Thailand has so many charming places to see and so many thrilling things to do that it can be a bit overwhelming. Most tourists head for the beaches or to the jungle for elephant trekking, but there is one spot that lacks all of the sparkle and photo-ops the big destinations like Phuket and Pattaya offer up, but is nonetheless one of the most charming and relaxing places in the world.
Doi Mae Salong is a small mountain town that is about an hour up narrow winding roads from the city of Mai Sai down in the flat. The people speak in soft quite voices, smile often, and shine with a health that only clean mountain air and constant consumption of tea can bring.
Tea. That is what sits at the heart of Mae Salong today, and oh what tea. Some teas there already excel by far their counterparts in Taiwan or China. You can not sit down at a restaurant without being brought a nice pot of oolong, usually grown by the proprietors themselves.
Note that I said “already”, and that is an important point, as tea as a way of life is a relatively new thing there. Mae Salong was more or less undeveloped, people only by the various hill tribes (who are still there, by the way) until the Maoist Revolution.
After they stopped flying Chiang Kai-Shek’s all but defeated soldiers out of Burma and into Taiwan, there were a few thousand left behind. Some made their way into Laos, some remained in Burma, and some wandered through the mountains to Mae Salong. They refused to give up the fight, and to bankroll their ongoing efforts they turned to opium production and for years the area refined more poppy and produced more opium than anywhere else in Asia.
The fighters were pseudo-conscripted by the Thai military to keep an eye on Chinese activity to the north, so the drugs were overlooked. After years of faithful service, they were granted Thai citizenship and given funds to turn the poppy fields into tea fields. Cultivars were brought up from Taiwan and modern Mae Salong began to take shape.
You can literally taste this history in every bight of food and sip of tea you take in the now quiet and peaceful mountain town. And with a strong Chinese heritage (Mandarin is still widely spoken there) that food is a nice break from Thai fare. Just make sure you don’t drink too much (or any) tea without first eating a little something; try the fermented pork sausage, most delicious.