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"Circle Tour" :
Two National Parks in One Day, Part 1

This one day tour actually began for us as a quest to find a Buddhist temple without electricity. It was on the merit making day of Asalaha Bucha, and Khao Pansa where lay Buddhists present large candles to the monks at the wats. Since the candles were originally used in ancient times to lend light for monks to read and study, we hoped to find a temple lacking in electricity to make our gift that much more meaningful. We never did find that elusive wat without any electricity, but we did discover another interesting day trip that can be easily taken from Chiangmai.

We set off on highway 1006 for about 13 kms. to Sankhampaeng, then continued for another 27 kms. or so to Mae On District. We assumed that this area, with its small villages and farming communities, would yield a wat or two that hadn't yet been modernized.

Some notable landmarks included the Forestry Department's Nursery Unit, the Mae On Hospital, schools, temples, the Mae On District office, and an impressive wooden toy factory, quite large for Thailand. We passed through a few small villages, where people went about their daily lives farming, grocery shopping and cooking.

We visited a few wats in the Baan Tha-Neau village area in Mae On, but were greeted with bemused smiles and told not to worry, the wats were indeed equipped with electricity. But we were determined that our candle offerings be put to traditional use, so we continued on our mission.

A passing motorcyclist informed us that we were on Doi (mountain) Khun Mae Tha on the border of Chiangmai and Lumpoon Provinces, and that the road would eventually lead us to Mae Tha district in the Lumpoon lowlands. He suggested that we give the candle to a temple on top of the mountain at a hill tribe village.

So we continued up the mountainside enjoying the wonderful panoramic views of green trees, willowy bamboo and low, sprawling valleys. In some of the valleys, the small rice paddy farms, all bumped up against each other, creating the charming illusion of a patchwork quilt over the landscape, in all shades of green and trimmed by the fluffy, deep greens of the surrounding forests.

When we arrived at the 2 KM marker the road began to go downhill, leading us to a sarm yaeg (tri-section) with signs in English and Thai. Instead of turning right on Route 1230 for another 37 kms. To Mae Tha, we turned left to check out the Mae Ta Krai National Park first.

The entrance sign to this little-known park informed us that it was opened only in 2535 (1992 A.D.), and the park ranger gave us Thai language brochures. The park features a few small water reservoirs and a larger one, not for public fishing and sport, but to view peacefully from a picnic blanket. We stopped for photos. For anyone interested in staying more than a day, the grounds are equipped with three camping bungalows. Rental details are available at the Chiangmai Parks office here in town on Charorenprathet Road, Tel. 053-818348

Leaving the park, we turned right and drove along for 3 kms. toward Huay Kaew just to enjoy the green, velvety landscape of the rice paddy farms. Eventually we made a U-turn and headed back toward Mae Tha. The scenery varied from corn patches and paddy fields to villages and temples. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and enjoyed Tohm Yaam Talay along with mixed green vegetables and omelet garnished with shallots.

Then we continued on to Mae Tha, still hoping to find a wat with no electricity. But when we reached the sign toward Khun Taan Tunnel National Park, just on the border of Lumpoon and Lumpang, we couldn't resist stopping for a visit. After that, we traveled northwest back to Chiangmai via Highway 11. Hence, we'll always remember this special day trip as our 'Circle Tour,' and hope that you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Be sure to read next month's issue for more details and photos of the trip to Khun Taan Tunnel National Park !

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