Located in the outskirts of Pai, Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand, about 5km outside of town, is a village called Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village, one of the most popular attractions in Pai. This is not your typical Chinatown you see around the world but one of three Chinese villages situated in northern Thailand populated by Yunnan tribespeople.
History tell us that this village, which today has a population of 2000 souls of mix Yunanese, Thai hill-tribes people and former Chinese soldiers, was settled by Yunnanese hill-tribes that crossed the border in mid-20th Century to escape the tough Chinese communist rules. Most villagers speak fluently both Thai and Chinese, and it is amazing today to experience this cultural melting pot living under one roof.
Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village is indeed a center where visitors have the chance to experience Chinese culture: the village showcases reproductions of traditional Chinese clay houses, and there are a few tiny shops made of mud and clay selling tea by the bag or by the pot, where they also often run tea-tasting sessions. It is also possible to experience Yunnanese way of life, as well as dressing in a traditional Yunnan dress (you can hire it from a local shop by the artificial pond at around 100thb) and have your pictures taken for you.
ATTRACTIONS & LEISURE
There are several attractions and things to do at Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village. Things are a bit touristy in a way, with a tacky recreation of the Great Wall of China, souvenir shops selling tea, key rings, and all sort of Chinese pottery and paraphernalia, but there is lot more on offer for visitors in terms of leisure activities. The manicured lawn large area alternate with flower beds and fills up with people at leisure during day time. You can sign up for pony or horse or donkey riding, take part on shooting games, and one of the highlights of the village is the big wooden ferris wheel: for a mere 20 thb per ride, a group of men use their body weight to spin the wheel for an amazing ride.
But for me the real attraction in Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village has got to be the food! As you enter the village, the side of the road is dotted with a dozen of little stalls selling anything from roasted chestnut – roasted on the spot by mixing them with hot coal in huge woks by the street vendors – to oranges and tangerines, mangoes, all sort of fruits and veggies, dried beans, quality rice, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and more. And after having taken a few pictures and walking around the village for a while, I decided to go do what I enjoy most: eat!
I chose one restaurant that sported the logo of Thaihigh quality vegetable and meat producers and distributors Betagro (check them out at http://www.betagro.com/ourbusiness_food_en.php) and ordered a few dishes from the Chinese-Yunnanese menu: delicious boiled and fried Chinese buns, Chinese herbs, stir fried fresh mushroom and pork hocks, all tasty and delicious and accompanied by, what else, steamed rice and a pot of Chinese tea.
Continuing on from the village, the unmade road got incredibly steep and bumpy; at the top I was greeted by an earth path that took me right to a viewpoint, where I enjoyed an unprecedented sight of Pai valley. There are banners in Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village that advertise early morning transportation to reach the viewpoint early and watch the sunrise.
MO PAENG WATERFALLS
This area of mountains surrounding Pai is home to Mo Paeng Waterfall, located just 2km past the entrance of Baan Santichon. This multi-tiered waterfall is easier to access than most of other Pais’ waterfalls, and is surrounded by a green lush valley. Tourists and locals enjoy a dip in one of the natural pools which are surrounded by smooth rocks used as slides.
Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village homestay programs offer a real Yunnan cultural experience for reasonable prices. Most homestays are built with mud and straw and are surrounded by manicured landscapes. For more information, contact 053 699 851
From the walking street area, take the hospital road and follow it until you reach the Bypass Road. Drive across it and continue uphill for another 4km. This is a mainly rural area, ideal for those nice holiday pictures: farmers, cows and goats grazing in fields, rice paddies, corn, black boars and vegetable gardens, all surrounded by lush mountains in the distance.
Pass the Thai Cultural Center and 1km later you will see a large Chinese gate covering a bridge that marks the entrance of Baan Santichon – Yunnan Cultural Village.