Fang is an unusual name for what is a pretty regular, though larger than average, provincial Chiang Mai town. It's a busy commercial and administrative centre for the district of the same name, which covers a large chunk of paddy-filled valley and forest-clad hills in the far north of the province along the Burmese border. To the east lies Mae Ai, Tha Ton and Chiang Rai; to the south Chiang Dao and Phraoand to the north and west the high mountains of Doi Ang Khan and Doi Pha Hom Pok separate the Fang river valley from Burma’s Shan State.
The scenery is awesome in the true sense of the word, while the town is fun and friendly, but at best just a trickle of foreign visitors stop by on their way up to Tha Ton.
The town dates to the mid seventh century, meaning it predates the Siamese arrival in what is now Thailand and was founded by a Lawa King, Changkarat. Lying in its wide fertile valley, Fang was a profitable little region. It was occupied by King Mengrai on his way south to conquer Haripunchai, today’s Lamphun, before he found Chiang Mai as his new capital.
There were once rumours, or perhaps wishful thinking on the part of its residents, of Fang becoming a province in its own right, but nothing seems to have come of that, so today it remains a large regional centre but with great tourist potential and well worth a stop. The town’s inhabitants are an eclectic mix of Shan, Northern Thai, Yunnanese Muslims and ex-Kuomintang, with surrounding hills home to Palaung, Akha, Lahu, Karen and Hmong ethnic minorities. In town you’ll see churches, mosques and Chinese temples as well as Buddhist wats.
And that unusual name? We heard it derives from a fang tree (Caesalpinia sappan), whose seed apparently resembles in shape the Fang Valley. (There are others!)
Arriving in Fang by Route 107 leading up from Chiang Mai, you enter along a wide four-lane road with median divide. A large, new hospital is on your left and Macro and Tesco Lotus superstores on your right. You might think it's a big town as you peer through your visor or bus window but then it stops abruptly and dissolves into old wooden shophouses and winding, tree-lined lanes. Fang, if you’ll pardon the pun, is all mouth!
But so much the better. The impressive and busy entrance has the modern hospital, convenience stores, supermarkets, police station, banks and ATMs plus the town’s main market, leaving the rest of Fang cute and quiet. The four-lane highway stops at a traffic-lit crossroads, where Route 1095 heads off northeast towards Mae Ai and Tha Ton and a lane heads straight on up a low hill home to Fang’s leafy suburbs and a couple of very impressive wats. This is the old part of town. Back at the lights a left turn takes you down Suan Dok Road, past the excellent Phumanee Home, to a strip of bars – Fang’s entertainment centre.
A new bypass to the west has side roads leading off to tourist sites Nam Roo and Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park while the main Ang Khang road branches off some 15 kilometres south of town just before Chai Prakarn. Tha Ton is 25 kilometres to the northeast.
By Mark Ord.