Photo: Vrooom vrooom.

Introduction

Our rating:

Blink and you’ll miss it! The tiny market town of Wiang Haeng lies in the centre of the fertile Taeng Valley, hemmed in by the rugged mountains separating it from Mae Hong Son to the south and the Burmese border to the north.



Certainly, one of Chiang Mai Province’s remotest outposts, the town’s domestic importance derives from its role as the administrative centre for this far-flung district. In former times this was a wild region settled by fleeing Kuomintang, Chinese nationalist, troops who competed for control of the smuggling and opium trade with warlords from neighbouring Shan State. The recent completion of Highway 1322 to Chiang Dao, however, has since confirmed Wiang Haeng’s assimilation into the rest of the kingdom. These days it’s a sleepy—albeit still very remote—settlement complete with the standard, modern Thai trappings of air-conditioned 24-hour minimarts, pineapple-topped pizzas and frappuccinos.

Wiang Heng scenes. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Wiang Heng scenes. Photo: Mark Ord

Wiang Haeng does, however, remain a tiny, insignificant dot on the tourist map and up until very recently queries as to “why” were probably best answered with that famous Mallory reply; “because it’s there”. There are nonetheless a couple of interesting sites in the area and with rural road development continuing apace the town has the potential to become, if not exactly a transport hub, then at least a significant stop-off point on some spectacular north Thai loops.

The interesting border villages of Piang Luang and Lak Taeng lie a few kilometres past town on the prolongation of Route 1322 while from the former the newly sealed 1178 cuts a dramatic route through the forest and limestone ridges of Pha Daeng National Park to emerge at Arunothai, another remote border outpost, lying in the shadow of Doi Ang Khang.

Hard at work. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Hard at work. Photo: Mark Ord

To the south of Wiang Haeng, another new road—not yet fully sealed but in good dry season condition—cuts through Huai Nam Dang National Park to emerge at Mae Hong Son’s tourist Mecca of Pai, providing a spectacular escape route should the crowds there get too much. Linked with the Mae Ja, Chiang Dao highway to the east, possibilities abound.

Despite some decent eateries, Wiang Haeng’s accommodation set-up is still for now on the basic side but aforementioned, neighbouring Piang Luang has a couple of fine choices as well as more restaurant options. Both towns are populated by a mix of Shan and Chinese with predominantly Lisu settlements in the surrounding hills. Piang Luang with its hill-side location is a lot more picturesque and would be our shout for an overnight stay but Wiang Haeng has the hospital, police, banks, air-con minimarts and motorbike repair shops.

Bring your camera. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Bring your camera. Photo: Mark Ord

For anyone feeling adventurous and particularly for fans of scenic, mountain motor-biking then a trip up this way comes highly recommended.




Orientation
A classic one street town! Wiang Haeng is laid out alongside Route 1322 as it makes its way from Mae Ja on the Chiang Dao/Arunothai road to Piang Luang on the border of Burma’s Shan State. The town lies in a wide valley filled with paddy-fields and orchards and bordered with forest-clad hills whilst the Taeng River flows south of the town and highway on its way to meet the Ping near Mae Taeng Town. Mae Hong Son’s Soppong district lies due west with Pai situated some 50 kilometres to the southwest.

These days, as in many such tiny settlements, everything seems to revolve around the twenty-four-hour convenience store so buses stop by the incongruous, air-conditioned, brightly lit modern shop and the post office is just after the store as you enter town. The large district hospital lies a short way further west, on the opposite side of the road, with the main police station and district administrative buildings located up a side street to the right. Restaurants, a good coffee shop and the town’s best guesthouse are also to be found in this central stretch. There’s no daily market as such but weekly affairs set up every Wednesday on the south side of the highway at the eastern entrance of town and every Friday on the north side.

Spectacular scenes. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Spectacular scenes. Photo: Mark Ord

Route 1322 continues 15 kilometres north to Piang Luang—the area’s primary tourist destination—while just west of town you’ll see a newly graded, but not yet sealed, route heading off south towards Pai some 60 kilometres distant. Just shy of Piang Luang Route 1178 takes you over the mountains via Kae Noi and Muang Na to Arunothai and Doi Ang Khang.

