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Piang Luang to Arunothai (Route 1778)

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The recent completion of Highway 1778 linking Piang Luang up with Muang Na and Arunothai now means an awesome loop is on offer, though while the route south from Wiang Haeng to Pai is not yet sealed, it is currently a well-maintained 55-kilometre dirt track.

Route 1788 splits off from the Piang Luang road just a few kilometres short of town and heads off east, paralleling the border, to Muang Na and Arunothai town in Chiang Dao district. Road conditions are admittedly still patchy with some splendid new black top sections; some potholed older bits and one or two short passages where they seem to have run out of tarmac but on the whole eminently passable if you take it carefully and keep your eyes on the roads. Keeping to the central part of the road as much as possible, as the carpet of pine needles can be very slippery, is a good move and fortunately, there isn’t a lot of traffic on this route.

Light traffic but watch those pine needles. Photo taken in or around Piang Luang to Arunothai (Route 1778) , Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

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

Travelling east, the route begins with a steady climb into pine-clad hills with tremendous views on both sides followed by an undulating ride along the ridgeline before descending into a fertile and heavily farmed valley around the old KMT and Shan settlement of Kae Noi. You’ll see traditional Yunnan style houses with walled courtyards in the village and some often elaborate Chinese tombs on the nearby hill slopes. Kae Noi has grocery stores, noodles and petrol while towards the eastern end of the village is a fine little coffee shop Love Kae Noi.

From Kae Noi the route rises again with the hills of Pha Daeng National Park to the south and the Burmese border to the north until a very steep descent leads you down to Muang Na, another of those now sleepy, remote, former KMT/Shan settlements whose mere name in previous times would have sent shivers down the spine of a Thai border patrol trooper. There are some caves signposted at Muang Na which we confess we didn’t have the time to check out.

Always interesting. Photo taken in or around Piang Luang to Arunothai (Route 1778) , Wiang Haeng, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Always interesting. Photo: Mark Ord

You’re now in the heavily cultivated flat lands of the Ping Valley and indeed the insignificant looking stream you cross at Muang Na is the River Ping itself as it flows off the Shan Plateau to the north. After Muang Na the route cuts down to meet the Chiang Dao to Arunothai route and for the latter you need to cut back some 13 kilometres to the north.

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How to get there
The start of this section of the 1178 begins a couple of kilometres south of Piang Luang and is sign-posted Kae Noi. Kae Noi lies around 30 kilometres distant with Muang Na another 20 east. Both ends of the route are in excellent condition though there are some patchy sections in between.

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