I’D NEVER HEARD of Arunothai til I saw it on Google maps, searching for some nice mountains to ride. 120km and two hours north of Chiang Mai, it was surrounded by forests, farms, Burma. A little further north was the Doi Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station, some bird watching spots, and the map showed a guesthouse. I was sold.
The Thai-Burma border ran through the back of town, so close that I crossed it without realising a few times. Yunnan immigrants had settled in the area I don’t know when, bringing their food, and there were Shan and Lahu villages around, as well as a Mon temple in town. The farms around town, as well as up the road to Doi Ang Khang were incredibly green, fertile and pretty. Several spots along the road were marked for twitching, including army bases…..
Playing on Google Earth & Streetview, a winding road up the the Burmese border caught my attention. There was a town I'd never heard of, with a guesthouse: Arunothai.
Searching Google for "Arunothai" takes you not to the town, but to a restaurant 11,800km away in Nottingham, UK. It's a small town.
Two hours from Chiang Mai, nestled in the hills a short walk from the closed Burma border, is a small market town, with Yunnanese Chinese immigrant roots.
I was going to use the town to explore the parks and forest a little further north at Doi Ang Khang.
By chance, when I arrived, there was a school or temple festival happening.
The town's young students were all decked out in their finest traditional outfits.
As well as teachers and parents.
I'm not sure what ethnic group they are - the temple is Mon in design- probably Thai. But prayer wasn't going to get in the way of ice-cream!
A few food stalls were out, and musicians hung out in the back of a pick up drinking whiskey, sporting some cool tough stickers.
I guess the band didn't get the memo. Anyway, Arunothai, as randomnly chosen towns go, was pretty cool so far.
I explored the farms and hills by motorcycle and foot, inadvertently straying into Burma a couple of times. The land was incredibly green, with rich, fertile red soil.
The market was largely a footpath affair, with sturdy hill women lugging baskets from the nearby fields. Pumpkins, apparently.
Even the butcher's is out on the street.
The Yunnan heritage is clear in the main street.
A number of Yunnanese restaurants serve some pretty good food, like these dumplings.......
As well as pumpkins and pig's head, how about some spicy chicken feet?
Whatever you tastes, there was plenty of good stuff, on the street or seated in a restaurant.
Breakfast on the road, gappao gai (chicken basil & rice) my go-to "I can't read Thai" meal. Coffee, binoculars, motorcycle, everything I need.
Another temple festival was taking place at my random breakfast town, Ban Sin Chai, just a short drive out of town.
Village folk where making their way in and out of the temple, some in modern attire, but mostly in traditional clothing.
Drumming and music in the hall complimenting the prayers and offerings at the shrine and temple.
And while I found all this sound and colour exciting, the youngsters were like kids anywhere.
I can safely say that this was a Shan community, because that is the Shan flag on the map of Shan State, which is over the border in Burma.
But there was more colour and variety, as I sheltered from the rain up the road, with some Lahu(?) hill tribe girls.
Doi Ang Khang is home to a Royal Agricultural Station, sponsored by the much respected (late) Queen Sirikit, to move hill folk away from opium production.
It is a popular destination for Thais, partly because of the royal connection, but the mountains, farms and forests here are quite worth the trip.
It also has the strangest birding sight I have been to: a Thai army base, complete with trenches, guard towers, pill boxes and razor wire. That is Burma I am looking at. Sentries waved me in before I had time to even cut the engine on the bike!
While the birding in the area was reasonably good and my bird pics were reasonably bad, plenty of other flora and fauna kept me amused.
This chap was waiting nonchallantly on a rock. Good set of claws on him.
Botanic gardens, Mae Fang and Doi Pha Hom Pok national parks are close by, and a short hop up the hill, strawberry farms at Ban No Lae.
I managed to explore many forest areas, but the next day, my goal of hugging the border and mountain roads to Tha Ton would be frustrated by an army point. Great area nonetheless.