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A Hint of China in Chiang Rai’s Doi Mae Salong

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CHIANG RAI – Amid the hilltops in northern Thailand, the steep green slopes of Doi Mae Salong are covered with tea, paddy and sprawling corn plantations. Breathtaking landscapes appear at every turn when winding through the area on a motorbike—sometimes at a slant of up to 70 degrees.

In the town, it’s all about China: the architecture, resorts, clothing, script on signboards, it’s a world away from the distinct Thai-ness just an hour or so down the road. Women and children don a mixture of traditional Chinese and minority hill tribe clothing, selling tea, fruits and textiles at the bustling local markets. Bordering eastern Burma’s Shan State, Mae Salong feels neither Thai, Burmese nor Shan.

That’s because most of the people who live there are ethnically Chinese, descendants of and former members of the Kuomintang Army. They settled in the region in 1949 after fleeing from China and its restive border with eastern Burma. The area later became infamous as a stop on the drug smuggling route, as opium grown in Burma was transferred through the golden triangle and beyond.

Today, however, is all about the fresh air, astounding views and fleeting glimpses of mountain life.

By Saw Yan Naing


Chinese script adorns the entrance to Doi Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


A memorial museum dedicated to Chinese martyrs in Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


Incense sticks lit for 24 fallen Chinese martyrs at the memorial museum in Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


An ethnic Shan woman sells tea at a market in Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


A resort located on a steep hill in Mae Salong overlooking tea plantations and green slopes. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


Two women work at tea plantation in Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


Kids sell silk bracelets at a market in Mae Salong. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


A local tea seller prepares a drink for costumers. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)


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