It’s difficult to believe our trip is coming to an end. But after all the temples, fried fish, and clothing shops, it is time to fly back to Bangkok for our last shopping and eating adventures before returning home. We will miss the North’s cooler weather, but we can have all the cool weather we want in the Bay Area, so perhaps a little Bangkok Winter heat is just what we need?
Today we leave Nan province and cross Phayao province to Chiang Rai, which was previously part of Phayao province. This region, best known as part of the “Golden Triangle” has a troubled history with production and trafficking of opium. However, over the course of several decades communities have been rehabilitated and put on a solid economic footing due in no small part to the efforts of one woman, Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, the mother of Thailand’s beloved and recently passed King Rama IX. Through visits to Doi Tung and Mae Salong, we will experience her work, and we also will visit a Cultural Center that occupies the site of a school she founded for hill tribe women.
Today we’ll head to Pua to continue our exploration of Tai Lue temples and crafts, and enjoy a bit more time off the beaten track. There’s no highway between Bo Kluea and Pua, so we’ll wind through Doi Phu Kha National Park and take in viewpoints along the way. Get your candied ginger, we’re ready to roll.
Before Nan town became important, the center of power in the province was further North n Pua, based on the production of salt. While sea salt and manufactured salts are more popular and abundant these days, salts from land-based deposits have played an important role in history. We’ll take a brief detour to learn more about this maligned but essential mineral while enjoying a mountain resort.
With beautiful scenery, an abundance of historic temples, and lesser known ethnic groups, Nan Province has begun to draw a substantial number of Thai tourists, although many may roar through on giant tour buses just for a weekend. We’ll take our time with four nights in the city of Nan, a night in Bo Kluea, and three nights in Pua, the former center of power in the province. It appears that Chinese tourists also have discovered Nan; when will more Westerners divert from Chiang Mai and the Pai-Mae Hong Son loop? It’s only a matter of time.
Thailand’s current boundaries are the results of numerous wars and treaties dating back more than half a century. Today we are heading to the heartland of the first Thai kingdom, Sukhothai. Unlike Kasma’s original Northern trip, we’ll pass to the East of the famous sites along the road less traveled (at least by Westerners).
Incredibly, this is the twelfth trip I’ve taken in Thailand with my Thai cooking teacher Kasma Loha-Unchit, and somehow it doesn’t get old. Bangkok and the other places we visit are constantly changing, each group has its own dynamics, and through some miracle, we find new things to eat each time. Let the exploration begin!
In the Winter of 2016, I joined my Thai cooking teacher Kasma Loha-Unchit as part of the first group to experience the “Northern Frontiers” itinerary. We found beautiful temples, unusual parks, plenty of tasty regional cuisine, new shopping opportunities, and even a tea plantation. Only four years later, Kasma has scheduled her last Northern Frontiers trip, so I couldn’t resist checking in on these spots one last time.
Today we return to Bangkok for a final feast and lots of farewells, and tomorrow morning I have a few bonus hours for shopping and, of course, frantic packing. But first, we must pick over the Tanya Inn’s breakfast buffet one last time and dash to the Chiang Rai airport where, true to form, a delay will have us cooling our heels. Same same.
Today we descend from the mountaintop to the city for our last two nights in the North before returning to Bangkok and our home faraway. I’m pleased that tea will take precedence over coffee for at least a few hours, but clearly I’m in the minority in Thailand (and California), so I’ll try not to bore my fellow travelers too much.
The “Golden Triangle” calls to mind the opium trade which, for many years, was this region’s most notorious product. Thailand has worked hard to replace opium farming with other productive and profitable trades, not least of which is agrotourism. Doi Tung and Mae Salong are known for coffee and tea, respectively, and it is these areas we will now visit in search of intellectual and caffeinated stimulation.
Pua has been relaxing, but it’s time to move on. Since our vans are so heavily laden, we’ll take the lower of two mountain routes, which nevertheless will be a strain on the engines as well as our stomachs. On our way to Chiang Rai, we will detour to the little town of Chiang Kham to visit a picturesque temple before settling in at our big city lodging for a night.
The town of Pua, pronounced more like Bua, has a population of only about 10,000, but it is surrounded by other little villages with a similarly rural flavor. Unlike the typical Thai tour which rushes through as many attractions as possible in one day, we will be taking our time, lingering over the details of temple murals, ruminating over possible purchases, and enjoying our meals. At least until our schedule dictates otherwise.
We awoke to a foggy morning at the Boklua View resort. Donning our light jackets, we grazed the breakfast buffet, where you could sample the local jams on large pieces of homemade bread you toast over a charcoal fire. And of course, eat rice porridge and other common breakfast fare. We soon found ourselves headed into the forest on the winding road to our next stop in Nan province, the small town of Pua.
From Nan town we would be venturing East into the mountains to more remote reaches of Nan province. We stopped at the local coffee shops for one last dose before hitting the highway. Candied ginger was in order as the road became more winding and we reached the first of several viewpoints, some with formal parking spaces, and some improvised to rest the van engines. Watching the fog evaporating in the valleys was beautiful — and an omen about tonight’s weather.