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