In an attempt to escape the city of Chiang Mai, our family rented a truck for four days so we could do some day tripping in the surrounding countryside. Oddly, a truck was cheaper to rent than a car. We asked our expat friends for some recommendations of good day trips outside the city and we were told about Mon Cham.
Mon Cham is a restaurant, campground, and social project set up by the Queen of Thailand to help a hill tribe hmong village raise themselves out of poverty. The initiative started with helping the farmers to switch from low income crops to crops that hold more value such as strawberries and brussel sprouts which grow well in the cooler mountaintop temperatures. As the location on top of a mountain was simply stunning they also added a restaurant and tent platforms to draw in tourist dollars. Our friends told us it was a spectacular place to eat lunch on a clear day.
Driving to Mon Cham was an adventure in itself. Google maps was of little help to us. We knew to head North on 107 and turn left on 1096 but after that we were relying on finding the right sign. We passed a plethora of tourist traps; this lovely valley seems to be the place to be if you are interested in watching men kiss cobras, ride an elephant, roll down a hill in a large ball, or gaze at orchids. After what seemed like a very long time of scanning every sign there was on the highway we came to a small town and saw the sign to turn right to Mon Cham.
Up, up, up we went. Steep inclines and harsh switchbacks made us glad for our truck (although there were scooters doing the same climb!). At the very top of the mountain we were motioned into a large parking lot that was filled with vehicles and souvenir shops. Hmm. Not quite the serene experience I was expecting.
After some confusion of where we should go next (there were no English signs as this is not on the foreigner tourist trail) and tromping through dirt roads the wrong way, we finally looked up behind us instead of out in front of us to find that we needed to climb up a bit more to the restaurant. There were motorbikes ready to take us the final ascent but we declined and in a few minutes of huffing we had reached our destination. We walked through another parking lot full of cars, more souvenir shops, and then there was this:
The view itself was enough to make the effort of getting there worth our while. The fact that we could sit in our very own bamboo platform and linger over a long and lazy lunch made this spot one of the most spectacular places we have ever enjoyed a meal.