You can read about Mae Salong on Wiki Travel and Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. To understand the culture of the place you might want to read an article published by the New York Times, or another published in Chiang Mai’s City Life web news. But all that is not the same as reading about what a vegan couple did while there in November 2019. In a nutshell, we walked around a lot and ate and read. For more details, read on…
We stayed at a hilltop hotel with wonderful views of the valley below and the mountains in the distance, the Phumektawan Resort (most links here take you to Google Maps where all the details, reviews, photos, etc. are available). When my wife told them we were vegan, they assured us that the kitchen would be able to serve plant-based meals. For the most part they did. Rice, veggies and very spicy tofu worked when we had dinner there, while breakfast was a modest instant coffee or tea, toast and fruits. The beauty of the sunrise and sunsets upstaged the food anyway.
We arrived in the afternoon after about 90 minutes by taxi from Chiang Rai. We were welcomed by the Chinese hotel owners who sat us down and served us a nice tea from a local plantation. We were immediately taken by the views over the hilltops and the fresh air. After settling in to our comfortable room, we relaxed and read for a while before dinner, and after dinner we just relaxed some more. After all, we were there to relax and read, and reading on our private balcony overlooking the valley was just the thing.
The hotel owners offered us a lift to the village 3.3 kilometres to the west, so after breakfast we hopped into their pickup truck and off we went. There wasn’t much happening that morning, which was fine with us as we only wanted to take in the views, the fresh air and the scenery. We saw the street with the market decorated by colourful lanterns and wandered around the back alleys to see the wide variety of homes. Before leaving the village, we grabbed some coffee at what is now my favourite cafe/restaurant in all of Thailand, Xin Zhi Dai.
Xin Zhi Dai
Xin Zhi Dai is heavenly. Great coffee. A Chinese aunty makes you feel at home, running the place with other family members. They bake, they cook, they do the barista thing. They have soy milk for the coffee (vegans are happy). It was so great that we returned later in the day for a dinner feast, which included the best onion rings on the planet, a medley of other plant-based dishes that tasted as great as they looked, and beer too. I wrote about that in a Google Maps review, with photos.
So after Xin Zhi Dai we set our sites on a hill walk. That basically entailed spotting a pagoda on the hill, moving up and following signs. The first stop was the Wat Santikhiri (wat means temple). Then, several hundred stairs later (yes, they’ve built a pedestrian stairway, with several rest stations, up the side of this steep hill, where you might bump into one of the hill tribe people) we arrived at Phra Borommathat Chedi Sinagarindra Mahasanti Khiri, which is actually two pagoda/memorial/monument things where there are nice views of the valley and village below. There are some hill tribe people selling souvenirs, with not too much touting (I ignored them, they ignored me).
After that we walked along the road to จุดชมพระอาทิตย์ตก ดอยแม่สลอง, which is some kind of memorial pagoda with nice scenic views over the valleys. Google Translate indicates that the place is called Doi Mae Salong sunset viewpoint, so it’s probably nice at sunset. Along the road we passed some trekking paths, narrow single-track trails. I went about 100 metres down one of them into the jungle, then my wife insisted that I return to the road.
After a bit more walking along the road (an expat passing by offered us a lift, which would have defeated the whole point of walking) we arrived at another village with a lot of market activity. Stalls lining both sides of the road with all kinds of wares, cafes, restaurants, a school, plenty happening here.
We continued along the road, occasionally stopping to explore small side-roads, and then we were back at Xin Zhi Dai for that feast I mentioned with the world’s best onion rings. After that, we bought some provisions at the 7-11 before walking all the way back to the Phumektawan Resort. It was a long walk, but we like that.
day four – coffee and cemeteries
Since we had gone to the west the previous day, we decided to head to the east today. The first stop was Yoddoi Coffee And Tea, pretty close to the hotel (in fact, slightly to the west). This hilltop cafe has great views, nice coffee, food, provisions, and it’s run by a couple of very fun and chatty sisters. Lots of fun. And there’s free WiFi.
From there we headed down the road, to the east, yes really, towards a small, nearby village, enjoying the views as we walked. With no specific destination in mind, we meandered. One kinda interesting discovery was a Chinese cemetery hidden behind trees and bushes and overgrowth. A few Christian graves were even wedged in.
Across the road from that is ไร่ชา 101, which appears to appear in Google Maps more than once with slightly different names and locations (for example; 101 Tea Green View Resort, Tea 101 Factory and Plantation, and 101 Tea Green View Resort all seem to be for basically the same place, although the ไร่ชา 101 entry is the most accurate location, or pin drop as they say). We found a bench in the shade there and pretty much hung out and read and napped the afternoon away before wandering around the premises, checking out the rooms, and enjoying a meal.
Now I’ll be a little Google Maps nerdish… but it’s only because this is the only way to describe our route through some local residential roads (where the streets have no names?) as we headed back to our hotel. So I’ll say it like this; from the 101 Tea Resort we took the local roads to this intersection, then made a sharp right back towards the main road. The views (as always up here) were nice. The only downside was a couple dogs, not strays, that can appear aggressive, but I reckon they are just protecting their owners homes, and we didn’t get attacked or anything, just barked at by dogs behind fences. Avoiding eye contact and just moving quietly along seemed to be the most effective way of dealing with them.
And the next day a taxi took us to the airport.
Mae Salong works well as a place to get away from it all. While there I did a social media detox (not because of a lack of WiFi, as there was plenty of that). Not a lot is happening, so tranquility is abundant, and the food is good. The air is fresh. I’d go back and wander around again next time I desire solitude and peace. Yup.