Mae Salong is a village settled by remnants of the former Chinese 93rd Division who moved from Burma to Thai territory in 1961. Originally supported by opium production, in the 1980s the Thai government integrated this enclave into Thai society and as part of the process introduced a policy of substituting opium production for growing tea.
Today, it is a major tourist attraction with a small-town ambience on high hills, delicious native Yunnanese dishes and small hotels and guesthouses catering to visitors. During December-February, the hills are alive with pinkish sakura cherry blossoms.
Public transport to Mae Salong is surprisingly spotty, and having your own wheels may come in handy.
There are two roads to Mae Salong: one from Pasang, a hamlet on the Chiang Rai-Mae Sai highway, and one from Tha Ton, on the northern border road from Chiang Mai. Both are scenic and very, very twisty!
From Chiang Rai, take a bus to Mae Sai (platform 5) and ask to be dropped off at Pasang/Mae Salong. The trip costs 25B and takes approximately an hour. (Beware: there's another Pasang to the east of Chiang Rai, signposted at platform 9, but this will take you in entirely the wrong direction!) At the Pasang T-junction, there are blue songthaews that leave when they get 8 passengers at 50 baht each, or when somebody ponies up the 400 baht to charter. Try to get here as early as you can, since otherwise, especially in the off season, you'll be looking at a long wait.
From Tha Ton, there are yellow songthaews that go directly to Mae Salong. This also offers an alternative route for Chiang Rai and Mae Sai: coming back, take the yellow songthaew to the Tha Ton-Mae Chan road (30B), hop aboard a Tha Ton-Mae Chan green songthaew to Mae Chan (another 30B), and then take the Chiang Rai-Mae Sai bus. This sounds complicated, but is probably faster than waiting for the "direct" songthaew to fill up.
For the return trip, both colors of songthaew hang out at the 7-11 in the centre of town. They stop running around 5 PM, but in a pinch (or if in a hurry), the motorcycle cabbies can ferry you to Pasang for 300 baht.
Drive on highway 1089 between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The turn off is next to a police station. From here travel about 13km on some of the most amazingly curvy roads imaginable. The return trip can be undertaken on routes no. 1234 and no. 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hilltribe villages. From Doi Mae Salong a road leads to Ban Tha Ton, the starting point for the Kok River cruise, a distance of 45 kilometres.
It is very convenient to rent a motorbike to wander around the hills and valley. Renting fee is about 200 baht per day. However, it comes with empty tank so need to re-fuel before any ride.
Early November, yellow sun flowers blooming on the hills. Late December/early Jan, sakura flowers will covered the hills.
Local Chinese-style dishes worth trying include: