The Palong village of Mae Chon

View of mountain village
View of the Palong village of Mae Chon

Table of Contents

Mae Chon, a village of the Palong people

Mae Chon is a small village of the Palong people in the Chiang Dao district, north of the city of Chiang Mai. About 60 families live in this tine village, that borders the Sri Lanna National Park, just east of the district capital of Chiang Dao. In Thailand most people know them as “Palong” but they call themselves “Dara-ang”. Mae Chon is one of four villages in Chiang Dao district. The other villages are Pang Daeng Nai, Pang Daeng Nok and Huay Pong. In the village of Huay Pong, they live together with the Lahu people.

Mae Chon is east of the town of Chiang Dao, about 15 minutes drive from the town. The road is fairly good, apart from a stretch of about one km, which is unpaved and sometimes difficult to pass in the rainy season. For unclear reasons, the community is not connected to the electricity grid, unlike all other villages in this area. Within five kilometers there are Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and other Palong villages.

Green Chiang Dao landscape
Beautiful limestone landscape, east of the town of Chiang Dao

The history of Mae Chon

Some of the adult people who live in Mae Chon were born in Shan State, the largest of the fourteen administrative divisions by land area in Myanmar, and entered Thailand in the mid-1980s or later at Doi Angkhang or at Tachileik. Why did they move to Thailand? According to them, their homeland in Shan State had become too dangerous to live, so they decided to escape to Thailand. Initially, they lived in the border community of Nor Lae but, after King Bhumibol, granted them permission to stay in Thailand, they moved to Chiang Dao district. There they started felling some trees to establish their new home in the forests east of Chiang Dao. Consequently, local authorities accused them of breaking the law. Since 1989 there has been a logging ban in Thailand. Some of the men were convicted and jailed for several years. It is an unfortunate past villagers rather don’t talk about nowadays.

Tourism in Mae Chon

In the course of the 1990s, the area east of Mae Chon became a popular trekking area for adventurous tourists. Besides the Palong villages, there are also communities of other indigenous groups such as the Karen, the Lisu, the Lahu and the Akha people. These villages are not too far from each other, and a network of forest trails offers a lot of flexibility for trekking. In those days, most trekking itineraries included elephant riding and bamboo rafting. It was just a question of time before a local entrepreneur moved into the area and started offering elephant rides and bamboo rafting on the Ping River.

Local companies started offering two-, three- and four-day trekking programs that included overnights in the communities and the above-mentioned activities. According to local people, tourism brought needed cash to some of the communities in difficult times. The villagers are farmers, but tourism supplied some welcome extra income. The Palong village of Mae Chon had five homestays at the height of the tourist boom between 2005 and 2012.

Tourism: the tide turns

In the year 2012 the tide for tourism turned. Some tourist companies decided to ban elephant riding from their itineraries. In the area east of Chiang Dao this led to the departure of the owner of the elephants. This individual also managed the bamboo rafting, so people lost interest in visiting the area. Consequently, local people lost much of the income of tourism. Green Trails kept offering trips to the area east of Chiang Dao and to the Palong villages in particular. Interest in trekking trips has been dwindling over time for various reasons.

There are now so many alternative tour options for visitors to North Thailand and the perception of visiting “hill tribe” villages has changed. Many visitors of North Thailand have lost interest in visiting communities of the ethnic minorities. Green Trails aims to revive trekking and visiting ethnic minority villages by organizing interesting activities and in-depth visits in cooperation with the local people.

Three girls in traditional dress
Dara-ang (Palong) girls in Mae Chon village. Picture by Ollie Pitt

Daily life at the Palong village of Mae Chon

The Palong people of Mae Chon are farmers. They grow corn, rice, various kinds of beans and there are many different fruit trees around the village, mostly mango and longan (lamyai). Authorities have given every family a plot of land. In the office of the Royal Project of the Palong village of Pang Daeng Nai there are aerial pictures of five villages with the exact demarcation of the land of each family. These pictures also give details about the crops each family grow, as well as the name and house number of the family. Corn harvesting is one of the activities we have organized in the past for groups of international students.

Two young women in corn field
Students harvesting corn on the land of Lung Bun and Pa Ma

Spending the night at the Palong village of Mae Chon

About ten years ago, there were five homestays at the Palong village of Mae Chon. Now only the homestay of Lung Bun and Pa Ma is the only one that is operational. This homestay offers basic accommodation to groups up to 25 visitors, with separate dormitories for male and female guests. When Lung Bun and Pa Ma have visitors, their homestay becomes a center of attention in the village. The weavers of the village come to the homestay to offer their products and other souvenirs. Furthermore, the children of the village are frequent visitors after school is out. Many kids attend the primary school close to the nearby village of Pang Daeng Nai.

The homestay has simple toilets and shower facilities and most of the time there is running water from the mountain. Meals are prepared in a simple kitchen with a wood fire. Our guides always invite guests to join the cooking which is a great, educational activity.

What can you do at Mae Chon?

Over time, we have developed several activities that make an overnight stay in Mae Chon attractive. The traditional dress is one of the main attractions of the village of Mae Chon. The dara-ang women wear traditional dress unlike the dress of any other indigenous group in North Thailand. We introduce visitors to their traditions and customs and ask local people to explain the story of the traditional dress. Furthermore, we have organized textile tours to Mae Chon during which participants learned backstrap weaving.

Hiking to the temple on a rocky mountain

Another activity we offer is an easy hike to a small temple, Wat Phrabat Mae Chon,  on a rocky outcrop where a Buddhist hermit lives. On top of this limestone outcrop, there is a small Buddha park with a Buddha footprint, an image of a reclining Buddha and a small chedi. It has some nice views over the surrounding mountains and fields. Before we go, we prepare some typical delicacies to donate to this small temple. It is a lovely hike through the fields of Mae Chon to the stairway and trail that lead to this special place. Most people in reasonable shape can join this activity.

The Palong village of Mae Chon in Green Trails trips

If you join one of the below trips, you will spend the night at the Palong village of Mae Chon:

From: 9,500.00 ฿

Green Trails Tribal Experiences

Stay with the Palong People of Chiang Dao

From: 7,300.00 ฿