With an early history centred around the Golden Triangle’s opium trade, Mae Salong is predominantly a tea growing region these days and graced by many gorgeous valleys.
Using Chiang Rai as a base, heading out on a little day trip to Mae Salong, but the transport is a bit of saga on the first try, so need another try…
Scam travel to Mae Salong
A young girl on the bus advises to get off at the market in Mae Chan a few kilometres before the turn-off, which is where you pick up the Songthaew to Mae Salong. The bus conductor says no and so, this is where the scam begins.
The bus conductor tells tourists to get off along the highway just before the Mae Salong turn-off, which is basically in the middle of nowhere. A Songthaew is conveniently waiting for unsuspecting tourists. If you’re not aware of the scam, which the bus driver and conductor perpetuates, then you’ll pay dearly for the privilege of a ride to Mae Salong as the turn-off is still an hour away from Mae Salong.
Of course the Songthaew rips you off to the tune of 400B one-way whilst smirking in your face, as he thinks you have no other choice as a tourist but to cough up the cash.
Although this guy is the only transport around, we do have another choice – a pain though. Instead, decide not to feed the scam and walk back along the highway to the service station and enjoy a local coffee at the station’s café to wait for the next bus back to Chang Rai, and try again tomorrow.
Correct travel to Mae Salong
At the Chang Rai bus station, the bus board states a direct bus to Mae Salong in its timetable. However, this is not entirely correct either as we learnt the previous day. The bus (50B) only takes you to Mae Chan – make sure you get off at the market area here – to then catch another Songthaew (20B) to take you through to Mae Salong.
The last part of this trip takes you around very windy roads and hills but the scenery is gorgeous. If you suffer from travel sickness, then I suggest you pop a pill before the start of this journey as Thai drivers are a little crazy on the pedal.
The last part of the trip is odd as we arrive at an army checkpoint only a couple of kilometres out of Mae Salong. Everyone piles out of the Songthaew to wait for half an hour, before piling back into the same Songthaew then continuing to Mae Salong. This also happens on the return journey and I’m not sure why really, does anyone know?
Finally arriving at Mae Salong after the saga, miss the tea plantation after all as it’s spread across 10 kilometres and we just don’t have enough time or further transport.
You can hire private drivers from Chiang Rai to Mae Salong for the day but I hear it’s expensive – although if you’re strapped for time, this may be a good alternative.
The last Songthaew from Mae Salong to Mae Chan is quite early at around 16:00 hrs and you then have to wait for another bus to Chiang Rai. So, after the previous day’s palaver, I don’t want to miss this last bus as sadly, buses don’t service the actual Mae Salong region.
Once in Mae Salong town, the Akha Hill Tribe ladies badger you like there’s no tomorrow.
Selling their goods and trinkets, be prepared to part with some cash – you’ll be followed everywhere until you do buy something.
Most of the items are handmade by the colourful ladies and even if you buy a small trinket, it’s something and not expensive at all. Perhaps a souvenir for someone back home?
This is how these ladies make a small amount of cash.
The Akha hawkers wear traditional dress and it’s simply gorgeous.
The elaborate beaded headdress is also made with silver coins and baubles, which must weigh a ton. I’m told that the headdress is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter – can anyone confirm this theory?
A sleepy small town with several shops, local restaurants, small hotels, guest houses, and a few tea houses. Make sure you relax in a local tea house and try some of the local yummy tea, whilst watching the town go by…after all, this is the reason most travellers come to Mae Salong.
Also check out the small stalls off the main road heading down a little hill – football pitch on the right – as you can buy some really cheap scrumptious cashews and other Thai snacks to devour on your return trip to Chiang Rai.
Tomb of General Tuan
If you have time, trek up to the mausoleum of Mae Salong’s founder and former drug warlord, Kuomintang General Tuan Xi-Wen.
The small museum is unfortunately all in Chinese.
It’s worth the hike up the steep hill for around 500 metres through the lovely lush dense forest just for the spectacular view of Mae Salong.
Is Mae Salong worth visiting?
The stunning views and fascinating people-watching makes Mae Salong definitely worth visiting. Not your typical Thai town with more of a Chinese feel, there’s also a lot of history in this region. Perhaps it’s because this mountaintop town was founded in 1960 during the Chinese Civil war, by the Kuomintang (KMT) army fleeing Yunnan after its defeat by Mao Tse Tung’s forces.
Before setting off this region needs a little more forward planning, otherwise, you waste too much time and won’t see much at all – for now, it’s back to Chiang Rai.