Safety
Even as recently as 30 or 40 years you may have risked getting caught up in crossfire between KMT and Shan smugglers or held up by bandits on a remote jungle trail but these days, as is the norm for a small and remote northern Thai town, your principal safety concerns are pretty much limited to what can happen on the roads. Having said that, there isn’t heavy traffic in these parts so, aside from a Red Bull crazed minibus driver overtaking on a blind corner, you’ll just need to watch out for potholes, aggressive pooches and slippery pine needles.

One wat one border post. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

One wat one border post. Photo: Mark Ord

Several sections of the surrounding mountain routes had been recently surfaced or re-surfaced when we last rode them in early 2018 but, however good they appear, keep your concentration and drive carefully since you never know what’s around the next corner or what’s going to jump out at you. (On our last trip we had to swerve on otherwise fine, straight stretches to avoid on one occasion a suicidal squirrel and on another a grumpy cobra so, don’t let your guard down for a minute!)

Obviously, the border area is very sensitive—not to mention heavily mined—so be sensible around Lak Taeng where the roads pass within a few feet of Myanmar.

Police
Police and army check-points abound in these parts and while they aren’t interested in a foreigner on a scooter do make sure you slow down and give them a wave anyway instead of just sailing through.

Small town. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Small town. Photo: Mark Ord

The main district police station is just off the highway in the centre of Wiang Haeng and there are small posts, as well as military installations, at Piang Luang and Lak Taeng. If you do have a problem bear in mind few of either the local constabulary or military are likely to speak much English. For tourist police facilities the closest spots are Chiang Dao or Pai.

Wiang Haeng Police Station Up the side street behind the hospital, Wiang Haeng. T: (053) 477 066 Emergencies T: 191

Hospitals
The disproportionate size of Wiang Haeng’s large hospital is due to its role as the principal medical centre for the entire administrative region. As usual, while perfectly competent at patching up a few minor motorbike injuries or dealing with some mild food poisoning, for anything more serious we’d recommend hopping on the minibus back to Chiang Mai.

Wiang Haeng District Hospital Highway 1322, centre of town, Wiang Haeng. T: (053) 477 011-2 Emergencies T: 1669

Light traffic but watch those pine needles. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Light traffic but watch those pine needles. Photo: Mark Ord

Post
Wiang Haeng’s post office is located on the main road more or less opposite the town hospital. They also provide EMS and Western Union services with standard opening times.

Wiang Haeng Post Office Highway 1322, centre of town, Wiang Haeng T: (053) 477 050 Mo–Fr: 08:30–16:30

Climate
Since we’d assume most intrepid travellers venturing to these parts are doing so as part of a northern loop we’ll also refer you to our climate and when to go sections for nearby Pai and Chiang Dao. Rainy season is generally from May through to October; cool and dry from November to February and hot and dry from late February until late April or early May. Note that although the villages of Wiang Haeng and Piang Luang aren’t at high altitudes they can get seriously nippy during winter evenings and you’ll definitely need a fleece for early morning mountain rides. Consequently, bear in mind that, for accommodation, air-con isn’t a necessity for much of the year.

When to go
The only period in the year we would advise avoiding in these parts is the hot dry period from March to May. This is when the air is at its smoggiest due to forest and crop burning and your mountain views—the main highlight of the area—will be seriously compromised.

Plenty of grazing potential. Photo taken in or around Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Plenty of grazing potential. Photo: Mark Ord

Rainy season is perhaps our favourite time with lush forests and stunning skies. Keep a waterproof poncho handy for showers though you’ll never be far from the shelter of the next coffee shop. Bear in mind that, in so far as the route is not yet sealed, heavy rains may well put a dampener on the Wiang Haeng to Pai route.

Cool months are good if you’re planning any hiking or cycling and are also the best time of year to see the spectacular morning “sea of fog” phenomena where cool valleys fill with morning mist and mountains poke through like islands. Your daytime skies won’t be as sharp as rainy season though and by late February the first burning is usually underway.

Resources
As you’d expect, a bit limited in these parts and once again—whether motorcycling or not—the excellent GT-Riders is the best source of local information. The Wiang Haeng area does fall a bit between two of their maps so you’ll be best arming yourself with both their Mae Hong Son Loop and Golden Triangle maps which will then cover all points east and west of Wiang Haeng.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Wiang Haeng.
 Read up on where to eat on Wiang Haeng.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Wiang Haeng.
 Read up on how to get to Wiang Haeng, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Wiang Haeng? Please read this.
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