Sunday, January 26, 2014

Travelling Mae Rim and Mon Cham

Mon Cham
This has to be one of my most memorable itinerary of my recent northern trip. The drive was easy, because we started our journey at just before 5 am in the morning. The meal later on we had on a hill was brilliant, because we were engulfed in cold air and the crowd was not like that in a concert. Mon Cham is a gated hilly compound located north west of Chiangmai city. Within her fences are large terraced meadow of flowers and fresh vegetation. You can graze on these large salad bars but it would not be appropriate to leave nibble marks on the fresh vegetation.

Ample Parking, If you are Early
To get to Mon Cham, head into Mae Rim. Where the roads narrows into a bendy uphill climb, you will be greeted by signs pointing here there and everywhere which includes Mon Cham so famous she has become. It's not too far, an hour or so depending on traffic. We had some mini vans that staggered and struggled on the ascend blocking our way. The air should have been fresh, our windows wound down. Burning clutch odor filled every cup holder in my Jazz. On approach towards our destination, there was a large sandy compound offering a place for us to park. There were only three vehicles when we arrived including the two mini vans. We alighted, we chit chat and the driver of one of the vans apologized politely for almost rolling back into me when he lost his clutch grip previously. It was dark, dawn had not set in. Headlights illuminated our breaths.

Watching Sunrise
Panting like a dog, the further uphill climb was steep. I realized the stamina I used to have is no more. Age had caught up. There was a small gathering where the woodwork of a large door was, the sign read "open at 7 am". Some two rows then offered their service to bring us to watch sunrise, helped pass our waiting time they sure did. We went. Rocky terrain, the screeching tyres tried to grip, rocky ride, we shifted and shoulder bumped more than a bit. 20 minutes later we set foot on land, directed to the ominous peak and in dawn light we trekked and did. There, only a mere 30 the group was, but the standing space was small. No railings, no barriers separated the cliff drop behind on the peak. Everyone stood waiting for the sun to peek out from the distance mountains and the sea of fog between. Like plants we were and our face like the flowers facing in the same direction, all waited for the light to paint us in glowing golden colors. The sun revealed herself, a thousand pictures were taken. Visitors on their phones posting to social media immediately. Soon the episode was over, no one fell off the cliff. All made our way back to our waiting two rows and then the descend back to Mon Cham, the rocky ride, the pack cabins we sat within.

Mon Jam!!!
By then, Mon Cham had turned from peaceful tranquility into a market chaotic with chatter but good the air was still chilly. We bumped into some Bangkok friends not surprisingly and had coffee and tea in bamboo sheds. Some ordered the congee for breakfast, but a long wait they did. The queue over at the counter was long and noisy. In summary, too many people, too long the wait, too many interruptions into the picture frame my Canon had snapped. Sea of fog in the distance, sea of people Mon Cham had and no more serenity. It was year's end, I was told to expect that.

We left on narrow roads packed with cars inconsiderately parked on the narrow two lane tarmac, we made our way further into Mae Rim. Ups, downs and bends, we spotted a Vineyard. We had to pay to get it. The blackcurrant, they looked tiny, in bunches they hung off the framework too low my face kept colliding into them. They have them on sale, over the counter purchase many did. I did not. Next to this vineyard across the road was rows of colorful vegetation lined perfectly. Of purple and greens, the dots of visitors spread across them like dark sesame seeds. More picture opportunities.

Pick your Own Strawberry
A strawberry field we visited. Pick your own, weigh your own and pay your own the sign reads. There were no more large juicy pickings, they had already been picked since the beginning of December when the huge number visitors invaded. Only the small ones were left, the occasional larger ones hidden behind leaves. Every field will be filled with people this season, everyone wants pictures taken. The assault of Mae Rim by Bangkokians, business thrived, prosperity for the folks with disregards if their fruits they had ripen.

Just Breathtaking Sitting There
We drove on further, enjoyed the spectacle Mae Rim her hilly terrain could offer. How long will her charm remains I wondered. Numerous peaks had been trimmed like a bad haircut, filled with groups of tents, a camping ground they had become. The gathering of metallic cars, their shiny reflections breaking the green foliage of nature on each of those clearings. A hut, a house, some structure within, the basic toilets and bathrooms for the campers' essential needs.

Recommended Route
How to see the best of Mon Cham and her surrounds? Leave early well before the sunrise, take the well paved large roads on route 121 that fringes east of Chianmai. The journey will be pleasantly fast, the cars abound a few. The uphill descend will be short upon reaching route 1096 where to leads to Mon Cham. On the descend, do not take the same roads back, instead head further into the mountains continuing on route 1096, over to 1269 in the direction of Hang Dong and arrive at the south of Chiang Mai. This twisty route, though longer and challenging, will bring you to strawberry farms, vineyards, tasty coffee retreats, an elephant camp and more. And that's when we found Mon Muan.

Mon Muan
Mon Muan is a hill top restaurant with a great panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. They have several wooden houses serving as hotel rooms. They were fully booked. The breeze was constant, the chill made the noon's 18 degrees felt like 13.
On the protruding patio we sat and had lunch under the warmth of the sun, the other patrons just a cake, a coffee and a bunch of picture taking fun. Hot meals we had ordered turned cold rapidly, never mind that the coolness was what I was there to embrace. How did Mon Muan turned so popular? Told I was that a Thai series was filmed there that drove her fame up. And again, some friends bumped into us, small world or was it just that everyone was there this season.

The Doi
It was past noon and the traffic had significantly built up. On the downhill towards Hang Dong, a very enjoyable drive shifting me gears between two three and four. When my brakes were at its limits, the familiar smell of burning pads smelt, we took a break at The Doi, one of coffee places so crowded and so many to be found on route. The elephants were opposite, tourist bought food to feed the grey giants. The arrival of a big bike entourage, the rumblings of their large capacity engines. We left for our resort to chill the rest of our afternoon, the bikers our table they took over in turn. The next time I will come, in Mae Rim a resort I shall find and stay. This place is lovely and should be the highlight of a northern trip in winter for anyone that comes.

Look at them Go
Shops on the Road Side
More of Mon Cham
Vege Farm
That's how they Do It
The real Farmers at Work
And since Blogspot keep screwing up the location, this is the only way I can share.


Bestof2Worlds said...

OK so this is what Mon Cham looks like at it's best. I travel to places mostly off peak times and miss out on all this. My wife now has new travel rules, go at the best times or she goes without me. We are either too early or too late for the Sakura and Floral Exhibitions too. Next year pics on blog will include traffic jam and people jam.

Jewie said...

Hey Bestof2Worlds.. . firstly.. . Huat Ah.. . Happy CNY ahead. Now best of Mon Cham actually happens when I don't know. I would not call the period I went the best, it was 30 Dec and it was hell. Too many people. I think the best of times could be 2nd week of Jan, that's when I was told the flowers bloom, and the crazy crowd not so much. But the weather will be tricky. Its best to go Mae Rim when cold, don't know if every year will be like this year where its cold all the way till near end Jan.