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Amongst Lofty Mountains
Text & Images : Thanatouch Changkhammool
In the month that celebrates Valentine’s Day, a lot of us may be dreaming of travelling with loved ones to romantic places that have a natural atmosphere and beautiful scenery. Imagine how it would be to be together, inhaling the clean air and sensing a cool breeze – the perfect time to spend with someone you love. But where, now?
Well, we’re still in the cool season and this is Northern Thailand, so we shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the right destination at this time. That’s why one of the most popular tourist attractions is the Pai district of Mae Hongson, well known for its abundance of natural resources, cold foggy mornings and delicious foods. But while Mae Hong Son is quite a way away (except by mountain-hopping in a Thai Airways small plane), much more easily accessible and just as worthy of being visited in Samoeng, the small district encircled by mountains, forty kilometers southwest of Chiang Mai city.
Samoeng embraces varieties of hill peoples who coexist and uniquely harmonize their cultures with their natural environment to create a way of living and social groupings like no others. And being hill peoples, Samoeng is bound to suit them, since eighty percent of this district is mountains and forests. There are two main rivers that flow through Samoeng, one the Mae Nam Khan and the other the Mae Nam Samoeng. The weather here is usually cool throughout the year, at least in the more elevated areas.
Samoeng apparently can trace its origins back some three hundred years to the time when Chiang Mai was occupied by the Burmese, and we Thai were struggling to recover it. The Tai Lue and the Karen tribes took to the hills to wage guerrilla war from what is now Samoen.
The word Samoeng may have derived from a mispronunciation of the phrase Sam Mueng, meaning ‘Three Provinces’. On the other hand, some philologists reckon it could have come from the Karen language, and mean ‘Aurora’. Well, you don’t get more romantic than that, do you. The Goddess of Dawn, according to the Romans. Still, as the Japanese would say, hanna yori dango - dumplings before blossoms, meaning you’ve got to eat if you want to be romantic. And it’s the same for Samoeng. The folks there also have to make a living somehow.
Well, one of their methods is by cultivating strawberries in farms that cover an area bigger than any other in the country for this particular berry. The months from November to February are the time that strawberries ripen and farms around Samoeng are open for visitors to come and participate in the strawberry-picking. These strawberries are destined to be offered for sale as they are in the local and more distant markets, but are also processed to make jam and wines, which are then offered for sale at (among other outlets) the OTOP centres - ie One Tambol, One Product shops. Still, that doesn’t mean Samoeng is a one crop producer. Grapes and many other kinds of low-temperature fruits and vegetables are grown here, as we shall see.
This then is a brief description of what you’re going to see down there, the other side of the mountains from Chiang Mai City. But it doesn’t exhaust all the district’s activities once you’ve picked some strawberries, bagged them for your own consumption and sat back sipping hot coffee and admiring the mist-wreathed forests rising around you.
What else is there? Just read on!
Forest scenery site at km 24-25
Well, finding a vantage point to admire the scenery isn’t a bad idea, especially as it’s easy to get to. Located on the way to Samoeng, between the 24th and 25th kilometers along the Samoeng-Mae Rim road is a point where you can view the whole landscape, with the sun behind you if you’ve made an early start, but if you’re on the way back, with the sun setting over the western hills. Delightful whichever way, and whatever the time.
The Royal Propagation Center
of Pang Da
This center is also located up on hills from which you get breathtaking views. Pang Da is located in Tumbon Samoeng Tai, Amphoe Samoeng, Chiang Mai. There are cold-climate plants cultivated here and also demonstration plant plots for avocado, pomegranate, guava, cucumber etc. Overnight accommodation is available in sizable bungalows housing ten people. Since each bungalow has a hot water shower and costs only 80 baht per person, you’re sure of being comfortable enough and not exactly out of pocket either. And if you really want to do it cheap, bring your own tent and pitch it at 30 baht per night. A large residence home with the capacity of ten people per house (with hot water shower), 80 baht per head. As for camping, if you bring your own tent, the cost is 30 baht per tent/night. For more information, contact 0-5337-8046.
Na Pa Phu Pha Strawberry Farm
So you want to do some strawberry-picking?
There’s a farm located two kilometers before dropping down to Samoeng. Also not a bad place to stay, since you can camp here, and refresh yourself at a restaurant and coffee shop. You can also rent ATV vehicles here at 99 baht per 20 minutes. But of course, all this is only after you’ve done your strawberry-picking stint, and filled your rucksack space with the succulent fresh strawberries at 250 baht per kilo. More information? Contact 081-6039800 or 053-378414-5.
Nam Aok Roo
You might also want to pay your respects - as do the local people - to the water sprite at Nam Roo fresh water perennial spring at Ban Dong Chang Kaew, a 500 meter drive from the Samoeng district office.
