Maekok River Village Resort’s
delightful restaurant / 053 053 628 / maekok-river-village-resort.com / 1km on the right after the bridge. If you’re pooped, stay on for a night or two. This is a great base for exploring the history and culture of local ethnic minorities, and the hotel staff can arrange sensitive alternatives to the naff tourist villages.
The next 30km passes through a backdrop of farmland dotted with ethnic Akha, Lisu, Yao, Karen, Lahu and Tai Yai villages + orange/lychee orchards. At the checkpoint on the hilltop you have two options: you can turn left and climb into Doi Mae Salong to take in more stunning scenery, tea shops, tea plantations, Chinese Haw villages, and sample a cuppa at Hongfu Tea Shop / 080 558 0066 / hongfuteas.com / 13/3 halfway into Mae Salong on the right; or, simply continue 29km on Road 1089 to Mae Chan, where perched atop a hill, sits the all-suite Katiliya Mountain Resort & Spa / 388/1 M.4 Tambol Pha Sang / Mae Chan / 053 603 000 / katiliya.com. From Mae Chan, Chiang Rai lies 30 mins south, Doi Tung 30 mins north and Chiang Saen 30 mins NE. From Mae Chan head up into the mountain to the Doi Tung Development Project, park your car and amble through the beautiful Mae Fah Luang Garden. Swing by the Princess Mother’s Royal Villa, built in both Swiss and Lanna styles and housing Lanna art, and peek into the Hall of Inspiration to learn about the Thai royal family. Parched? Head to Café Doi Tung adjacent to the carpark. Next, drive to Chiang Saen for the fascinating, high-tech, world class Hall of Opium / Golden Triangle Park / Sop Ruak / 053 784 446 / closed Mon / maefah luang.org / one of a number of excellent Royal projects targeted against the opium trade, while restoring the livelihood of the villagers. Tie this in with a visit to the Asian Elephant Foundation / helpingelephants.org / in the Anantara hotel opposite, which has great views of the hills and valleys, a huge pool and rather lovely spa – Anantara Resort and Spa Golden Triangle / 229 M.1 / Chiang Saen / 053 784 084 / anantara.com. Or, sell your kids and glamp at the luxury Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle / 053 910 200 / fourseasons.com. Feeling shoppity? Tribal handicrafts are sold at all the villages. On the way from Chiang Saen to CR one standout is Doy Din Dang Pottery / 12km north of Chiang Rai, handy to airport / follow signs to Long Neck Karen Village / 053 705 291 / closed Sun / commissions accepted / dddpottery.com / for mod-rustic Thai/asian stoneware. 5km further towards the city don’t miss the surreal installation / museum Baan Si Dum (Black House) / M.13 / Ban Du / 053 705 834 / closed noon-1pm. Famished, or ready to flop? Skip west 7km to the rustic-chic Bura Resort / 244 M.13, Ban Hua Fai / Ban Du / 082 192 4518 / buraresort.com / serving Thai tucker with a natty alfresco terrace. Or, in Chiang Rai itself, stay at Le Méridien / 221/2 M.20 Kwaewai Rd / Tambon Robwieng / Amphur Muang / 053 603 333 / starwoodhotels.com / which sits along the Mae Kok River, dripping with leafy tranquil charm. Also in CR, the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park / 313 M.7 / Ban Pa Ngiew / 053 716 605 / closed Mon / maefahluang.org / is a must for Lanna art, architecture, teak artefacts and a botanical collection. 12km south of CR resides the sparkly, kitsch Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) / Pa-or Donchai Rd / 053 673 579, or, if you’re up for a birdie play golf at the highly-rated Santiburi Country Club / 12 M.3 Huadoi-sobpao Rd / T. Wiang-chai / 053 662 821. Fab!