Chiang Mai feels like a polluted sauna this time of year, so we decided to skip town for a few days and cool off in Doi Ang Khang. "The Switzerland of Thailand" may be a bit of an exaggeration but Ang Khang has an alpine charm all its own. Here's why you should check it out yourself:
SOAK UP THE WEATHER
While other well-known mountain resort towns (like Chiang Dao and Pai) are nestled in low valleys around 400-600m, the accommodation around Ang Khang is actually on a mountain. Being at 2000m means that even in mid-April, when Chiang Mai bakes at 40C under a layer of smog, the highs near Ang Khang rarely break 28C and the nights are actually chilly (we didn't even need ice in our beer!). In the winter it's sweater weather all day and the mornings are occasionally frosty.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
The road from Chiang Mai to Ang Khang is an attraction in itself. The most interesting route is to continue past Chiang Dao and turn left on route 1178 straight up to the Burmese border, where you'll hit a strange Chinese village called Arunothai (more on Chinese villages later). One of our crew had been through a few weeks earlier and lead us to Tayong Noodle, which makes Yunnanese noodles and serious pan fried dumplings. It's worth a stop - just take a left when coming into town and go a few hundred meters. It's on the left across from the So Good Supermart.
After Arunothai, the road turns into classic Northern Thailand - two twisty lanes through the mountains with pine trees, sweeping vistas and hardly anyone in sight, save the occasional hill tribe village. This is totally awesome on a motorcycle and pleasant to terrifying in a car, depending on who's driving.
CHECK OUT THE MINORITY VILLAGES
Ang Khang is way out in the middle of nowhere and the towns around it all have a bit of a frontier feel. Many are hill tribes, but most people in this area are actually descendants of the Kuomintang, the Nationalist army that was driven out of China when the communists took over in 1949. After moving through Burma they settled in Thailand, where the government allowed them to grow opium in exchange for keeping communism at bay. They've long since chilled out, but even without the guns and drugs the Chinese towns are interesting - everybody speaks Mandarin, the food is Yunnanese and even the buildings look different. You'll find lots of tea and preserved fruits.
SPY ON THE BURMESE MILITARY
Baan Nor Lae is a hill tribe village on a ridge overlooking Burma's Shan State, and for whatever reason the Thai military outpost there lets people wander in and out freely. From there you can see two Burmese bases across the valley, though the situation is hardly tense nowadays (when we were there they were playing loud pop music).
STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES
The Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station is a huge piece of land with flowers and crops scattered throughout, walkable from most of the hotels and guesthouses in the area.. The restaurant inside is a bit pricey, but even if you don't eat there it's worth wandering through the grounds.
WHERE TO STAY
Almost every decent hotel or guesthouse is in Ban Khum, where you'll end up if you keep following the signs to Doi Ang Khang. We liked Ang Khang Villa, but if you're looking to go upmarket the Ang Khang Nature Resort is a proper hotel. There are plenty of gorgeous campgrounds as well, but keep in mind they're cold and crowded in the winter.
Have you been to Ang Khang? What did you think? Let us know at [email protected]!