With an early history centred on 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, decided on a little day trip to Mae Salong, but the transport was a bit of saga on the first try and had to try again.
Scam way to Mae Salong
Caught a morning bus from the main bus station in Chiang Rai, only to be dumped along the highway just before the Mae Salong turnoff. A young girl on the bus tried to tell us 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 but the bus conductor said no, and so, this is where the scam started…
The bus conductor told us to get off along the highway just before the Mae Salong turn-off, which is basically in the middle of nowhere. This is where a Songthaew conveniently waits for unsuspecting tourists and if you’re not aware of the scam, which the bus driver/conductor perpetuates, then you’ll pay dearly for the privilege. The turn-off is still an hour away from Mae Salong. Of course the Songthaew will rip you off to the tune of 400B one-way whilst smirking in your face as he thinks you have no other choice and being a tourist, you’ll cough up the cash. This guy was the only transport around but we did have another choice (although a pain), we decided not to feed the scam and walked back along the highway to the service station. Here we decided on a local coffee at the station’s café and waited for the next bus back to Chang Rai; decided to try again the following day.
Correct way to Mae Salong
At the Chang Rai bus station, the bus timetable boards state a direct bus to Mae Salong; however, this is not entirely correct. 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), then catch another Songthaew (20B) to take you through to Mae Salong. The last part of the trip takes you around very windy roads and hills but gorgeous scenery. If you suffer from travel sickness, then it’s wise to pop a pill before you start.
The last part of the trip was odd as we arrived at an army checkpoint only a couple of kilometres from Mae Salong and everyone had to pile out of the Songthaew and wait for half an hour, before piling back into the same Songthaew and continuing to Mae Salong. This also happened on the return journey and I’m not sure why really.
Finally arriving at Mae Salong, didn’t see the tea plantation after all as it was spread across 10 kilometres and we didn’t have enough time or further transport. The last Songthaew from Mae Salong to Mae Chan is at around 16:00 and you then have to wait for another bus to Chiang Rai. So, after the previous day’s palaver, I didn’t want to miss this as there’s no buses servicing the actual Mae Salong area.
Once in Mae Salong town, the Akha Hill Tribe ladies badger you like there’s no tomorrow, selling their goods and trinkets, so, be prepared to part with some cash – you will be followed everywhere until you do buy something. Most of the items are handmade by the ladies and even if you buy a small trinket, it’s something.
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, try some of the local tea, and watch the town go by; after all, this is the reason most travellers come to Mae Salong.
Also check out the small shops 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, walk up to the mausoleum of Mae Salong’s founder and former drug warlord, Kuomintang General Tuan Xi-Wen. It’s worth the walk up the steep hill and through the lovely lush forest (about 500 metres) just for the spectacular view of Mae Salong. The small museum is unfortunately all in Chinese.