Doi Mae Salong (official name Santikhiri) is a Yunnanese town in the mountains of Northern Thailand, formed in 1949 by Chinese settlers who had fled Myanmar. The centre of the town is small but atmospheric, with temples, traditional wooden teahouses and Chinese bakeries and is surrounded by beautiful green valleys and tea plantations.
We only had a day there and, exhausted after a long day of driving from Mae Sai, didn’t manage to explore as much as we wanted to. But we did make time to visit one of the tea plantations on the outskirts of town.
The plantation was set in beautiful surroundings overlooking the valley. There was a restaurant, a shop full of intricate china tea sets and a tea tasting area. I don’t know whether they have tour groups stopping by earlier in the day as part of a trip to Mae Salong but there was certainly no one else around when we were there.
A young girl and boy were sat behind the counter. As we entered they immediately jumped up and called us over for a tea tasting. They then commenced the most elaborate tea ritual I have ever witnessed with numerous contraptions all brewing, filtering and flavouring. It was more reminiscent of a science lab than a tea shop. A few minutes later I was presented with a whole variety of different teas to taste.
My favourite was Oolong tea, a traditional Chinese tea. This one had been brewed with dried kaffir limes which gave it an even more delicious flavour. But there were loads of other varieties from herbal and fruit teas to rice tea (which I did not like at all).
I had spent the morning googling places to stay and after seeing the photos of Mae Salong Mountain Home my mind was made up – a beautiful hilltop resort on the outskirts of the village overlooking the mountains.
And it didn’t disappoint. The first thing we saw was the restaurant sat on top of the hill with views over the valley. Beyond that the hill sloped downwards with individual bungalows scattered down the mountainside, each with a terrace and panoramic view over the surrounding countryside. It was heaven.
After a quick sleep and a shower we ventured into the actual village itself. First impressions were great. The town was picturesque and quiet, towered over by green hills on all sides.
We headed straight for a tiny café full of locals. It looked more like a living room than a cafe with a woman at the front serving food from a stall. She could speak no English and we could speak very little Thai so she just gestured for us to sit down and served us up two bowls of noodles which appeared to be the only thing on the menu. But why serve more when you do that one thing so well? It was absolutely delicious – fresh rice noodles in a spicy broth with plates of chilli and herbs to flavour it with. Even now, thinking about that meal still makes my mouth water!
Afterwards we met my friend Hannah who was also staying in town and, after a bit of exploring, ended up in the only place we could find that was open – a karaoke bar of course. In actual fact is was more of a karaoke restaurant than bar but at least there was actual music in this one unlike the strange, deserted karaoke bar we stumbled upon in Mae Sai.
The whole place was glowing red because of the Chinese lanterns strung across the ceiling. Aside from us, the only other people there were three Thai girls. They were sat down eating a meal with a whole table full of food in front of them. But they weren’t saying a word to each other. Instead they were passing the microphone between themselves and singing along to the lyrics and Thai music videos on screen. Inbetween songs they just watched each other sing and tucked into the banquet in front of them. A very different type of meal to what I am used to.
The hornet saga
The next morning I woke to a loud buzzing sound overhead. When my eyes finally focused I realised that there was a huge hornet circling above us. We had foolishly left the shutters open overnight and it had managed to get in.
A second later it started repeatedly diving, sting-first, into the mosquito net right next to my head. Now I’m not particularly good with insects at the best of times so a giant insect that seems intent on killing me is my worst nightmare.
So I did what any self-respecting female would do…I asked Dom to get rid of it for me. But all I was met with was his point blank refusal. A bit of arguing and a lot of sulking later, I finally built up the courage to jump out of bed and run up to reception to ask for help.
The owner was a massive tall guy so I assumed that he would be the one who came down to help get rid of the hornet. But instead he called over to a tiny Thai girl working in the restaurant, handed her some insecticide and a broom and told her to get on with it.
Back in the room, the girl was clearly terrified, tentatively spraying at the air and trying to hit the hornet with a broom, missing every time and running back in terror when it started to move. She was even more scared than I was. Feeling guilty I took the insecticide in a small attempt to help but did an equally futile job. All the while Dom just lay there watching, safely underneath the mosquito net and not offering any help at all, a fact that I will not let him live down even to this day.
Eventually the Thai girl went to get help from a different guy who was not in the slightest bit fazed and within minutes the hornet was gone.
Once the hornet was gone we packed up and begrudgingly checked out of the room. One night wasn’t enough to spend in that gorgeous resort. We spent our last morning exploring the town and climbing the exhausting 718 steps to Wat Santikhiri, a temple at the very top of a hill overlooking Mae Salong. Even more insanely we decided to do it in the midday heat. But the views were completely worth it – unobscured views across the village and surrounding valleys.
After making it down we rewarded ourselves with lunch at a tiny bakery in the centre of the village, drawn there by the incredible smell of freshly baked bread wafting down the street. The owner, clearly very proud of her little place (and for good reason), took me on a tour of her kitchen explaining to me what all the batches of freshly cooked breads were. There was bread everywhere I looked – savoury bread, sweet bread, pizza bread. I wanted to eat all of it!
And I certainly gave it a good go, ordering a huge plate of Thai noodles with a side of freshly baked bread rolls filled with sweet strawberry jam to take with us for the journey back to Chiang Rai.
Despite its small size, I would have easily been able to spend an extra day or two exploring the village and surrounding area (or just to sit in Mae Salong Mountain Home and admire the views) but unfortunately we only had time to stay there for the day. So until next time Mae Salong…