Boat Trip Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Thailand

Boat trip Choiang Mai and Chiang Rai Thailand
One of the most enjoyable things to do while visiting Northern Thailand is to take a “Long-Tail” boat ride.
The most popular ride is on the Mae Kok river from Thaton, in far north Chiang Mai province, to Chiang Rai.
Boat Landing in Thaton Thailand

Most ride the local bus from the Chang Puak bus station departing at 7 and 9 am for the 3 1/2 hour bus journey to Thaton. It’s much better to take your time and stay in Thaton for the evening. The reason is 95% of the people riding the boats start in Thaton

Most of the boats from Chiang Rai go only as far as the touristy village of Rhummit just a 30 minute boat ride away for elephant riding. For this reason most boat drivers cannot go all the way to the villages and Thaton because they do not know the area farther up river with rapids. Only the boats from Thaton and up river villages can make the full journey. Local hill tribe people who live along the river also take this boat as it will stop for them if they wave it down. The boats from Thaton filled with tourists going to Chiang Rai won’t stop but those who live along the river with boats and provide a ferry service to Chiang Rai do.

NOTICE: There are no longer river taxis. You have to hire a private long tail boat and find others to join you to keep the price down. This should not be difficult as most who are on Thaton want to take the boat to Chiang Rai. Another thing you can do is to take the 1 day guided tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai that includes the boat ride and visiting hill tribe villages with local English speaking guide who knows the area well.

Another possibility is you can charter a boat and spend the evening on the river at the hot springs next to an Akha hill tribe village before going on to Thaton. This is a great way to enjoy the river for a group of two to four persons. This will require a local English speaking guide as the boat drivers do not speak English.

Good food can be had just across the river from the hot springs at the Karen village of Rhummit where you can also arrange for riding elephants. Your guide and boat driver will take you there when you want to eat.

The boat trip from Thaton to Chiang Rai takes around 3 hours. On our 1 day boat trip we start further down the river at the start of the mountain canyons which shortens the trip to 2 hours. We start the trip by picking you up in Chiang Mai then visit Chiang Dao Cave Shrine. We then visit a primitive Lahu hill tribe village then Wat Thaton temple with a magnificent view of the Fang valley and Mae Kok river below. We have lunch and visit a Shan hill tribe village famous for cotton weaving then board the long tail boat to Chiang Rai. We will then transport you to your hotei or guest house or you can ride with us in the air conditioned van back to Chiang Mai.

Join us on a private Long Tail boat ride visiting Akha and Lahu hill tribe villages and hot springs. We also see elephants bathing in the river and locals fishing. This is a 2 day or longer tour with All Thailand Experiencesvisiting ethnic hill tribes and Thai villages away from the normal tourist routes from Chiang Mai Province to Chiang Rai city Thailand.

If you don’t speak Thai it is best to arrange for a guide from one of the tour companies or your guest house in Chiang Rai. They can also provide things like blankets or sleeping bags and food if you would rather eat by campfire. Sleeping is aboard the boat which has plenty of room and comfortable. The hot springs has toilets and showers along with a small store. The springs run into the river which is a good place to take a refreshing bath as the water is not too hot. The Akha hill tribe village next to the hot springs is very authentic with most dressed in their traditional costumes and all living in Bamboo houses. Not many tourists visit the village as most go to Rhummit to do elephant riding and trekking which leaves this area peaceful and mostly unspoiled.

In this video (Above) we visit our hill tribe friends in Chiang Mai Province away from the normal tourist route including Akha, Lahu, Lisu and Karen.

The last bus from Thaton to Chiang Mai leaves at 2:25 in the afternoon. Don’t be in a hurry to leave as Thaton has many things to see and do along with accommodations from 60 to 2000 baht. The Tourist Police in Thaton will help you with any information you may need. They are located along the river not far from the boat landing.

Hundreds of people each day during the busy season ride to boats from Thaton to Chiang Rai. They all leave about the same time in a large convoy one behind the other. For a better experience be different and see the river in the opposite direction. When you see the boats full of people passing just smile and wave from your uncrowded boat as they are sure to be envious.

Visit the Beautiful village of Thaton, Chiang Mai Province in North Thailand

Beautiful village of Thaton, Chiang Mai Province in North Thailand
Beautiful village of Thaton, Chiang Mai Province in North Thailand

There is a wonderful, scenic, and peaceful place away from the normal tourist crowds that believes in keeping its culture intact. This little known gem is the community of Ban Thaton in Mae Ai district and Chiang Mai Province.

