Our recent day trip to Mon Cham was spectacularly picturesque. Everything – from the scenic mountainside drive to the visually stunning overlook and colorful rows of flowers at our final destination – was gorgeous. It’s no wonder why it’s so popular with the Thai locals and yet surprisingly less so with foreigners. As an added bonus it has unmistakably cool, crisp temperatures all year round.
Did we have your attention at “unmistakably cool, crisp temperatures”? If so, then it’s the perfect place to get away from the city’s heat.
What is Mon Cham (or Mon Jam)?
Mon Cham sits on top of a small mountain no more than 45 minutes northwest away from the Old City. You probably wouldn’t have guessed that there’s a farming community in its neighboring hills, but there is. It’s this aggie community that is the cornerstone to Mon Cham – or Mon Jam (ม่อนแจ่ม) as it’s also called.
Ah, to have strawberries, lettuce and cabbage species, herbs, and other organic produce that thrive in the mountain’s cooler weather is a treat. Thanks to the Nong Hoi Royal Project, the local hill tribe families use sustainable farming methods to cultivate these cooler weather plants. The fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs that thrive in the mountain’s lower temperatures have naturally become part of a farm-to-table sustainable movement thanks to Mon Cham.
Dining in the Clouds
For many people, Mon Cham’s allure is its panoramic views high up in the mountains. There’s a valley on one side and step-like multi-color terrace fields on another side. Oh, and a restaurant and café nestled somewhere in between well-tended flower and herb gardens.
What’s not to love about having a picnic lunch surrounded by views like these?
On top of the hill is the Mon Cham Restaurant. It’s an open aired thatched roof building with bamboo tables and benches overlooking the Mae Sa Valley.
The restaurant offers about twenty or so Thai dishes, which are created in part by using the local produce grown at the Nong Hoi Royal Project. A few of our favorites included gaeng hunlay (Northern pork curry), deep-fried eggplant, yams, onions and other vegetables with dipping sauce, and omelet and rice with fresh herbs. Items start at 60 baht but most averaged between 120 and 150 baht (4 to 5 USD).
Further on top the Mon Cham overlook and just a stone’s throw away from the restaurant is a rustic café. It has a smattering of rough cut lumber chairs to sit on and enjoy unobstructed views of the farm fields on the neighboring hillside.
We went to Mon Cham with a group of friends. Between the two of us ordering lunch, coffee, and dessert we spent 660 THB or about 19 USD.
It’s also significantly cooler on Mon Jam (and on the day we went, breezier, too), which was a welcomed break from the usual stagnant heat of Chiang Mai.
It’s worth noting that the bathrooms were nice. The toilets were of the mechanized flushing variety and the stalls were clean and well stocked with toilet paper. There were sinks, too. Hallelujah!
Hmong Hill Tribe People
Leaving Chiang Mai and visiting this part of the country gave us a glimpse into the life of the Hmong. This hill tribe is one of the many indigenous groups of Northern Thailand. We drove through their small town named Nong Hoi and saw local produce stands, laundry hanging from bamboo rods, chickens roaming freely, and children playing.
Something that was certainly unique and unexpected was seeing about a dozen young hill tribe children – girls and boys no more than seven or eight years old – dressed in traditional Hmong fashion at the Mon Cham overlook. They, too, were enjoying the weekend. They were playing games or eating snacks or socializing without giving much thought to the visitors there.
We’ve only had one other experience around Hmong and that was our guide on the Giew Mae Pan Trail on Doi Inthanon. They are one of the hill tribes that contribute to the Northern Thai culture for which Chiang Mai is famous.
How to get from Chiang Mai to Mon Cham
Mon Cham is a 40-minute drive away. If you have a large group of people, you can share a songthaew from the Old City. Typically, drivers will take you there, wait a few hours, and then drive you back for around 1,000 THB (32 USD) roundtrip (not per person).
Another great alternative is to use Grab Taxi. It’s a ridesharing app similar to Uber and Lyft. Get 100 THB off your first ride when you download the Grab app and use our discount code: GRABTIETOTHAI (or just sign up with here).
If you plan to drive yourself (via rental car or motorbike) on your upcoming trip to Mon Cham, it’s not a difficult drive. There are road signs directing us at every turn. There was no guessing where we had to go next, even when we were driving through the Hmong village. They are as follows:
- Exit Chiang Mai Old City via Chang Puak Gate northbound on Route 107. Drive 15 km.
- Turn left on Route 1096 towards Samoeng and Mae Sa Waterfall and go another 14 km. You’ll know you’re on the correct road because you’ll see signs for activities such as ATV, Long Neck Village, Monkey Show, Botanical Gardens, etc.
- Turn right at the Nong Hoi Royal Projects clearing at the base of the Hmong village and drive another 6 km up the steep concrete road.
- Continue following the Mon Cham signs as the road winds through the Hmong village. This will include one last right turn followed by a quick left turn at a T- intersection before ending at dirt parking area.
- You can see the thatched roof restaurants and beginnings of the flower gardens from the dirt parking lot; follow the dirt path to the overlook.
Although much of the drive to Mon Jam is on a major road, there are a few twisty turns in the mountains and some steep hills. The last few kilometers are on very windy backroads. Drive with caution.
A few driving considerations:
- We don’t recommend making the trip if rain is in the forecast. Although we went on a cloudy day, it never rained. You might not get so lucky and drive on the steep, twisty mountain roads when it’s raining is neither fun nor safe.
- If you take a 120cc motorbike, there is one hill near the end of the drive that may need the passenger to hop off.
- If this is your first time on a motorbike, we don’t recommend driving to Mon Cham because of a few sharp inclines and hairpin turns. However, if you’ve had experience riding on mountainous roads before, you should be fine.
Our trip to Mon Cham reminded us of another hillside haven called Mae Salong. It’s a small Chinese tea town far north of Chiang Mai, near the Burmese border. It, too, practices sustainable agricultural techniques and has similar stunning valley views.
We’re looking forward to another trip to Mon Cham
We’re looking forward to another trip to Mon Cham. It was easy to get there, had well-kept facilities, and let’s not forget all the pretty views. Maybe next time we’ll complete the Samoeng Loop. We’re already talking about camping overnight at the Mon Cham Resort, too.
For being so close to the city (but just far enough away that it takes a little extra effort to get there), Mon Cham is a trip well worth taking. We went with a large group of friends to enjoy the sites and have a leisurely lunch. We think it’s a lovely place for couples to spend an afternoon together, young families to bring kids to run around in the soft grass, or a solo traveler to have a pretty place to do some contemplating or sketching.
Have you ever been to Mon Cham? Let us know in the comments below.
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