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Now that the hot season is well and truly upon us, it is pleasant to think of escaping the heat and dust of the city. With a dream of cool streams, waterfalls and peaceful mountain towns, a Sunday afternoon drive is what we had in mind when thinking of the ideal circle tour. The direction we took was southwest of Chiang Mai city though the mountains to Samoeng village then on to Mae Rim returning to Chiang Mai in the evening. (See our map 5 in this issue).

You can take the Chiang Mai _ Hangdong Road (Route 108) from the Airport Plaza shopping mall, drive for six kilometers, turn right at Ring Road #2 intersection and continue driving on Route 1269 for about 40 kilomers to arrive at Samoeng.

Don’t be surprised when the kilometer marker reads from higher numbers to lower throughout the drive until the circuit ends in Mae Rim _ Samoeng reading KM 30 on Route 1096. Several resorts are on the Hang Dong _ Samoeng stretch such as: Fondcome, Viranda, Lanna, SCB, Krisda Doi, Baan Glang Doi, Mon Duang Doi, Phu Jaya, Suan Bua, Banana Bong Bong, Mag Maen Mai, Bell Villa and more. Another driving option would be north from Mae Rim and turn left on Mae Rim _ Samoeng Road (Route 1096) where again large numbers of resorts are located. Of course, this road traffic congestion is heavier than the direction we chose Hang Dong _ Samoeng _ Mae Rim Loop especially for a comfortable Sunday drive on Route 1269. We did not stop at any resort because we wanted to spend more time in the small town of Samoeng, however, midway we stopped at Wat Thongsiri about KM 12 on the right side of Mae Kanin Nua Village in Baan Pong subdistrict to use the washroom.

This is the type of temple city folk rarely have the chance to see. Beautiful mural paintings of the Buddha’s former life by local artists of good talent are in one hall. Across from the temple gate, was a buffalo who does not eat, or menacingly cross the street. Our companion was fascinated with the buffalo’s two eyes. In less than 10 minutes we stopped at the KM 7 marker “Huay Pa Lao” watershed unit of the westside of Suthep-Pui National Park.

The unit has plenty of pines and other tree species, a tree nursery taken care by gardeners, and a sign of a nature trail map that shows a circle loop for either walking or four wheel driving. After spending half an hour enjoying the shady trees and natural peaceful environment, we continued to Pang Da village where the two routes meet and a police checkpoint is located. We waved hello to a police officer and used the restroom.

We entered the small town of Samoeng to see the first of several attractive spots Samoeng Rice Research Center with beautifully terraced rice fields. We followed twisting curves and later arrived at the main trisection. To both the right and left direction are government offices and a fresh market. We turned right after this landmark to the long time established Samoeng Resort which brought back many memories. We have stayed here with friends on several occasions when we played charades in the Restaurant and, later, under the stars, took a midnight swim in the pool. The resort was established in 1990 by a group of medical and public health professionals to promote tourism with special emphasis on health in the pristine environs of Samoeng hills area. As former customers, we remembered the highlights of hospitality and delicious Thai food. But today, we enjoyed a brief hour rest on the tree shaded terrace with a walk around the grounds to inspect all is in great condition.

We slowly drove along the inner valley circle road and stopped at Wat Pai Gluay or the Temple in “Orchard of Bananas” located on a hill. On the flat plain in the opposite direction we observed an old temple in the distance. We were impressed with the good condition of the hillside temple so we made a “Tamboon” merit donation for continued upkeep. The kind cheerful monk invited anyone who would like to get away from all stress to learn to completely relax at this small temple under his guidance, by teaching the vipassana meditation method.

Nearby the hillside temple were several small cottage based factories producing preserved banana snack. The producers proudly showed us their OTOP quality guarantee. Since the last time we visited Samoeng about three years ago, a remarkable change in production took place. The method of baking does not need to add honey any longer due to the improved banana fruit of today with plenty natural sugar that is caramelized during baking giving the appearance of having been dipped in honey. On the shop shelves were baked and fried in many flavor varieties such as sweet, salty, barbecue, herbal, and garlic. We wanted to both taste all flavors and have delicious present for friends so we forked over Baht 300. We left Samoeng with a big bag souvenirs. (Sorry if you did not get a package from us. The crispy snacks soon disappeared. No one can eat just ONE.)

We headed back through Samoeng _ Mae Rim road but because of the late hour we could not stop at the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, Mae Sa Waterfall or at the new resorts. We look forward to visiting those spots on another day.

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