Photo: Pretty valleys around Mae Salong.

Hin Taek

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Hin Taek (Broken Rock) is another of northern Thailand’s remote spots with a bad reputation and a new fluffy name. Officially renamed Thoed Thai (Honour Thai), Hin Taek is the bad boy of bad Thai towns. For nearly 10 years this was the home and headquarters of Khun Sa: drug lord or freedom fighter, opium king or heroic Shan nationalist. Back in the day, this head of a private army of 20,000 was, according to the CIA, the most wanted man in the world.



The road to Hin Taek

The road to Hin Taek.

Like nearby Mae Salong, which was renamed Santikhiri, the new name has failed to stick. And while road signs and certain maps use Thoed Thai, to residents it will always be Hin Taek.

According to local history, the town was originally founded by Akha, who settled down here in 1903, making it the first Akha settlement in Thailand. These days, it’s mostly inhabited by Shan and Yunnanese — survivors and descendants of the KMT — while the surrounding hills are home to Akha, Lisu, Lahu and even some Yao. The community contains Protestant and Catholic churches, Chinese temples, Thai-Shan wats and a mosque. Indeed according to local lore, the Thai government once brought up a group of community leaders from the country’s far south to show them how such a mix of people could live so harmoniously.

Khun Sa himself was forced back over the Burmese border after Thai army attacks in 1982, but his shadow still looms large over Hin Taek. Many older residents remember this, by all accounts, gregarious character who was often seen strolling around the market chatting with locals and who financed and constructed schools, housing, clinics and roads for the townsfolk.

The man himself

The man himself.

Drug lord or freedom fighter — or most likely both — he may have been the CIA and DEA’s most wanted but to locals he was Uncle Sa. Today Hin Taek is best known tourism-wise for its Khun Sa Museum established in his old headquarters on the edge of town. This small compound, up a short side track behind the town market, recently suffered flood damage and was bombed by the Thai airforce in the early 1980s but, while not exactly a state of the art museum, is reasonably well maintained. It’s as much a memorial as a museum — they definitely can’t get many visitors — and when we visited there was no curator, caretaker or ticket vendor. We have seen dustier and more cobweb-festooned museums in the region. In theory it’s open daily, 08:00-17:00, and there may be a small entrance fee to pay during high season.

The former base, now museum

The former base, now museum.

The museum has photos, maps and some English-language information. While several buildings are kept locked, a couple of exhibition rooms should be open and you can visit Khun Sa’s office and bedroom. The original bed sheets are there — just covered with a plastic dust sheet — and his old Shan United Army uniform hangs on the wall. A life size wax dummy of the man sits behind his office desk smoking a cheroot, lending a slightly creepy feel; when we were there, there was no other sign of life in the whole place. (We did actually say, ‘Sawatdee, khrap!’ to the dummy on first glimpse.)

Think deserted museum, dingy room....

Think deserted museum, dingy, ill-lit room …

It’s only going to take 20 minutes or so for a visit, even if you read everything there is in English, but anyone with a minimal interest in the area’s colourful, and still recent, history ought to find it fascinating. It was after all Khun Sa who did more than anyone else to create the infamy of the Golden Triangle.

Back in town, the large morning market, open from daybreak to later morning, caters to a large swathe of villages from these border mountains. The small town is split in two sections by the Kham River and the market, plus most of the town’s facilities such as ATMs, cafes, noodle shops and convenience stores are located in the north section. Songthaews connecting Hin Taek to the outside world leave from the main street outside the market. There is a rather large police station at the entrance to town on the left and the best guesthouse, Rimtaan, is also at the entrance to town on the left.

Afternoon n the morning marrket

Afternoon in the morning market.

The colourful market and highly unusual museum aside, there isn’t much else to see in town, but you can explore to the north where sealed Route 4032 continues through the mountains along the border. Plenty more great scenery and villages lie waiting to be discovered. Rest assured if there are any border issues at the time of your visit, the police and army checkpoints won’t let you go any further. The owner at Rimtaan Guesthouse is a very knowledgable source of information on the area so can provide suggestions and advice.

The delightful Rimtaan Guesthouse, Hin Taek

The delightful Rimtaan Guesthouse, Hin Taek.

Very, very few foreign visitors make it up here — all the more reason to come check it out.


How to get there
As far as public transport goes, blue songthaews in the centre of town outside the morning market leave throughout daylight hours for Mae Chan, costing 60 baht. Connecting with Mae Salong, you would need to alight at the checkpoint and T-junction 12 kilometres south. For Chiang Rai, change at Mae Chan. Sealed Routes 3051 and 4032 to the border at Mae Mob are in good condition though the 1334 which cuts directly to Mae Fah Luang four kilometres south of Hin Taek is not. On our trip in late 2015, we were advised, by locals and army, to return to the Mae Salong-Mae Chan highway and take Route 1338 leading north instead. This is a very scenic and generally well-surfaced, if slightly torturous mountain road, which eventually comes out in Mae Fah Luang and Doi Tung, though we had to ask directions several times.

For the museum, head into the centre of Hin Taek on Route 3051 and look out for English language signs on your right. The turn off for Khun Sa's camp is just after the PT petrol station. From here a sealed lane leads some 500m up a wooded hill-side.

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Location map for Hin Taek


What next?

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




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