Mae Hong Son has a few nicknames, but the best known is “The Land of the Three Mists. The province is still mostly popular with Thai people, particularly in winter (November to January), when the province is frequently the coolest in the kingdom, getting down to zero degrees Celsius in the mountains. Unlike Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, only a minority of foreign tourists plus fairly plentiful organised tour groups make it up this way. Most visitors to Mae Hong Son stay within the capital city area or head to the smaller but lively city of Pai. There is one town little known to travelers, and becomes more and more popular Thai tourists, and it even become known to some foreign travelers. This place is called “Baan Rak Thai” (บ้านรักไทย).
Bann Rak Thai meaning in Thai as “Thai-Loving Village”, also known as Mae Aw (แม่ออ). It’s a little village nestled up at the top of Mae Hong Son Province, 44 kilometres from Mae Hong Son via Pha Suea Waterfall, and only one kilometer from the Myanmar border. Founded by Kuomintang Chinese soldiers from Yunnan Province – China, the village is famous for its breathtaking views and tea cultivation. Ban Rak Thai is well worth the trip out on Mae Hong Son or catch it on the way from Pai.
History of Baan Rak Thai
The history of Baan Rak Thai is similar the history of Doi Mai Salong, Chiang Rai. It dates back to the civil war and Kuomintang (KMT) party in China. In 1949, the Mao Zedong’s communists took power and remnants of the most notably the 93rd Division of KMT army (ทหารจีนคณะชาติ กองพล 93) who refused to surrender to the Communists and fled out of China via Myanmar. Many of them camped out and built up infrastructure for their new lives in the jungle of Myanmar while many of them ended up in Doi Mae Salong. Read about this history of Doi Mar Salong HERE.
In the early-1960s, China retaliated by invading the Shan State of Myanmar where the KMT were located. The KMT and crashed with Chinese force several time and pushed back to Myanmar. Finally, in the early 1960s China sent troops from their troop into Shan State where the KMT was located in order to eliminate the KMT. From Burma’s perspective, this was nothing less than an invasion from China and they launched an offensive against the KMT. Under General Tuan Shi-wen, KMT troops fled south, crossing the the border into Thailand since there was no way to go, and settled in the parched foothills of Doi Mae Salong, Doi Pan and Ban Mae Nong Bua and some of them settled in Baan Rak Thai. The Thai government granted the KMT refugees asylum on the condition that they would help insulate Thailand against a Communist invasion.
What’s in here?
The population is about 1000, mainly Chinese-born or Thai-born Chinese. “It doesn’t feel like we are in Thailand”, this is what Thai travelers usually say about this village. Many signs are in Chinese, buildings are Chinese and much of the population speaks a heavily accented version of Mandarin Chinese. So far, the village is still little know to tourists and that make this place not heavily-touristed.
However, it has begun to play up in recent years as locals seek to cater to a small but growing number of tourists, mostly Thai, who come seeking cool weather, Chinese food and locally grown Oolong tea. The tea is originated in China, but it becomes the most famous tea in Chiang Rai, not many people know that there are plantations in this village that produce great Oolong tea. Here visitors can see how the tea is grown and harvested and taste some delicious U-long tea or even stay in the middle of the plantation. An annual Tea Tasting Festival is held at Ban Rak Thai in February every year. This is anually held in February to promote tea products of the Rak Thai village. The activities include hot tea tasting, tea-making demonstrations combined with cultural shows.
The road to Bann Rak Thai or Mae Aw is a beautiful route that passes through tidy riverside Shan communities such as Mok Champae before suddenly climbing through impressive mountain scenery. Stops can be made at Pha Sua Waterfall, about 5km up the mountain, and Pang Tong Summer Palace, a rarely used royal compound a few kilometers past the waterfall. Most of Thai travelers come to this place by cars, many by charter buses.
While there are local transportation – Song Thaew (สองแถว) from Mae Hong Son town to here every day, to get more flexibility and the beauty from the roadside, many foreign travelers prefer to rent motorcycles and ride from town to here which take only less than 2 hours (45 kms). If you start from Mae Hong Son twon, the village is good for staying overnight or just a few hours for stop-by before heading to Pang Oong or Pai.
The best time to visit Bann Rak Thai is during winter (October – February). Beside sipping tea and relax under nice cool weather, there are a number of activities you can do here, trekking (mostly with tourist guides), biking around the village, and there is also horse riding across the border to Myanmar, of course with proper arrangement with your tour agency. There is tea festival in February (which is almost the end of winter) in the village. If you miss the trip on during mid-winter, it might be fun to plan the visit around the festival.
Most of accommodations here are basic and tatty – made from mud. They are call mud houses or mud huts which are probably influenced by Chinese culture. Prices Range from 200 baht to well over 2,000 baht. The most famous guest house here is Lee Wine Rak Thai, with the price from 1,500 -2,500 Baht per night which is very expensive by Thai standard, but it is the best accommodation here. It is located right at the middle of hill-side tea plantations. If you stay here, beside great view of the lake and overlooking village, you will actually see farmer harvest tea leaves a few feet away from you.
One good thing about Baan Rak Thailand is that it is close to another popular tourist attraction in Northern Thailand called “Pang Oong” (ปางอุ๋ง). You can spend a night here and continue to Pang Oong in the morning or just stop by for a few hours and check out the villages and some good spots here. Fruit, wine and tea are the top three most popular products travelers buy for survenirs.
