I started writing this as a single post about Mae Salong, included some of the things we did on the way there. However it ended up being a very long entry so I have decided to split it in two. The drive to Mae Salong here and the next post “Mae Salong – a Chinese Village”. In this way I can speed up reaching 200 posts before the end of year 2!

Mae Salong has been on my “to see” list for a while after recommendations from two friends who have visited the village and surrounding area. As is usual in Thailand there are so many tempting side-expeditions to take on any journey and I have a weakness for diverting for anything that looks interesting along the way. This story covers some of those extra-curricular activities on the way to Mae Salong.

I had a few reasons to drive the five hours to Mae Salong. Firstly this is a Chinese village set in the hills of Thailand, which sounded interesting. Secondly I wanted to see more of the beautiful far North of the country, having only done a few local explores from Chiang Rai when we lived there. Finally I wanted to pop into Chiang Rai for a couple of days, which I enjoy doing.

The timing for this trip was based on the fact we had a couple of visitors staying with us. Jonathan, the son of a friend of mine from Canberra, and his girlfriend Holly. I had promised Jonathan that we would take him to Chiang Rai via a loop through Mae Salong, which helps give a more rounded impression of the far North of Thailand.

Northern Thailand

You can see Doi Maesalong to the right of THE NORTH heading right at the top of Thailand.

I will cover the history briefly of why there is a Chinese village in the North of Thailand later but let’s start the trip now. I will get back to that topic when we hit Mae Salong in the next post HERE – but please read this story first.

I planned the drive to take us through the backroads of Northern Thailand as much as possible rather than just head down the 107 out of Chiang Mai, which would be the easy option as you can see from the map above. We took the 1001, the road that goes past the front gate of our Moo Baan, which you will see tagged in the middle of the map and to the right of the 107 and ends in a little town called Phrao. I have written about a trip we took to Phrao on the 1001 HERE.

Mark, a friend of ours recommended we drive to Phrao, take the 1150 (Google) or 1160 (the map above) on the left, then turn right and follow the small 1346 road through the hills to meet up with the 107 South of Pong Tan, which is what we did.

The demands of driving in Thailand required a coffee stop at a Jiffy petrol station on the edge of Phrao. Many Jiffys have an Amazon coffee franchise attached to them and also a 7/11 so they make a very useful stopping point in any travels through Thailand. The petrol is pumped for you and the windscreen cleaned if you ask. Gaun was very surprised when I had to fill my own car in Australia. No free drinking water either, which you will sometimes get here in non-Jiffy servos.

A caffiene top-up at Phrao.

A caffiene top-up at Phrao.

All the Amazon cafes I have seen are designed the same with cafe to the right and an outside seating to the left and in front. They are always densely surrounded with greenery, which gives a nice cool feeling especially in contrast to the harsh concrete of the petrol station area. I have always had decent quality coffees in them and their biscuits and cakes provide a good sweet hit.

A nice touch with the inside tables.

A nice touch with the inside tables.

Our visitors Holly and Jonathan.

Our visitors Holly and Jonathan.

A bonus monkey - not really!

A bonus monkey – not really! Tasteful like the plastic koala we bought back from Canberra for our Isaan garden.

The 1346 is a real “local” road winding through a mix of beautiful rural and natural countryside with the occasional small Moo Baan thrown in. A reasonable surface but a slow and steady as it is mostly pretty narrow and curvy. With views like this who would want to drive quickly.

Opening up to farming country here with the hills in the background.

Opening up to farming country here with the hills in the background.

Lots of valleys as the road dips and climbs its way through the hills. Local farm workers on the move.

Lots of valleys as the road dips and climbs its way through the hills. Local farm workers on the move.

Joining up with the 107 we also stepped back into the more ugly side of Thailand with strip development down both sides of the highway and little towns that didn’t have a lot going for them, from the road anyway. However a glimpse of a golden stupa off to the left behind rice paddies had us off course and heading into the countryside to explore. And what a find it was. A large Viharn and accompanying buildings made up a very impressive Wat and we took time out of the drive to have a wander around.

The driveway leading up to the main buildings at the top of the hill. Accommodation for up to 100 nuns are hidden away to the left.

The driveway leading up to the main buildings at the top of the hill. Accommodation for up to 100 nuns are hidden away to the left. 60 in residence ATM.

Shoes off and about to walk up the the Viharn, the main public temple building, we were “picked up” by an older nun who made herself our guide for the visit. She was kind enough to turn on all the lights in the temple, which brought it to life, took us to their museum and a separate Buddha building.

The temple.

The temple.

The Viharn or main temple building. Very impressive.

The Viharn or main temple building. Very impressive.

Centered around this green glass structure in the middle.

Centered around this green glass structure in the middle.

The lighting was turned on for us.

The lighting was turned on for us. It would look especially spectacular at night.

The num explaining something to Gaun in their museum/display building.

The nun explaining something to Gaun in their museum/display building.

