Photo: Mist and mountains.

Introduction

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Even the briefest description of this remote Chiang Rai Province mountaintop town will go to lengths to point out that Mae Salong isn’t a typical Thai town and feels more as if it belongs in Southern China—or words to that effect. That’s because it did begin life as a Yunnanese settlement founded in the 1960s by remnants of the Kuomintang (KMT) army who fled Yunnan after defeat by Mao Tse Tung’s forces in the Chinese civil war.


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Most elements of the Republican army took refuge in then–Formosa, now–Taiwan, while certain die-hard units escaped through Burma and Laos, from where they continued to raid over the Chinese border, before settling in the sympathetic anti-communist Kingdom of Thailand. The 93rd Division—the so-called “Lost Army”—finally arrived, bedraggled and exhausted in these remote northern reaches, with the 7th Regiment under General Lee settling in Fang’s Doi Ang Khang district and other elements under General Tuan setting up camp in what is today Mae Salong.

Mae Salong is a cute ridgeline town. Photo taken in or around Mae Salong, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Mae Salong is a cute ridgeline town. Photo: Mark Ord

The deal presented by the Thai government to the KMT was: help us fight our own communist insurgents (belonging to the Communist Party of Thailand or CPT) and we’ll let you stay here. Other units settled near Pai, Mae Hong Son, Arunothai and numerous other sites across northern Thailand. They did also spend considerable time and effort fighting Khun Sa and his Shan United Army for control over the lucrative opium trade and Khun Sa’s base, which you can now visit as a short side trip, was located just over the hills at nearby Hin Taek or Thoed Thai village.

Towards the end of the 1980s, with Thailand’s CPT on the wane and the likelihood of Thailand becoming the next Southeast Asian domino decreasing, the drug-financed and more or less private army became a bit of an embarrassment to Thailand and its ally the US. Efforts were taken to bring the region and the KMT under control and the by now ageing Yunnanese soldiers toed the Thai line in return for a peaceful retirement. Khun Sa was forced over the border, Mae Salong was renamed Santikhiri (“Hill of Peace”), poppies were replaced by oolong and the spruced-up region was opened up ... Travelfish members only (Around 2,400 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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