The journey from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton (sometimes Thaton) is an easy one. A local bus from the Chiang Mai’s Bus Terminal 1 will take approximately four hours and cost THB90. The bus travels through other towns and villages, including Chiang Dao, Fang, and Mae Ai. The best thing about local buses, compared with ‘VIP’ buses, is that you are not subjected to ridiculously cold air-conditioning or Thai pop videos on the TV. It was a really pleasant ride.
I stayed 3 nights in Tha Ton. My first night was at the Apple Resort, where i negotiated a garden chalet for THB300. Tha Ton is almost completely absent of tourists in the low season, and I was the only guest. After being totally ignored by the staff in the restaurant, i decided to explore the town. The locals are not as friendly in Tha Ton as i’ve experienced in other parts of Thailand, but they are not unfriendly and you can pull a smile from them. I seemed to be one of very few tourists in town; during my three night stay I saw less than ten.
Tha Ton is established around the Kok River (Mae Nam Kok), and the bridge is a central feature in the town. The photo below shows the boat jetty taken from the bridge, from which you can take a longtail boat to Chiang Rai for THB400. Sadly, the river levels were very low during my visit and the boats were not running, so i would have to get to Chiang Rai by road when i left.
Looking down on the Tha Tan is Wat Phra Aram Luang, a temple that spans 9 levels over 3km. I took a walk to enjoy the temple and the views. The photo below is from one of the first levels. The air is quite hazy at this time of year, so photos i took from the higher levels don’t show the town very well.
After moving to the Garden Riverside Resort (also called Garden Home Nature Resort), which was lovely and peaceful, i rented a scooter to explore the area. My first stop was at Mae Salong – also called Santikhiri – a small town on Doi Mae Salong mountain. Mae Salong has a very Chinese feel to it, which is due to its really interesting history. At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, remnants of the anti-communist Kuomintang (KMT) forces refused to surrender. Led by General Li Kuo-hui, troops fought their way out of south-western China, and lived in Burma’s jungles. Some of the army returned to Taiwan but the remaining troops, led by General Tuan Shi-wen, sought asylum in Mae Salong. The opium poppies which were grown in the area have now been replaced by crops such as tea.
On my rental scooter, i stopped at Mae Salong’s Martyr’s Memorial, a museum to honour the KMT soldiers who died in their fight against communism (two photos below).
Below is a street scene from Mae Salong, and a couple of photos showing views from the town.
Leaving Mae Salong I took backroads and tracks back to Tha Ton. I passed through various villages inhabited by ethic groups including Akha and Lahu. Although you still see traditional dress in these villages, their close proximity to towns and the main road means that they have become influenced by modern Thailand. I didn’t take any photos as i travelled through these villages (replying on my trusty Garmin GPS unit to find the way), but the two images below show a view with Mae Salong in the background, and one of the tracks i took as i returned to Tha Ton.
I would recommend staying in both Tha Ton and Mae Salon, and exploring the surrounds. Apparently, many travellers just visit Tha Ton to catch the boat to Chiang Rai and miss exploring this wonderful part of Thailand close to the Myanmar border.