Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mae Salong

Following Chiang Rai, I took an early bus out to Mae Salong. I had to change at a tiny town, Ban Basang, to a pick-up truck turn taxi for the ride up the mountain. Mae Salong is built along the spine of the mountain. It’s basically one main street with a few houses, shops, restaurants, and guesthouses along the side. On the peak behind Mae Salong, there’s a large pagoda and temple overlooking the surrounding mountains and plains. I made the climb in the early afternoon after grabbing lunch in a Yunnan noodle shop (Mae Salong was actually founded by Chiang Kai-Shek after his nationalist army was driven from China and took shelter there; hence, it still retains a strong Chinese influence and often is seen as more Yunnan in its stylings than Thai).

Offering close to a 360 panorama, the view from Wat Santikeree was spectacular. Possibly even better than the buddha’s footprint near Krabi.

All in all, I really like Mae Salong. It’s largely devoid of tourists. The town is small and quaint, and people are friendly (including the nice Akhan woman at the guesthouse, peering over my shoulder as I type away on my mini-computer). The scenery is spectacular, and the chilly air (and it’s actually chilly up here, making me glad I’ve been carrying my fleece around) is a welcome relief.

Tomorrow I head to Tha Ton, another village town around the Golden Triangle (the area bordering Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma – I’ll be referring to it as Myanmar for most of my blogs because I need to get used to calling it that since I’m going there in about a week.. probably not good to accidentally call it Burma once I get there). The Wat Tha Ton is supposed to be excellent, with the massive standing Buddha on top of the mountain (largely the reason I’m going there).

Random thought at dinner, I think it’s interesting how geography and politics go together. You usually find mountains or rivers near the borders of countries. The Golden Triangle being the perfect examples, but you can also look at the Karen areas of Myanmar bordering Thailand, or the Shan areas further north, or the Kauchin areas of Myanmar bordering China (again mountains). The Malaysia-Thailand border also becomes mountainous all of sudden, and Singapore, of course, is cut off by water. Similar examples abound throughout the world, and the reasoning is fairly straight-forward, mountains form a natural defensive wall; they serve as markers to the legacies and histories of war and conflict, the ebb and flow of borders, settling on the most naturally defensive areas.

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