Delightful Northern Thailand 13 (End) – Touring Doi Ang Khang Area
Like an amphitheatre, the valley mostly known as Ang Khang valley is lined by steep dois gathering around Ban Kum village. The highest peak here is Doi Ang Khang at around 1928 meters. There are trails and even mules to take you up to the mountain tops, but we never make it that far. We only tour on Suzuki 4WD.
— TOURING —
A little higher than the Ang Khang Nature Resort, there is a quiet, untypical forest stupa. As usual, it is me and not Norah, my SE-Asian lover, who wants to take the long stairway to the stupa.
If you steer the car further along steep ridges and dense pine forest on reasonable asphalt, you reach a plane where they have cut the trees to get a view back down into the valley and to the setting sun. It's a nice viewpoint. I can confirm this
as Thais have erected a sign there which says exactly that: "View Point".
Here I talk to a nice Thai couple from Bangkok. They came for touristing by car all the way from the capital. He studied in Chiang Mai, but is now forced to work in Bangkok, much to his dismay. We exchange telephone numbers for a beer later in Bangkok. It's funny: I meet nice Bangkokians in Ang Khang, in Krabi or online – but rarely on the ground in Bangkok.
— BORDER ROAD —
If you look at Oliver Hargreave's "Exploring Chiang Mai" and at other maps printed in Thailand, the road from the Ang Khang area to the north ends at Nor Lae village. After that, depending on your map, it's no-go or maybe a "security road", very close to the Myanmar border. Only the European B & B map of "Thailand North" clearly shows that the road continues to a lake in the north. Of course we have to see what they try to hide here.
Nor Lae sits quite spectacularly on a mountain ridge with steep slopes all around. Surprisingly, remote poor Nor Lae village has a big sign for a "Kindergarten"; I believe it is sponsored by our hotel.
North of Nor Lae, and just a stone's throw from Myanmar, the "security road" begins. We see a military checkpoint, but the gate is open. Slowly we roll towards the checkpoint. Inside the shack a man moves up and down – but he doesn't come out, he doesn't stop us, so we continue.
We ramble north on half-broken asphalt through dry, steep mountains: easily the most spectacular piste on this trip (together with the road to Papuek cave near Mae Hong Son). We see one very bizarre conical hill – with houses on top.
Then the lake on the other side of the mountains becomes visible. Obviously this is busy farmland. We pass a Thai with his buffaloes, and without seeing any other motorized traffic we descend to the lake.
To be greeted by the next military post. This time we have to stop, and they check the car. I believe they look for smuggled goods or narcotics. Or for a Shan State warrior hiding under the spare wheel? The soldier who searches through the car looks very shy. He asks me to open the back door and excuses himself ten times for that. With a worried face, he holds the loudspeaker into my face that fell down long ago, around Doi Inthanon. His eyes say something like Sorry, now I am forced to believe you carry illegal substances behind the door covering around the loudspeaker recess. Finally, he does a half-hearted search, including my daypack, then we may proceed.
The next checkpoint comes soon – but with a different flavor: Our military man is in good mood. I tell him "pai tiao" (looking around) and that we go back to Ang Khang area for the evening. As a proof I show our key from the Angkhang Nature
Resort. That profound information lets us pass through. But through the open window on the left side, he sputters "Mia narak! Mia narak" (cute wife!) ten times right into Norah's face. The nightlife in this area may be a tad boring.
Around the lake there are orange tree plantations and then more orange tree plantations. The trees stand in line and water is pumped in from the lake. Most plantations are mercilessly protected by fences and even walls. Finally I see one grove where I can steal a few oranges for my vitamin-addicted lady. She honours the effort with those admiring looks.
We see a boring small town at the southern end of the lake, then return northward to go further along the dramatic Myanmar border ridge. We have to stop at yet another military checkpoint, where three soldiers inspect us skeptically.
Quickly we feel: This was it, they will not let us travel further. But they search and search for words, and every time I only say "Khaw thot khrap, mai kao chai khrap" (sorry, I don't understand). I hope if I don't understand all their interventions, maybe they let us continue? Finally they come up with one more piece of vocabulary: "Border road!!"
"Border road!!" they exclaim 25 times, three guys high. Obviously "border road!!" is the Thai word for "you cannot go further", and now I give in and signal we'll go back right now. To turn the car around, I have to go ten more meters in the closed direction. Should I speed on north now? I WANT to see the forbidden mountains! But tame as a sheep I turn the car around. The soldiers wave us goodbye with a satisfied grin.
Enough army for today! A late afternoon stroll through the flower orgy of the Ang Khang Royal Project and a relaxed dinner at the Project's clubhouse beckon more than dull inquisitions on a string by the Royal Thai Army. After all, this is our last day in delightful northern Thailand, and also our last day together.
On the way back, we meet all our soldiers from the morning again. They are happy to see us off. To pass on, this time we just have to smile through the open car window.