The spectacular scenery with the Mae Kok river snaking its way through the fertile Fang valley disappearing into tree covered mountains is a photographer’s dream. The brief rain showers keep the air fresh and clean to offer unlimited visibility of this strikingly beautiful area. Big puffy white clouds decorating the mountain tops against a rich blue sky with numerous rainbows occur only during the rainy season. Colorful hilltribe people working in corn fields set on almost vertical slopes surrounded by many shades of green from the lush vegetation complete the picture.

You will be equally impressed by the hospitality and friendliness of the Thaton people. The area is a unique cultural mixture of Thai, Chinese, and hill tribe people who welcome western visitors but do not change traditions to please them.

Buddha at Wat Thaton Temple
Buddha at Wat Thaton Temple

The first place to visit is Wat Thaton. The temple grounds consisting of over 400 rai of land is famous for it large Buddha statues over looking the town. The breath taking vistas from the upper temple grounds are unmatched anywhere in Thailand. The temple is a perfect place for meditation and study because of its quiet tree covered grounds and flower gardens. Contrary to popular belief, heavy rain showers only happen at night. Daytime showers occur only on the mountain tops. Between 5 and 7 p.m. the skies open up with torrent rain. These cool evening rains make it excellent for sleeping. The mornings are clean and clear with spectacular sun rise.

A popular mode of transportation in the area is bicycle. The paved country road which winds along the river and through mountain canyon is easy by bike. Its possible to enjoy a hot spring bath and visit Lahu, Yao, Lisu, Karen and Shan hill tribe villages in one day. Guest houses are located in a Karen and Lisu village for those wishing to stay with the hill tribe people of the area .

Lisu hill tribe New Year
Lisu hill tribe New Year

October through December is the best time of year for trekking. No need to worry about getting wet from brief mountain showers as your dry clothes are never far away at the guest house. Treks can last from a few hours to several days returning to the Lisu village or sleeping in a house built in the jungle or a different hilltribe village. The cool season is also the time of year for bamboo rafting from Baan Thaton to Chiangrai. The rain adds excitement and adventure to the the beautiful Mae Kok river.

For a wonderful experience making life long friendships and learning local culture and Hill Tribe Home Stay is a must. The best areas for a village home stay is Doi Inthanon National Park and the small village of Thaton, both away from the normal tourist crowds.

Although both are with Karen hill tribes they are much different in what is available to enjoy. At Doi Inthanon home stay you will experience hiking in the cloud forest, swim at the waterfalls, learn to roast coffee and enjoy village life. In the Thaton Home Stay You visit other hill tribe villages such as Lahu and Akha, learn to weave cotton, visit the local market, cook Thai food then a private long tail boat ride.

Both are at clean comforatble traditional homes in your own bedroom, clean toilets with showers and all bedding is provided. In both villages your guide speaks perfect English and in Thaton your guide speaks all the hill tribe languages.

The many rapids that seem a mere ripple during the dry season become white water thrills. The rafts are large, well built, and covered yet carefully designed to easily navigate the swift narrow rapids. Two experienced raft men guide you on this exciting journey packed with beautiful scenery, colorful hill tribe villages and friendly people.

Long tail boat on the Mae Kok River
Long tail boat on the Mae Kok River Thaton Thailand

Baan Thaton is regarded in most guide books only as a quick stopover before traveling to Chiangrai by long tail boat. Most visitors stay only a few hours waiting for the boat to depart at 12:30 p.m. to Chiangrai. The few that do stay in the area all comment that the Thaton area is the highlight of their Thailand journey. They are impressed with the friendliness of the people without the commercialism found in the heavily visited tourist area. Trekking seems the most popular attraction and the groups are small consisting of two to four persons.

Some rules and restrictions apply to maintain village harmony, custom and tradition. The Thaton area has much to offer the visitor in the way of accommodations. They have inexpensive guest houses to lush garden resorts and everything in between.

Visiting villages Thaton Thailand

In summary, Thaton is a wonderful place. A quiet place that believes in keeping its culture intact. It enjoys western visitors but does not change traditions to please them. Because of the few visitors who stay in the area the hill tribe people are shy but friendly so making friends is easy. Talk with them, smile with them and enjoy their hospitality and friendship. Here you can experience a way of life that is lost in present day Thailand.