Well over half a century ago, a little to the north in China, a bitter and bloody civil war drew to a conclusion. Having received a convincing and decisive drubbing from the communist Red Army the defeated Kuomintang needed to give some serious consideration to their future happiness. To say that the commies had been unhappy with the Kuomintang’s warlords and landowners lording over the peasants pre-war would be something of an understatement. This unhappiness was only surpassed come war’s end as those who survived emerged shell-shocked, haunted by sickening memories of friends and allies fallen in battle, starved and frozen to death, drowned in the squelching mire of endless tracts of peat bogs, flayed alive by stroppy Tibetan warriors, and worse. The Communists, the surviving Kuomintang troops decided, were unlikely to be sympathetic and compassionate toward them. Time to make haste and flee.
Although the bulk of the Kuomintang fled en-mass to Taiwan where they took power and laid claim to sovereignty over the People’s Republic of China, a claim they still maintain, some found it far less hazardous and altogether more convenient to nip across the border to Burma. Now, I am not a historian and what I am giving here is at best a potted history, but at some stage I understand the Kuomintang in Burma managed to niggle the government to a point where the prudent move was to once again runaway, this time to Thailand. One assumes that having had to flee two countries in quick succession they felt ill at ease with themselves and felt a strong foreboding they would be picked on again. This, I imagine, combined with the desire for cool evenings and night-time temperatures convivial to agreeable slumber led them to a remote and ill accessible ridge top that that is now the site of modern day Mae Salong, the lovely little town that will host us midway through our new Northern Thailand tour.
Mae Salong is to all intent and purpose a small Chinese town. The language is a dialect of Yunnan Province, the food is from Yunnan and quite delicious; tea is grown and the people look and behave Chinese. As I rode into town I happened upon an old wooden guesthouse that overwhelmed me with nostalgia, it was typical of so many rural lodges in Yunnan Province that have served me as a home for the night that I could not resist taking a room. At £2 a night the price was also authentic and the creaking and rocking of the wooden building as fellow travellers plodded up and down the stairs bought an authenticity only surpassed by a man’s fitful clearing of his retched throat the following morning.
For the Painted Roads tour I have of course found an altogether more suitable resort to spend the night. Situated on a hill side in the old town we will have a lovely cool residence from which we can enjoy evening views of soft light on the roof tops and a warming sunrise come dawn. for those eager to explore there is an energy sapping climb to the hill top stupa, a local street market worthy of a stroll, several cafés, a tea factory, plenty of tea plantations and a lovely thousand-meter-above-sea-level atmosphere to enjoy. I like Mae Salong!