I have seen warnings to use low gears on a steep decent but never when going up a hill. Maybe a reflection on Thai driving skills and designed to help people in manual cars when they come to a dead stop in fifth gear.

No kidding.

No kidding.

I sort of lost track of time from the turn off to arriving at Doi Chaang coffee, as we stopped so often to take photos, but if you allow an hour that would be about right.

There is no big “This is Doi Chaang” announcement, in true Thai style. There is a final very windy part of the road and at the crest of the hill on your left you’ll see a huge concrete parking area. Turn in and park here.

Reflecting the fact this is a working business rather than a tourist destina

Reflecting the fact this is a working business rather than a tourist destination.

At the back of this rather grim expanse of concrete on the far right is the Organic Coffee processing plant.

Fancy it ain't.

Fancy it ain’t.

Here the coffee beans are hand circulated through a number of cleaning vats before sorting.

The raw product goes in on the right.

The raw product goes in on the right.

The beans once cleaned.

The beans once cleaned.

The small building next to the processing plant is the sorting room. It makes even a public service job look pretty attractive. However this is work that wouldn’t be available to the people of this area if not for the success of Doi Chaang.

Hand sorting.

Hand sorting.

Beans set out to dry? Considering the weather here that seems a bit optimistic. No one to ask.

Beans set out to dry? Considering the weather here that seems a bit optimistic. No one to ask.

The raw cherries or beans. I wouldn't let them near my hot water at this point!

The raw cherries or beans. I wouldn’t let them near my hot water at this point!

Organic beans drying.

Organic beans drying.

The finished product. Selling for much the same price as you'd pay in Australia.

The finished product. Selling for much the same price as you’d pay in Australia, although maybe not for a premium bean. The cheaper variety was available for 180 TBH or around A$24.00 per kg, which is cheaper than back home.

On the left hand side of the parking lot is the Doi Chaang cafe. Nice open layout and an excellent coffee, although I would have preferred it hotter.

Wot no Australian flag!

Wot no Australian flag!

Cafe Latte at Doi Chaang.

Cafe Latte at Doi Chaang.

It was only when researching this blog after the event that I realised that one of the main characters in the extraordinary success story of Doi Chaang coffee, Wicha Promyong, was actually in the cafe having a coffee while we were there. Bugger. UPDATE 27 February 2015: A double bugger because Wicha Promyong passed away as a result of a heart attack in January 2014. You can read more about him HERE.

Fancy a mushroom with your coffee? These were on sale at the front counter. They were delicious too - for dinner I hasten to add.

Fancy a mushroom with your coffee? These were on sale at the front counter. They were delicious too – for dinner I hasten to add. 50 THB or $1.70.

Doi Coffee has what they call the Academy of Coffee to train farmers in best growing practices and also educate them on topics such as good financial management.

A separate building at the back of the cafe area acting as a "school" for local farmers.

A separate building at the back of the cafe area acting as a “school” for local farmers.

A local Mini-Mart has been added to the portfolio of Doi Chaang coffee. For the record Cornetto ice creams are $0.50 here!

A local Mini-Mart has been added to the portfolio of Doi Chaang coffee. For the record Cornetto ice creams are $0.50 here!

There is a small restaurant here too situated between the processing plant and the Mart but we didn’t try it so can’t comment on the food quality.

My final couple of photos are part of my Interesting Toilets of the World series:

A toilet with a view.

A toilet with a view.

And the view:

Coffee isn’t the only crop produced here. I took this photo thinking it was a hillside of coffee.

Yes I am a city boy. Not coffee but tomatoes.

Yes I am a city boy. Not coffee but tomatoes. In true friendly Thai style when we stopped for a closer look one of the workers invited us up on the hill to have a closer look at what they were growing and find out where I was from.

If you are interested in reading more on the background of Doi Chaang coffee and how the company and the local Akha Hill tribe people emerged from the ruin of opium cultivation, which is an amazing and inspirational story, there is a great article you can find here:

http://magazine.coffeetalk.com/february12-doichaang/

So there you have it. A great drive and for coffee enthusiasts a great destination. A must do for visitors with a car when visiting the North of Thailand.

Thanks for reading.