Santikhiri village, better known by it's former name Mae Salong
Nestled between tea plantations and rolling mountains 70km north of Chiang Rai, a stone’s throw from the Myanmar border, lies the beautiful village of Santikhiri, more commonly known as Doi Mae Salong.
Founded by Chinese settlers following the Chinese civil war, Mae Salong has retained much of its Chinese heritage. Yunnanese voices escape shop houses and red lanterns adorned with Chinese symbols illuminate the streets.
In fact there is little to remind you that you are still in Thailand other than the smiling faces and warm and friendly nature of the people.
Mae Salong has been called the Switzerland of Thailand and although I’m not sure I’d go that far, the splendour of the stepped tea plantations did remind me of the rice terraces in Ubud, Bali. Any comparison to Ubud is fine praise indeed.
Tea houses line the undulating streets. Many offering tea sampling with eye-popping views of the plantations.
The best view in town however requires a little more effort. Accessed via a flight of 700 steps reaching skyward from Wat Santikhiri temple, Phra Boramathat Chedi is an impressive monument in its own right. However that’s not the primary reason to make this pilgrimage. The breath-taking panorama of Mae Salong and the surrounding mountains are what make the heart punishing climb worthwhile.
Back at ground level a small but interesting market marks the centre of town. Distinct from markets to be found elsewhere in Thailand, it has an unusual mix of Chinese and Thai products as well as decorative items made by the Akha, a local hill tribe, who can be seen around the market wearing their traditional attire.
If you’re thinking Mae Salong sounds pretty nice so far, just wait until you sit down to eat! The food is reason enough in itself to visit. A mouth-watering fusion of Yunnanese and Thai flavours, that result in a taste sensation that far outweighs the sum of its parts.
So, in summary, Mae Salong is an exceptionally picturesque village which boasts sensational surrounding scenery, and sublime food. But despite this it appears to be well off the tourist-trail and is almost completely farang-free by nightfall.
And I’m not surprised! Having spent almost 4 months in Thailand including a week in its more famous neighbour, Chiang Rai, we would have known nothing about Mae Salong had it not been for fabulous YouTube vlog by super-foodie Mark Wiens at Migrationology.com a recommendation we are truly grateful for.