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.
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 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 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.
The road is very scenic as it dips between hills and follows the ridges slowly climbing towards Doi Chang.
There are many natural photo stops along the way and makes the trip to Doi Chang more than just about the destination.
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”.
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.
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.
At the back of this rather grim expanse of concrete on the far right is the Organic Coffee processing plant.
Here the coffee beans are hand circulated through a number of cleaning vats before sorting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
And the view:
Coffee isn’t the only crop produced here. I took this photo thinking it was a hillside of coffee.
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:
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.