Monday, February 18, 2008

Mae Salong - China in Thailand

Father & son enjoying breakfast

Looking down on everyone!

My fav hotel!

Getting to Mae Salong is arduous, even with excellent roads in place. It sits strategically high on top of a mountain ridge and no wonder, the Kuomintang Soldiers made it their base in the 50s/60s in their war against Mao's Communist Army. Not easy to spring a surprise attack on them as it offers a bird's eye view of the valley below.

Many of the KMT soldiers settled in Mae Salong and its not surprising the lingua franca here is Mandarin, not Thai. The people are Yunnanese Chinese, the architecture of homes are Chinese, the food is Chinese and its almost like being in China itself - which makes Mae Salong in my opinion, the most interesting town in our adventure.

We stayed at Little Home Guesthouse - which is an old traditional Thai/Chinese house reeking in character. My Aunt Ruth was so fascinated as it reminded her of the kampong houses in her younger days and this was an opportunity for her to stay in one. What was even more amazing is the 200B/$9 a night charge though there is no attached bathroom. Walls/roofs are paper thin and I was having a normal conversation with my aunt though I stayed on the floor above her. But what made this a truly outstanding place is the owner, a 32 yo friendly and humble Chinese man name Mr Chang. We nicknamed him Jet Chang as he looked like Jet Li with his well developed Kung Fu arms. He showered us with the best 5 star service ever experienced. His grandfather was a KMT soldier and this guesthouse was passed to him by his father. Proudly advertised too are horse rides which looked fun.
This place was once a key opium growing region and the KMT organisational skill made it a most efficient production centre. Though opium is now not grown officially and replaced by hi-grade Oolong Tea, it must be difficult to trade down from stratospheric profits of opium to the humble tea. The war efforts of the KMT is well documented in their Memorial Hall which looks as Chinese as Chinese can get. We enjoyed looking through the many photos, tablets and stories displayed in military precision. General Tuan's memorial sits nearby at the old location.

We enjoyed Yunnanese "La-Mian", hand made noodles which is a must eat here at a most reasonable 25B per bowl. The Coffee culture is also slowly making inroads and we sampled a lovely cafe "Sweet Maesalong" that offers incredible views. The cakes there are to die for.

Being Chinese New Year, crackers were fired everywhere through the day. The ones here were really loud and I won't be surprised if they were army issued. Many hill tribes also gather here to sell their wares especially in the morning markets. My best buy of a Chinese Army green canvas boot for 70B was purchased here.

I was hoping to speak to some ex-KMT soldiers (now in their 80s) about their rich past but could only manage to speak to their descendents due to my limited time. That means I will have to make a return visit soon, and I look forward to spending extended time in Mae Salong immensely. Better get my Mandarin brushed up!

No comments: