This post follows on from the previous story “The Road to Mae Salong” HERE. The two can be read separately but they were originally written as one post and then split into two as a result of the length.
Leaving Wat Thaton behind, winding down the hill and back onto the 107 we continued our drive to Mae Salong – you thought I had forgotten didn’t you. The roads became a little rougher and narrower as the 107 turned into the 1089 before we turned off to the mountainous drive to Mae Salong. With four people on board this was a road that had the little Mazda 2 doing the “I think I can” mantra on several occasions. In Australia I lusted for a Porsche here it is sometimes a large, 3.0 litre diesel pickup, especially when driving in the far North. Who would have thought!
The origins of Mae Salong started in China in 1950 when parts of the Kuomintang (KMT) army who fought on against the communists after the majority fled to Taiwan were finally forced out and retreated to Burma. This part of the army was originally largely based in the Chinese province of Yunnan, which is why you will see so many Yunnan influences in Mae Salong now especially in the food.
The Burmese weren’t too happy about the arrival of the Chinese and fighting continued between the two for many years. This part of the KMT was also busy trying to take back Yunnan province from the communists on seven different occasions between 1950 – 52 but failed. In 1961 4,000 troops gave up on Burma and moved over the border into Thailand and the Mae Salong area. The Thais gave them sanctuary in exchange for policing the area to prevent communist incursions. The battles between KMT, now called Chinese Irregular Forces (CIF) and the communists continued until 1982 when the army was finally disbanded. The Thai government offered the CIF and families Thai citizenship in acknowledgement for their support in defeating the spread of communism into Thailand.
The Wikipedia entry on Mae Salong or Santikhiri as it is evidently now called, from which my summary has been researched, is excellent and you can find it HERE and there is also a great interview with one of the original soldiers HERE.
Late afternoon we finally arrived at our Guesthouse for the night after an eight hour trip. The Maesalong Mountain Home guesthouse has some very mixed reviews HERE, but we found it pleasant enough; quiet with great views over the tea plantations and hills. We didn’t eat there which might be a good thing from a couple of the reviews! A word of caution. If you are driving there would be no way you’d get back out of the resort on the dirt track up the hill in the wet unless you had 4WD. The final part of the concrete road where it meets the “main” road would be a bit of a challenge too.
The huts are made of bamboo walls with lots of big gaps. It didn’t worry me but one member of another group booking in was worried about birds and insects getting in. Dangerous place Thailand but in fairness there is more open to the outside than usual. The bed was Thai hard but we slept well. The shower may have been OK but we had almost no water and that wasn’t fixed by the time we left. Fan only but you are higher here and further North so the nights are cooler and an air conditioner would be an overkill for most situations.
The beds have mosquito nets, probably because of the walls, but we didn’t find them necessary. I was tired after a big drive but we decided to leave the resort and eat in “town”. Unfortunately we didn’t go far enough, stopped at the first place that looked like an eating place and missed out on the larger choice of restaurants in the “centre” of the village. We ended up having a very decent meal at a pretty basic place where I tried a Yunnan curry, in acknowledgement of the history of the place, which was yummy.
The next day we packed and headed out of the resort but stopped here halfway out of the resort’s entry road, for obvious reasons. When a large lion’s head gazes down at one and you haven’t had a big night out it is definitely a photo moment.
Two Chinese lions, plus a cub, form the entranceway to a failed accommodation enterprise of some sort. The building work is well on the way but all is abandoned and looking rather sad. It was an attempt at a Chinese theme park resort on a small scale. All in questionable taste but fun for a few photos:
After breakfast at “our” restaurant we drove off to find a temple called Wat Santikhiri, which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the entire area. The town itself does have a mild Chinese feel to it, although never having been there who am I to say, and plenty of shops selling tea and associated accessories. From a quick drive through there doesn’t seem much to entertain for a longer stay. I think this is reflected by the lack of photos on the web of Mae Salong village except from vantage points looking down on it and the surrounding hills. There could well be nice places to eat and spend time but we didn’t have time to discover them. I suspect the main attraction is as a quiet backwater in a gorgeous settling where sitting around doing not much form much of the day’s activities.
Back to Wat hunting. Another slight detour before the turn to the Wat took us past a rather nice looking resort and on to a lookout with a couple of souvenir shops.
Photos taken we were back to the search for Wat Santikhiri. I believe you can walk to the top and there are 719 steps kindly provided for this purpose. Needless to say we drove which is a less than direct route and brings you in at the back of the Wat. Some challenging climbs for the Mazda here too. The views from the top are the ones you often see on tourist sites and blogs, including mine!
The temple itself is nothing special on the inside, well I thought so anyway, and I suspect most people come for the views, us included.
Our last to-do for Mae Salong was to visit the Chinese Martyr’s Memorial Museum, which was supposed to give a good historical background to why the village exists as it does. The GPS coordinates given were slightly off and we ended up at a Lent festival happening next door and the only photo I took was this one – fun.
Leaving the museum and stocked up on dried mango slices – super delicious at 80 THB a packet from one of the shops outside the museum, we headed off for the drive to Chiang Rai via the Royal Palace at Doi Tung. Blog post to follow.
Thanks for reading.