Mae Salong (Santikhiri)

The Chinese Nationalist outpost of Mae Salong is 1300m up on a ridge with a great view of sawtoothed hills. It is at the end of a bumpy road that goes 36km into the harsh border country west of Highway 110. Songthaews take the newly paved route often. They leave from Ban Pa Zang, which is 32 km north of Chiang Rai on Highway 110. The trip takes 90 minutes. A couple of Mien and Akha souvenir villages and the Hill Tribe Training Center, where local minorities learn how to grow cash crops other than opium, might make you want to get off the bus along the way. You shouldn’t have any trouble getting picked up again when you’re done.

Doi Mae Salong is the center of the area’s 14,000 Kuomintang people, who have kept their cultural identity, if not their political cause, for two generations. The Communist Revolution of 1949 threw the Kuomintang (Nationalists) out of power. One group, led by party leader Chiang Kai-shek, went to Taiwan, where they started the Republic of China. The other group, led by General Li Zongren, went to northern Thailand and Burma. The Nationalists’ original plan to take China back from Mao Zedong in a two-pronged attack never worked out, and the remnants of the army in Thailand became major players in the heroin trade. Over the last ten years, the Thai government has worked hard to “pacify” the Kuomintang by using both force and more peaceful methods, such as crop programs to replace opium. At least around Mae Salong, their work seems to have been successful. The slopes to the south of the settlement are covered with a carpet of rich green tea bushes, which shows that their work was successful. Since it was fixed up, Mae Salons is now called Santikhiri, which means “Hill of Peace.”