The mountain of Doi Tung is an impressive limestone outcrop dominating the Mekong flood plain near Mae Sai. The narrow road snakes through monsoon forest, winding its way up to the 5,900-ft (1,800-m) peak. On a clear day the views of Myanmar and lowland Thailand from the summit are stunning.
The name of the mountain means “flag peak,” so called because in AD 911 King Achutarat of Chiang Saen ordered a giant flag to be flown from the summit to mark the site where two chedis were to be built, allegedly to house a piece of the Buddha’s collarbone. Still a major pilgrimage site, the chedis are at the heart of Wat Phra That Doi Tung, which was renovated in the early 1900s. Also here is a large, rotund Chinese-style Buddha image. Pilgrims throw coins into its navel to make merit. The area around Doi Tung has historically been the site of opium production, the poppy fields guarded by hill tribespeople and the KMT. The area has become the focus for a rural development project aimed at increasing central government control over the area. In 1988 Doi Tung Royal Villa was built on the mountain as part of a plan to increase tourism in the area and to discourage nearby hill tribes from producing opium. Originally a summer residence for the late mother of King Bhumibol, the villa has an attractive flower garden and a restaurant. While the plan has largely succeeded, local villagers have become dependent on hand-outs from the development project and from tourists.
Doi Tung is now connected to the other main settlements of the area by good roads. These make fascinating driving into regions that were once the preserve of drug barons. Mae Salong and Mae Sai may be reached by these routes, via Lahu and Akha hill-tribe villages. Although a strong Thai army presence has reduced drug trading in the area substantially, visitors are advised not to leave main roads.