Photo: Chiang Dao.


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Head north out of Chiang Dao on Route 1322 until Thailand runs out and you hit the Burmese frontier. There you’ll find the remote, border village of Arunothai. It’s around 50 kilometres along a great road — to be strictly accurate, Arunothai is actually some three kilometres shy of the border at Lak Taeng.

A large part of the fun, especially if you’ve got your own transport, is the wonderful drive to get here, though the town itself is a fascinating little spot in its own right.

’Downtown’ Arunothai

Downtown Arunothai.

Leaving Chiang Dao on Route 107 (the Fang road), you’ll see a fork in the road at around the seven-kilometre mark, indicating Wiang Haeng and Arunothai to the left. This is the Ping valley — the same Ping that makes its way down to Chiang Mai — and so the route is largely flat, with lush farmland stretching out on either side, bordered by forest covered mountains. You’ll see mighty Doi Chiang Dao to the south and catch glimpses of the rugged peaks of Ang Khang to the east.

The Ping Valley

The Ping valley.

A further 10 kilometres sees you arrive in the small village of Mae Ja, where a right turn heads off to Phrao and a left climbs steeply towards Wiang Haeng. Continue north. Half way between Mae Ja and Arunothai you’ll find signposts for Pha Daeng National Park. The visitor centre, park headquarters, hot springs and an attractive waterfall are just off the main road and definitely well worth a stop.

Arunothai’s traditional style market

Arunothai’s traditional style market.

This far-flung border settlement was originally founded by the Kuomintang — 3rd regiment, 93rd division, to be precise — and General Ly’s old headquarters are just up the road towards Ang Khang in Tham Ngop village.

Arunothai has obviously benefited from border trade (no doubt of varying kinds), and it has fertile agricultural land and good roads, so today it’s a prosperous town, in contrast to some of the more isolated, rustic villages up the mountain. Originally named Muang Na, it’s another one of those remote towns with bad reputations who’ve been given new and fluffier names of late by the Thai government in order to improve their image. (See for example Ban Rak Thai, another KMT border town in Mae Hong Son, or Khun Sa’s former base at Hin Taek village, now renamed Thoed Thai.) The sub-district is still officially known as Muang Na.

Storm over Doi Ang Khang

Storm over Doi Ang Khang.

While most residents are of Yunnanese origin, Shan are also present with Lisu, Karen and Palaung in the surrounding hills. It’s not exactly a tourist town in the same way as KMT-founded Mae Salong is – it’s too isolated and there aren’t enough tea plantations — though there are a couple of souvenir shops.

Scenery on highway 1340 near Sinchai Village

Scenery on highway 1340 near Sinchai Village

Physically it resembles Mae Hong Son’s Ban Rak Thai, though without the rip-off tourist joints, thanks to its Chinese-style walled houses and a scenic lake forming the town’s focal point. Several impressive villas skirt the lake, so some people up here have plenty of dosh!

Arunothai has a small hospital, police station, petrol station, several ATMs, a market and 24-hour convenience store.

The town comes alive on Friday mornings when the weekly market sets up just north of town up the road leading to the border; Thai, Chinese, Shan and Lisu vendors and shoppers converge, with plenty of local specialities and produce from over the border on display too.

Arunothai weekly market

Arunothai weekly market.

Arunothai’s clear highlight — and the reason we did a second, 100 kilometre round trip the following day just for lunch — is the wonderful Tayong Yunnan Noodle Restaurant. It’s been around since 1976 with its home-made noodle, wanton and dumpling recipes passed down from father to children. They have an English-language menu, and English is spoken, with the house favourites of khao soi and gyoza setting you back around 40 baht. It’s a wonderful spot — find it a few hundred metres down the road to the border from the main crossroads in the town centre. Tayong is open daily 10:00-18:00.

Tayong’s gyo-za - fried, pork dumplings

Tayong’s gyoza, or fried pork dumplings.

If you fancy a coffee, then next door to Tayong is Poo Coffee, which is a lot better than it sounds, and has nothing to do with civets. If you’re really unlucky and Tayong is closed, then your second best bet is Pirom Noodles, on the same side of the same road between the crossroads and Tayong.

Tayong again!

Tayong again!

While Arunothai makes for a great day trip, the small town’s accommodation options are uninspiring and it’s best to either return to Chiang Dao or head on elsewhere for your night’s kip. If you do find yourself needing a room, a couple of possibilities lie on the same road north out of town heading for the border. The grungy Arunthai Guesthouse [(053) 045 602, (085) 620 3606] has small, basic fan rooms with attached, albeit pretty grotty, bathroom with squat toilet for an overpriced 400 baht; across the road a grocery store has a motel-style block of better, cleaner and larger rooms going for 800 baht under the name of Long Shang Rooms [(053) 045 574, (087) 173 7196].

How to get there
Songthaews leave every 20 minutes from the central crossroads costing you 50 baht for the ride to Chiang Dao. There are less frequent ones heading to Fang for the same price.

If you have your own transport then there are three options for arriving in, or departing from, Arunothai. Firstly the highway back to Chiang Dao as described earlier and secondly a sealed road winding 14 kilometres up the mountains to the east to Sinchai village. From here you have the choice of continuing up the mountain to Ang Khang or taking a 12 kilometre dip down to Chai Prakarn on the main Chiang Dao to Fang highway.

Finally a third road splits off the 1178 at Lin Luang village, 6.5 kilometres south of Arunothai, which takes you over the mountains via Muang Nga to Route 1322 at the halfway point between Piang Luang and Wiang Haeng. This is sealed but not in great shape and is around 63 kilometres total distance.

Around 50km from Chiang Dao

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Location map for Arunothai

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chiang Dao.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Chiang Dao.
 Check out our listings of other things to do in and around Chiang Dao.
 Read up on how to get to Chiang Dao, 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 Chiang Dao? Please read this.
 Browse tours in Thailand with Tourradar.

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