Doi Mae Salong, in the Northern Thai mountains: The city, founded by ethnic Chinese (remnants of Chiang Khai Shek’s counter-revolutionary army) in the early 1950s, and a former hub of the opium trade the Golden Triangle area. The community turned its back on the opium trade in the mid 90s in order to reflect on another Chinese tradition – the growing of tea. The Formosa Oolong tea plant species, imported from Taiwan’s Alishan region, were not only successfully cultivated in Northern Thailand, they were even brought to a new level of perfection by the Doi Mae Salong tea farmers. Now, these teas, grown at altitudes between 1200 and 1800 m push to the world market and do not only capture the latter, but also the heart of tea lovers worldwide.
When the Communists took over mainland China in 1949, three Nationalist Chinese armies originally from China’s Yunnan Province fled to the Thai-Burmese border, vowing to continue fighting against Communist Chinese forces. In 1956 they were driven out of Burma and some settled down on Doi Mae Salong Mountain to form a Yunnanese community. Still others settled in Taiwan and this formed a lasting Thai-Taiwan connection.
The Chinese who settled in Doi Mae Salong grew opium as a cash crop until the Royal Thai Army came in to destroy the opium trade. A road was built into the area in the 1980s and since then the Thai government has attempted to integrate the Yunnanese into mainstream Thai society. Despite 20 years of effort there is still a strong Chinese heritage in the area and Chinese remains the mother tongue of most of the inhabitants.
Doi Mae Salong is located 45 km north of Mae Chan district in Chiang Rai province at an elevation of about 1,500 meters. It has an average annual temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and the air is crisp, cool and refreshing all year round – ideal conditions for tea.
The growing conditions of Doi Mae Salong are very similar to Taiwan, which produces some of the best oolong tea in the world. Many of the tea bushes that are growing in Doi Mae Salong originate in Taiwan, and most of the tea production is Taiwanese-style oolong tea.