Another highlight of the village is local wines. You may wonder what kind of wine from this coner of the Earth and how good can it be. Ok, wine here can’t compare to those commercial bottles but this local wine will give you exciting experience about home-made wine. People here are making different wines, sweet and dry, from fruits: pineapple, plum, peach and various kind of fruits. The price is very interesting too, at 200-300 baht per bottle. Dont’ know about the taste, but they definitely get you boozed. Free wine tasting is also available at the street shop.
Note: all photos above are from TrueLife channel (www.truelife.com)
- Good walk around the villages. Many nice spots for taking photos.
- If you decide to stay here and budget allows, go for Lee Wine Ruk Thai. It is the best accommodation available in the village.
- Many good sweet Chinese tea houses in villages. Try Chinese food in Cha Sa Rak Thai restaurant
- Best only to enjoy browsing. Don’t don’t buying stuff here as it is mostly overpriced and of no use, except for tea leaves which are excellent, and wind which is inexpensive.
- The weather is nice all year round, but best for visit during winter (Oct – Feb). There is tea festival in Feb. Avoid the visit during April-May because it is hot and dry.
- At night it can get very cold. If you decide to stay here, make sure you have jumpers ready.
Moo 6 Tambon Mog Jum Pae, Amphur Muang, Mae Hong Son, Thailand.
There are a number of guest houses operating around the lake (reservoir). From basic mud huts to nice little villas. Each of guest house don’t have many room. During the peak season, most of them are full because each of guest house doesn’t operate many rooms. The following is the list of well-known accommodations in Baan Rak Thai.
1. Lee Wine Ruk Thai
This guest house/cottage is beautifully located along the hill side surrounded with tea plantations, offering lake plus mountain view for all cottages. In the morning you can actually see farmers work on tea plantations very close to your guest house. The room and toilet are clean with necessary amenities. Free wifi is available. Tip: select one of the topmost guest houses because they have the best view. Lee Wine also makes a few different wines, sweet and dry, from fruits: pineapple, plum, peach and malaki (a kind of wild gooseberry). Very interesting and priced at 200++ Baht a bottle.
2. Talaochue Rakthai Resort
There are 8 guest house settled near the lake and one big house that can fit 30 people. It’s located on opposite site to Lee Wine Ruk Thai. The buildings are a little bit rundown. So far Talaochue Rakthai Resort doesn’t have good reputation about services and management. However, many people found it’s enjoyable to stay. It also offers free Wifi.
3. Cha Sa Rak Thai
There are 12 guest houses setting on small hill, and there is a Chinese restaurant which is operated by the same hotel. The view is not as good as Lee Wine Rak Thai. The best thing about this hotel is it has its own restaurant, and the food has very good reputation. One of the best restaurants in the village.
Tel: (+66)86-118-2067, (+66)85-719-9399
Room rate: 1,000 Baht/night for 2 people, 1,200 Baht/night for 3-4 people and 1,500 for big house (5-6 people), breakfast is included.
GPS Location: 19.586364, 97.942383
4. Ping Ping Guest House
There are 8 guest houses located on the bank of the lake. They are mud huts China with very basic amenities. It can be fund for travelers who seek adventure and want to learn about local living. Not recommended for those who seek for a comfortable stay.
5. Nong Nuch Resort
Located on the bank of the lake, there are 10 guest house which can hold maximum of 26 guests all together.
6. Thabapat Mud house
There are 7 houses with TV and hot water. There is nothing to be comfortable here. The houses and amenities are very basic and it is only good for taking a rest and continue next morning. Again not recommended for those who seek for a comfortable stay.
Tel: 084 8549397
Room rate: 600 Baht/night for single bed, 800 Baht for double bed.
GPS Location: 19.586349, 97.944582
How to get there
By Car or motorcycle:
1. If you are Mae Hong Son city: From the city heading to Pai on Highway number 1095. From the city, about8 kms there is intersection, turn left (see the road sign – if turn right, you will be heading to Pai) heading to Moo Ban Koong Mai Sak. This is the same way to Pang Oong. The route is a little rough and winding. Continue in the road until it reach Baan Rak Thai. The ride is beautiful, meandering through a picturesque valley, up and down steep hills on a very windy road. The road is paved all the way to Baan Rak Thai. Totally 45 kms from Mae Hong Son to Baan Rak Tai, and there is no single petrol station on the way.
2. If you are in Pai:
Heading to the way to Mae Hong Soi city, on highway 1095. Once you pass Thampla-Phasua Waterfall National Park for อ.ปางมะผ้า km, there will be intersection, just turn right (if turning left will head to Mae Hong Son City) all the way to Baan Rak Thai.
By public transportation:
There are Song Thaews (yellow color) leave Mae Hong Son city’s fresh market twice a day to Bann Rak Thai directly. The sign written in Song Thaew as “Mae Or to Baan Rak Thai” in Thai. The fare is 150 Baht per person. Once you’re in Baan Rak Thai, you can walk around the village.
We recommend to rent a motorcycle from Mae Hong Son and ride all the way to the village. The ride is beautiful, meandering through a picturesque valley, up and down steep hills on a very windy road. The road is paved all the way.
See more at: http://travel.truelife.com/detail/3265271
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