I had it in my head from the moment I read about it in Lonely Planet, I wanted to go to Mae Salong. A small Chinese/Thai village near the Myanmar border it is one road long and high up in the mountains/hills. Maybe I wanted to go because it sounded complicated to get there, a small adventure but it also sounded perhaps more genuine than other places. I was also looking forward to getting out of the city.
Half the adventure was getting there and leaving. I took a bus from Chiang Rai to Pasang – a corner road stop. The bus was packed to the brim! Doors left open so people could sit half out for more space. I landed on a dusty curb with a little side diner and was directed toward the one songthaew waiting for passengers. I was told 8 passengers would take me to Mae Salong…so I started to wait. After about 45 minutes two more passengers arrived. These two passengers were not going to Mae Salong and in the different direction to boot. What I had believed was just 8 passengers in total was 8 passengers to Mae Salong or I would have to pay as if I was chartering the vehicle. A long debate ensued where one guy just wanted me to get out and sit on the curb and wait, the driver wanted me to pay an extortionate price to charter (done with a smile as he knew it was not the right amount) and another guy who was arguing partly in my corner. I refused to get out of the van until it was dealt with. I also have never wanted to speak Thai more than at that moment, you know they are discussing you but you are not really able to add your two cents. Soon another rather grumpy and unsmiling taxi driver arrived who said he would take me all the way. Again bartering for the price. They tried to organise it so I would go with them to the next junction and then I would wait again but unfriendly driver was rather persistent that I go with him. We agreed on a price 400Bht which I had to pay in advance and didn’t particularly want to do but eventually I got there and truthfully for the road 400Bht seemed not a bad price. The road up the hillside to Mae Salong made the previous difficulty melt away. It was beautiful and exactly what I had been missing in Thailand.
I stayed in the Shin Sane Guest House, which slightly resembled an old red farm. For 100bht I had my own room, double bed and there was even a balcony for everyone in the rooms to use. The bathroom was a typical Thai bathroom and shared but for 100Bht it was grand and there were NO Mosquitos! Priceless already.
The walk up to the hill top temple is long if you go the back route, which I did by mistake. I had been walking for a solid hour up hill when I came across the tiniest makeshift temple and almost laughed out loud thinking this couldn’t be it. I was pleasantly surprised when I turned the corner and came across a three level temple. It was really pretty but simple and the view would have been fantastic if I could have seen past the end of my nose. Supposedly from the top you are supposed to see Myanmar but all the burning of brush and crops in the area has left the visibility and air not the clearest.
My second day I signed up for a horse/pony trekking. I had a mule, and a very old one at that, to be pulled by a local villager who spoke not a word of English and was about as interested in taking me around as one would be to write a 5hour computational physics exam. My poor mule took one look at me and tried to hide behind the wall. Probably thinking a grown lady! I can do children she is not a child. To start I am not sure who was more disgruntled with the position me or the mule. First I had a little baby want to go on the donkey so she was appeased but then I had a flood of Chinese tourists think it was soo cute so I promptly got my photo taken with baby and mule. Needless to say the route which we took was great, out of the way and picturesque. I wouldn’t have done it on my own. For the 3 hour trek I walked about 3/4’s of it as I felt so bad for the mule. He didn’t want to go down hills, his legs looked like they were going to buckle and going up I thought of “The Little Engine That Could” and whispered words of encouragement. I do think the villager thought I was a bit nutty not going on the mule or understood my explanation and I know some of the locals gave him a bit of hard time. It was a nice, if slightly awkward morning. The walk felt good, it wasn’t too hot yet and going through little villages, looking over valleys of tea and coffee plantations was something I hadn’t had a chance to do yet and the tea fields gave off a warm summery smell.
I stayed another night in Mae Salong, taking in the sleepy town, loud thunderstorms and relaxed atmosphere and then started the long trek to Pai heading towards the end of my Thai adventures. It took a full day to get there. Two songthaews, one public bus, one long wait and a VIP bus to Pai from Malai. It was well worth it though and I would definitely recommend Mae Salong to anyone if solely for the ride there and back.