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Published: April 30th 2010
A bus dropped us on the highway at the turnoff to the tea growing area of Mae Salong - from there we caught a ride in a truck taxi for the winding two hour trip into the mountains. It was very pretty - lots of terraced fields, wide views and as we got closer to Mae Salong we passed many tea plantations. Once in town we found a small cabin (Shin Sane Guesthouse) in which to spend the next couple of nights - the owner was a very cheery man and the guest house was next to the local covered market - convienient for early morning market visits! We set off for a long walk along some of the dirt paths leading out of the town. Mae Salong was settled by the the 93rd Regiment of the Kuomintang (KMT) army - Chiang Kai Chek's nationalist army) - who fled China after the Communist takeover of the country in 1949. Mae Salong today still has a strong Chinese influence with Yunnanese still spoken by the Chinese refugees who make up 90% of the population of the region. It was funny to see all the signposts in Chinese, Thai and English!
a great walk through the tea plantations - the villages were very pretty - most were covered in flowering vines and full of busy people going about their daily chores. We wandered around a school which we thought was empty until we came upon a row of plastic sandals outside a closed classroom door. It was very quiet - I think all the children must have been having an afternoon siesta. After leaving the school we were suddenly surrounded by a herd of horses grazing on the grass which edged the pathways - they are used to carry goods between the the villages as the paths between them were quite steep. The region was was infamous for all the opium poppy plantations.
Later that day we both had very a vigourous massage which felt so good afterwards we promptly booked the lady for another one each the next day! A quiet evening followed - the town was deserted after dark. Next morning we woke early and spent an hour at the local market - it was chilly, but very busy. We breakfasted at the local bakery - he made really nice banana muffins - which we ate in the baker's
front room after he brewed us some very strong coffee in his kitchen. After breakfast we hired a motor scooter for the day to explore the surrounding area. The roads were very steep and the bike (only 100cc) had a bit of trouble getting up the steeper of the hills. It was funny - I actually had to get off and walk some of the time - the bike was not going to go up them with both of us on it! We had a great day though - everytime we saw a sign pointing to a village we went off the main road and headed down the dusty dirt track to find it. We visited - and were made very welcome - Chinese, Akha and Lishu villages. At the Akha village we drove through to find somewhere to park the bike. By the time we had parked we looked up and all the old ladies were running down the hill towards us waving baskets of handicrafts at us. We were totally swarmed - but had a fun time buying a couple of cheap fabric from them. Nice people! We bypassed the villages where a group of Karen long neck
refugees from Burma live - we were greeted with a long row of tourist shops and entrance fees to visit the area. Busloads of tourists come from Chiang Rai to visit this group of villages but it wasn't for us. We much prefer the smaller ones who see many less tourists. At the Chinese village we sat with a group of elderly ladies who were babysitting the village children and chatted and played with the kids whilst we had a tea break.
On the way back to Mae Salong - we had actually done a surprising amount of kilometres on that little bike - we stopped at the Nationalist's Army museum on the outskirts of Mae Salong. It was a very impressive building with one hall dedicated to the soldiers who died during the war. The room was lined with hundreds of bamboo memorial sticks. From there we walked to a nearby temple - it was going to be one of the last temples we would visit this trip so that made us a little sad! Late that afternoon we spent an hour at a very European coffee shop we discovered - great coffee, fabulous views and the cake wasn't
bad either! It started to rain very heavily whilst we were there and we got very wet whilst going back to the guest house. Our masseur was waiting....
Next morning were took the bike to some big markets on the edge of the town and did a little more bargaining for last minute gifts before catching a bus back down to Chiang Rai. We were leaving that night to fly to Bangkok. We spent the afternoon quietly reading at the guest house before they took us out to the airport. We overnighted at a very comfortable hotel close to Bangkok airport. Our ports were repacked and sorted - we only had a few more days to go before our arrival back in Australia. Next morning, exactly 40 weeks after we left Australia, we caught a flight to Hong Kong.
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