Thursday 16 December 2010

Khum Nai Pon - A pretty fancy campsite

Armin, a Swiss friend of mine who runs custom tours through Northern Thailand, has suggested Khum Nai Pon as the best accommodation in the hill town of Doi Mae Salong. As we ride up the main road (well, the town is only one road wide as it's on a precipitous ridge) we see the hotel ahead ...

Charming wooden villas, each nestled amid tea plantations, golden trumpet flowers and flaming red hibiscus. So far so good.

We meet the gracious host, Khun Yuie, at the casual reception/ dining area as we admire the sweeping views down over the valley and the colourful tiled roofs of the Chinese town which hugs the ridge until it drops out of sight.

The original Khum Nai Pon buildings
Yuie is keen to share the fabulous history of this site. "Khum Nai Pon means Nai Pon's Camp," she says, "and he was a general in the Kuo Min Tang army who fought against the communists." I strap myself in for an instant history lesson of the area. "He also headed up security for Khun Sa, the drug dealer, and provided protection and passage for his opium into Burma."

Gee, thanks Armin, what kind of sleazy dive have we got ourselves into here?

Yuie extends her arm out to the valley: "This whole area was poppy fields."

She came here 10 years ago, once the area had been cleaned up. "There was nothing, just nature. So quiet you could hear the birds. But the promotion has been too successful ... now motorbikes." Indeed Mae Salong has grown in leaps and bounds since being opened up to the general public (it was a no-go zone for many years because of the military and drug activities).

She suggests the town could retain its quaintness by putting in a big car park at the top then everybody can use horse-and-cart from there. She adds a rather deranged clip-clop sound which reminds me of the introduction to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

There are none of the original buildings left, instead replaced by cute and comfortable villas, with little balconies affording wide open views.The general certainly chose a good spot.

But then I guess when you're the general and the strongman for the world's biggest drug czar, you can have any damn place you want, jing jing.

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