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Mae Salong

Travel Guide

This small town is unlike any other you are likely to see in Thailand. Originally settled by KMT fugitives who were chased out of Burma, the town feels like it would be better placed in North Vietnam, Northern Laos or even China. Night classes held here to teach the adult population Thai is an indication of just how un-Thai the town is.

Ancient looking KMT combatants can still be seen on horseback in their uniforms, whilst Akha ladies flock into town to sell their wares and pick up a few necessities. Several Akha villages are within easy walking distance of town. Doi Mae Salong was very isolated until recently and was a pretty wild place by all accounts. Nearby Ban Hin Taek was a major Shan United Army (SUA) base until Khun Sa's forces were finally forced into Burma.

Off limits is probably a better description than isolated since the KMT and SUA had frequent and violent struggles over the opium trade with the Thai government forces who were struggling to exercise some sort of control over the area. Once the SUA was finally ousted, remaining KMT units were offered refugee status in Thailand in return for agreeing to cut out their opium trade.

The Thai government has made an important effort to 'civilise' the area and has introduced a variety of crop substitution programmes, principally tea and fruits which now cover many of the surrounding hillsides. A variety of locally grown products are sold in stalls around the town, the tea (a variety of Formosa Oolong) is highly regarded and there are also a range of herb and insect flavoured local liquors. Most stalls and shops will allow you to taste them - try the one with the giant centipede in it, it is excellent and just what you may well need to warm you up during the cold winter nights.

Doi Mae Salong stretches over a mountain crest. The mist, which normally disappears by mid morning, can hang around all day. Surprisingly, Mae Salong has several large, new and very expensive up-market resorts which seem to filling up with Taiwanese tourists. Perhaps they are catching up with their old KMT mates or perhaps they are all just Formosa Tea Sales Representatives, but what ever it is, Mae Salong is becoming a very popular place to visit amongst the more well heeled.

Set up in the hills to the northwest of Chiang Rai, it is an ideal retreat for those wanting to escape the heat and the tourists. Trekking around here is good and ask at Shinsane Guesthouse for present conditions and any possible no go areas. Most of the trekking in the area is the do it yourself variety but some organised trekking and pony trekking (400B per day) is available at both Shinsane and Akha Mae Salong Guesthouse.

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Text and/or map last updated on 11th August, 2009.

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