Mae Wang is a district of Chiang Mai province, as well as a river, valley and national park, but there isn’t actually a town or village of that name. The most important town (well, large village) and commercial centre for the Mae Wang valley is Ban Kat, often mistakenly identified as Mae Wang village.
Ban Kat itself is a good spot to stop at if you’re on your way up the Mae Wang Valley and it's even worth the minor detour if you’re travelling on Route 108 between Chiang Mai and Chom Thong/Inthanon. The small market is lively and interesting and you may glimpse some Karen or Hmong women from nearby villages in their traditional clothes. There’s a good coffee shop and plenty of simple restaurants.
The district of Mae Wang lies south of the provincial capital, with Sanpatong to the east, Doi Lo and Chom Thong to the south and Hang Dong to the north. It includes the picturesque Mae Wang Valley -- a big favourite of both rafting backpackers and picnicking Thais -- and the spectacular scenery of the eponymously named national park in the foothills of Doi Inthanon.
Bamboo rafting, tubing and kayaking are all popular on the Wang River while the surrounding hills, home to traditional Hmong and Karen villages, hold excellent trekking possibilities. Ban Kat, at the foot of the valley, is just 30 kilometres from Chiang Mai so the valley, national park and unusual Ganesh Museum make for a convenient day trip from the big city. However there are a couple of fine spots to stay overnight if you want to experience the tranquillity of this scenic area once the daytrippers have all gone home. Bear in mind that on fine weekends and Thai holidays Mae Wang can be heaving!
A note on elephants. While we don't advocate chair-riding elephants, there are two elephant camps in the Mae Wang Valley: the Mae Wang Camp in Mae Win village a few kilometres past the rafting point and the Putawan Camp on the opposite bank of the river to Chai Lai. Both are relatively small operations – none of the full-scale shows of Mae Sa and Mae Taeng -- and both are primarily set up for offering rides to both local and foreign visitors. The elephant rides are usually part of organised rafting packages from Chiang Mai.
Putawan has a riverside location and of the two is the best set up to offer bathing opportunities if you wish to interact with the pachyderms without actually mounting them. If you merely wish to observe, then sit in the Chai Lai cafe at the end of the afternoon with a cold one and watch all the elephants come down to the river to bathe.
Ban Kat lies just off the main Route 108, and it’s here that you’ll find the local market, banks, convenience stores and post office as well as songthaew transport to Chiang Mai and Chom Thong. The local hospital and main police station (there's only a box in the village) lie a couple of kilometres out of town up the valley on Route 1013. There are shops and plenty of cafes up the valley but ATMs are few and far between.
Just over a kilometre past Ban Kat, a left turn indicates the route to Mae Wang National Park. The most popular rafting area, myriad riverbank cafes as well as a couple of elephant camps lie around the 12 to 15 kilometre mark further up Route 1013. Continuing past the popular visitors' area an eventual right fork takes you back to Samoeng while a left leads up to Inthanon. Both are sealed but seriously hilly roads.
By Mark Ord.