These are photos of all the donated jewellery which was encased in the spire right at the top of the stupa.

These are photos of all the donated jewellery which was encased in the spire right at the top of the stupa – this probably has a technical term.

A closer view.

A closer view.

The nun brought out some photo albums of the opening ceremonies and showed us photos on the wall of the various stages of the build.

Building that central green glass structure.

Building that central green glass structure.

The opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony.

The big boss. He looks an impressive sort of bloke. I wish I could have met him.

The big boss. He looks an impressive sort of bloke. I wish I could have met him.

Outside the main building. Beautifully done.

Outside the main building. Beautifully done and spotlessly clean unlike many Buddhist temples.

Gaun and nun.

Gaun and nun.

As we were leaving another younger nun came up and asked if we could give her a lift to the main road so she could get a taxi to the post office. Gaun got in the back or our car and we briefly became part of the local Buddhist transport system. She was lovely and gave us a huge smile and wave as we left to continue our journey.

The nun running off to get ready for her trip.

The nun running off to get ready for her trip. I shouted out to her to “cha cha” slowly, slowly. There is never any need to rush here.

I am sorry to report that I have no idea of the name for this Wat. It was totally geared to Thais and although I have a book about the Wat the nun gave us, Gaun’s translation of the name provides no clues from the internet based on my spelling anyway. I will continue to search and will update this post if I find anything. Certainly worth a visit if in the area – and I will have to advise you about that too!

By this time it was past lunchtime and we stopped for something to eat at a small local “restaurant”. Just a basic set-up designed to top up Thai workers and passing trade. Four big main courses, which were excellent, with rice and a soda water ended up costing us 135 THB or $4.50 total!

Shortly after this we were slowed down by traffic police for this small procession:

Another Buddhist festival in action - in a very local way.

Another Buddhist festival in action – in a very local way.

I lose track of all the festivals here but they are enthusiastically enjoyed by the Thais.

I lose track of all the festivals here but they are enthusiastically enjoyed by the Thais.

We were travelling at the start of Buddhist Lent or Vassa where as part of the ceremonies candles are brought to the temples often in a procession big or small, like this one. It is also a holiday period over four days and no alcohol is sold, a fact I only discovered when hitting the nightlife of Chiang Rai a couple of days later. Sigh. You can find more information about Vassa HERE.

A small example of wax candle on the move.

A small example of a wax candle on the move. You can just see a glimpse of the yellow mixed in with the greenery. I am not sure that ute would pass inspection in Australia.

 

A somewhat more impressive wax carving created as part of the Obon Ratchathani festival, which because it is in Isaan we will visit next year.

A somewhat more impressive wax carving created as part of the Ubon Ratchathani Lent festival, which because it is in Isaan we will try to visit next year.

Back on the road we soon came to a small town on the Mae Kok river called Thaton or Tha Ton just to confuse the GPS. On the hill to the left of the town is the main attraction of the place a large temple called surprisingly Wat Thaton.  Here we are only few kilometers from the border with neighbouring Myanmar. In fact this used to be part of Myanmar until early last century when it was incorporated into Thailand. Boat trips down the river to Chiang Rai can be arranged. More info HERE.

Views from the Wat over p

Views from the Wat over Thaton and the Kok river. Myanmar is to our back.

If you want to read a very good and detailed description of the Wat you can find it HERE. The usual mostly favourable Trip Advisor reviews HERE.

This Chinese themed area sits at the back of the temple area.

This Chinese themed area sits at the back of the temple area.

10 Baht to buy some fish food. Feeding fish is a Thai pastime probably just to fatten them to eat rather than any spiritual significance!

10 Baht to buy some fish food. Feeding fish is a Thai pastime probably just to fatten them to eat rather than any spiritual significance! I like the money bag in the dragon’s hand over my left shoulder.

Looking

Looking towards the Chedi. Note the sensible dog in the shade.

The main building known as the Chedi Kaew or Crystal Pagoda.

The main building known as the Chedi Kaew or Crystal Pagoda.

Pretty striking.

Pretty striking.

Inside the pagoda  is a mix of styles with a strong Chinese influence. It had more of a display feel to it rather than a place of spiritual reflection.

I got caught out by this monk - not really.

I got caught out by this monk when I came into the room. Thought he was for real. These ones are cheaper to run.

One of the displays. Gold leaf applied by visitors gives that slight peeling look.

One of the displays. Gold leaf applied by visitors gives that slight peeling look.

More Chinese influence.

More Chinese influence.

Angry man.

Angry man.

A jade coloured Buddha and great views.

A jade coloured Buddha and great views.

The countryside at the back of the Wat. Looking more towards Myanmar.

The countryside at the back of the Wat. Looking more towards Myanmar over the hills.

Another enjoyable stop but the day was slipping away so I planned no further side-trips between here and Mae Salong. Back on the road we crossed into the next post, which you can find HERE.

Thanks for reading.