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Introducing Doi Ang Khang

Welcome to Thailand's 'Little Switzerland', so called for its cool climate and mountain scenery. A visit here is like entering a different world: you leave the tropical heat of the plains, following the narrow switchback road up the mountain with its expansive views of the towns and fields below, until you reach the cloud belt where villagers are bundled up in winter jackets and speak languages imported from faraway places. The winter phenomenon of frost (occurring usually in January) adds to Doi Ang Khang's exoticism. Thais often make the pilgrimage here during the New Year's holiday period to shiver from cold for amusement. Doi Ang Khang (1300m) also borders Myanmar and offers the illusion of peeping over the border into that country's vast frontier.

The main road to the summit is via Rte 1249 with lots of looping hairpin turns. There are about four minority villages situated along the ridgelines of Doi Ang Khang. As you approach the summit, look for the turnoff to Ban Luang, a Yunnanese village just south of the campground. Ran Ahlee (no romanscript sign; look for the sign with the Muslim crescent) serves Yunnanese-style kôw soy and is a good excuse to drive through town. Most villagers make their living through farming.

Near the summit of Doi Ang Khang is the Royal Agricultural Station, showcasing fruit orchards, tea plantations, a bonsai garden and other flora. The mountain sits at an altitude of 1300m and supports the cultivation of many temperate species that are considered exotic in Thailand. These crops were introduced as substitutes for opium poppies. The station's restaurant serves Thai standards, using local produce.

There are several places to stay near the station's entrance in the village of Ban Khum, a mix of Burmese and hill-tribe people, who make their living off of the tourist trade. Marketing itself as an ecoresort, Angkhang Nature Resort has large bungalows set in a slope behind the main reception building. They are quite plush and the best feature is the small, wooden outdoor porches with lovely garden views. In the resort itself, the attractive restaurant features royal project produce, and the lobby boasts stone fireplaces to complete the winter-lodge atmosphere. A portion of its staffing is dedicated to hiring from local hill tribes, providing a much needed job source. The hotel can arrange lots of outdoor activities: mountain biking, trekking and mule riding (a traditional form of transport on the mountain). It also distributes a thematic map showing hill-tribe villages, walking trails and birdwatching spots, though geographic details are a little lean. A more detailed description of birdwatching trails can be found at Thai Birding (www.thaibirding.com).

Other villages include Ban Khop Dong, a Lahu settlement, and Ban Nor Lae, a Palong settlement; both are involved in farming for the royal project. Residents of Nor Lae crossed the border into Thailand from Myanmar about 30 years ago and the village is within site of a border patrol station.