Close to this 'monument' is an incredible 'museum' dedicated to the horrors of Opium production and addiction and, of course, Britain's massive role in promoting the Opium Trade into China in the 19th Century. The Thais are brilliant at creating museums and this has to be one to visit even if you usually detest museums.
But, for a taste of China without having to go into the country, it's worth making the scenic mountaineous drive slightly east to Mae Salong. In 1949 the 93rd Regiment of the Chinese Kuomintang fled to Myanmar from China after the 1949 Chinese Revolution. In 1961 the 'Regiment' was froced to leave Myanmar and moved across the border into Thailand. The Thai government granted them 'refugee' status and incorporated them into Thai society without much success until the 1980's. Many of the ex-Kuomintang involved themselves in the opium trade and were a hardened and disciplined force to be reckoned with. It's taken a great deal of fighting and subsequent political manouvering for the region to turn itself into a tea and coffee growing area rather than one of opium production.
Mae Salong is very much 'off the beaten track' and with its Chinese descendants it has retained its Chinese traditions with the town being like a town in Southern China's Yunnan Province.
Nestled up in the hills are a number of guest houses with stunning views. Here, The Jai, complete with a bottle of Chang Beer, heads into the undergrowth and down to our bungalow for the night which was set on a tea growing farm with stunning views across the valley.
I decided to get up at 6am to take photo's of the dawn. Temperature?? 8 degrees!! And did anyone warn me?? Nope...so armed with T-Shirt, shorts and flip flops I shivered through the dawn determined to take some sunrise shots. Pretty stupid, eh?
As dawn broke, this was the view from the bungalow balcony...it was worth the chilly start!
This year I have been attempting to learn the basics of the Thai written language. I go to 'school' twice a week with 10 other silly sods and together we mutter and mumble our way through the complexities of the Thai alphabet with its 44 consonants and 26 vowels overlaid with 5 tones. I am pleased to announce we are all equally useless but we have a good laff and our three charming Thai lady teachers quite enjoy slapping our legs....see, it's ALL different over here. Ah, yes, and we have to address our teachers as Khun Kruu suay...which means 'Honoured and beautiful teacher'. Ha Ha..imagine that 'back home'. We'd ALL be arrested...
Anyhow...I've been struggling to learn Thai but there's nothing in Thai in Mae Salong...it's all in Chinese. Bugga.....couldn't understand a darn word. This bit of Chinese writing is the Dinsum menu at the local steam shop.
Now these are proper dimsums....in fact they are called man-toh which means steamed Chinese buns. Filled with all sorts of things, depending on what you like, they are brilliant for breakfast on a chilly morning. Here's our chap making the delicious little things....we got there just before a coachload of Chinese tourists turned up and attacked everything that was left.
The Mae Salong region is all about tea growing. There are delightful tea houses all over the mountain. You can pull up, enjoy the scenery and be treated to 93,000 different types of tea to sample. And, along with the tea, you are served up with these colourful fruits and sweets. It's just great!!
Tea production is now seriously big business with a massive export market. Here's the interior of a Tea Shop with some of the produce on display. We bought all the gubbins..teas, tea pot, tea maker etc etc...excellent. And have we we used any of it?? Nope...of course not...as I only drink coffee and Jai says the packets of tea are 'too pretty' to open.
And after this entertaining insight into how a whole region has been coverted away from opium into tea, we drove back down the mountains and back into Chiang Rai.