Mon Cham is a restaurant and “camping resort” situated in the Nong Hoi Royal Project in a remote corner of Chiang Mai’s Mae Rim district. Numerous Royal Project agricultural sites are scattered across Northern Thailand, (such as Mae Fah Luang) and are generally devoted to assisting villagers, in particular hill-tribe people, to diversify their farm production into high income, temperate crops. Many, what for most of Thailand are, exotic crops can be grown at cooler high altitudes and fetch good prices in expat supermarkets and hotels of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Hmong and Akha tribes aren’t traditionally familiar with say strawberries or brussel sprouts, so the projects aim to educate the locals in these new forms of cultivation.
Nong Hoi is a perfect example of a typical Royal Project, being situated on a 1,400m-high mountain ridge slightly above the Hmong village of the same name. The project grows strawberries and certain temperate fruits and vegetables as well as herbs and aromatic plants such as lavender. An additional form of income comes from the tourists that visit these sites and Nong Hoi is particularly popular with Thai tourists — it doesn’t seem to have cropped up on the farang map yet. Yes, it seems Thais are as inclined to drive a way to see a field of brussel sprouts as many Westerners are to photo a pineapple plantation! You can stroll around the herb, flower and vegetable gardens — check out the myraid butterflies — but there is much more to Nong Hoi.
Firstly the view! It’s worth getting to the top of the mountain for the tremendous view alone but also worth it for the awesome and vertiginous restaurant that Mon Cham have constructed right on the ridge line in the centre of the project grounds.
Most products are fresh out of their garden and as well as the usual classics such as fried rice and fried pork with chilli and basil there are some imaginative offerings, such as “UFO eggs” or the dish we sampled, aubergine tempura in spicy black-bean sauce. All are excellently prepared and, with prices from 40 to 100 baht per plate, also reasonably priced. (If you’re not hungry just check out the view with a fruit juice or cold beer.)
The camping part of Mon Cham refers to their “VIP” tents situated just below the ridge line. They go for around 2-3,000 baht a night. The price is a bit steep as is the ridge, but they’d be frequently booked out for weekends and holidays with local tourists anyway. The restaurant can get very busy, particularly at weekends — it is open in the evenings if they have guests staying but otherwise it’s open lunch and afternoon only.
Getting there can be a bit tricky if you don’t have your own transport (and do not attempt the steep climb with two people on a small Honda!). Tuk tuks can’t make it up there so your only choice really is to hire a red songthaew/pick-up. (We paid 600 baht return for the afternoon visit.) If you do have your own means of transport then take the Mae Sa turn-off on the Chiang Mai-Mae Rim road and keep going past the ATV hires, orchid farms and elephant camp until you see a sign on the right hand side for Nong Hoi/Mon Cham. From there it’s a well signposted but steep climb for another 12 kms or so until you reach the mountain top and you can’t go any further — that’s it!
Opening times are variable but in theory it’s open daily until late afternoon. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details or call (081) 806 3993.
By Mark Ord.