Samoeng Coffee Shop (Strawberry Samoeng)
In the district centre (it won’t be hard to find, since Samoeng can be described as one of the compacter districts of the North) the coffee shop is a minute’s walk from the administrative offices, and sells OTOP products such as wine, strawberry smoothies, fresh coffee and souvenirs. For more information, call 086-4318572, 086-4267468.
Baan Pa Kluay
Baan Pa Kluay (Banana Forest Village - no shortage of romantically-named places around Samoeng - is situated on a hill three kilometers from the district office. This is where Phra Baht Pa Kluay - the Buddha Footprint of the Banana Forest (Wat Phra Baht Pa Kluay) - is situated. There are also OTOP products on sale here.
Baan Nam Rin Homespun Products
Homespun products, tending to be created by community pu soong aiyu (elderly ladies), using cotton to make decorative cloths and comfortable clothing. The patterns are unique, resembling the arts and cultures of the hill peoples living here. Baan Nam Rin Homespun Products is at Moo 2, Tumbon Samoeng-Tai. For more information, contact 087-1752340.
Mae Sab Cave
Located on Ban Mae Sab, Tambon Mae Sab, Amphor Samoeng is a middle-sized cave with a depth of one-hundred-and-fifty meters that is worth getting into, since it has magnificent stalagmites and stalactites.
Baan Mae Tung Ting Farm Project
In the year of 1997, Her Majesty the Queen established a model farm project and a ‘support art and weaving craftsmanship’ project this place - at that time, a deteriorating area. Now, the people here earn their living from agriculture, cattle farming and weaving.
Mon Ung Ket
It is located on the Phi Pun Nam a mountain ridge - the highest spot of Samoeng district - a perfect place for sight-seeing, watching the sun rise, the sea of fog and the mountain peaks. There is an old stupa on the ridges from which four important rivers originate; Mae Nam Sa, Mae Nam Loei, Mae Nam Sab and Mae Nam Chum.
Tambon Bor Kaew
A health point worth bearing in mind! Tambon Bor Kaew is located along the road to Pai District. You can refresh yourself by looking into the green luscious forests on both sides of the road while you’re passing. This is also where the biggest insecticide-free strawberry farms are, such as Suan Doi Kaew farm. Remembering that this is a soft-skinned product we’re talking about, and that some producers might not care overmuch that what gets sprayed on might just stay on (or in) their products, you might well prefer to give the more careful producers your custom.
Khun Khan National Park
As we’ve noted, much of Samoeng area is composed of mountain ranges, the highest of which is the Pung Gia mountain peak (1708 meters high). The national park (Uthayan Haeng Chat) is full of natural wonders worth seeing such as waterfalls, caves, pine forests and cliffs. There are forest trekking trips and stops at camp for those who like such things. For reservations and other information, contact 0 2562 0760 or visit www.dnp.go.th.
For more information about Samoeng, contact 053-487115, and Website : www.strawberrysamoeng.com
The District Office address is: Samoeng District Office, Tumbon Samoeng Tai, Amphor Samoeng, Chiang Mai 50250
Travelling by personal vehicle
First route: Take the 107 Chiang Mai-Fang road going north from CM city. You will find a T-junction after driving 20 kilometers - turn left. Drive along the 1096 main road for 35 kilometers until you reach the Samoeng district office. Then drive along the Samoeng-Wat Chan road for 18 kilometers until you arrive at the Khun Khan National Park. This route is considered to be the most convenient.
Second route: Take the 108 Chiang Mai-Hot road going south from CM city. After 7 kilometers, you will reach a junction. Turn right onto the 1269 Hang Dong-Samoeng road, for a journey of about 48 kilometers. You see various tourist attractions along the way:
1.) Lanna Resort, located on the left hand side of the Hang Dong-Samoeng road at the 27th kilometer. The resort is a recreational place with a natural atmosphere, enhanced by Lanna-style wooden houses amongst the flowering plantations. Tents and camping sites are available. For more information contact 053-2484354.
2.) Krisadadoi, located on the 25th kilometer, is also a recreational resort within natural surroundings. For more information contact 053-248419.
3.) Wat Ton Kwen (Wat Indravat) is a beautiful architecturally-interesting old temple, the only one in the North that has a four-gabled pavilion.
4.) Huay Phak Phai, The Royal Project, or the ‘Royal Rose Garden’, located at Hang Dong on the 17th kilometer along the Samoeng-Hang Dong Road, has an information centre on the propagation of various species of roses. The vast rose garden is most worth seeing from October to February.
Driving on both of these routes requires caution because the roads have steep slopes and are full of twists and turns. Bikers, always wear a helmet for your own safety.
Travelling by various conmmercial carriers
Yellow car: Chiang Mai-Sameong, Chang Phuek terminal
Yellow car: Chiang Mai-Bor Kaew, Chang Phuek terminal
Yellow car: Chiang Mai-Om Long, Warorot market
Yellow car: Chiang Mai-Yung Mern, Warorot market
Green car: Chiang Mai-Kalayaniwattana, Warorot market
Text & Images : Thanatouch Changkhammool