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Mae Jaem: White Water Odyssey

Rafters on the river - 16K
These bright faces and happy smiles indicate
all the excitement of this white water rafting adventure.
Revisit Thailand Year takes place in 1998. Visitors returning to Thailand will be looking for new destinations and activities so they can further explore Thailand. What will be in store for them when they come to north Thailand? A white water rafting route on the Mae La Mao River in Tak Province has been a successful tourist draw for nearly two years. This self-adventure package is a boost to existing attractions for short-stay visitors to the northwestern zone of Thailand.

The tour is offered by Mr. Wiboon and his wife, "Boong", who are the young couple managing the Mae Sot Conservation Tours, a local operator in Mae Sot, Tak Province. Information and reservations can be made at Tel. (6655) 532 818

The trip begins on the river near the Tak-Mae Sot Highway, about 30 km west of Mae Sot District and 57 km east of Tak. Tourists can go rafting all year in the Mae La Mao River but during the rainy season rather than being white water, the water is red from the muddy runoff.

The Mae Sot tour includes visits to interesting sights such as the Thai-Myanmar border market, Magic Land, the shrine of Pha Wo, a meal and, of course, rafting on a rubber boat.

On the lookout for additional adventure routes, the Mae Sot Conservation Tour has launched white water rafting in Chiangmai Province. There are two river tours fro two different target markets planned for this forthcoming high season. White water rafting can be either very adventurous bumping over grade 4 or 5 rapids or the river ride can be as smooth as sitting in the bathtub for a soft tourism adventure when the participants' ages might range from 4 to 5 years old or senior family members.

Starting off the tour is a nature study of Doi Inthanon at 2,565 meters above sea level. Most of the year the mountain top is covered with fog. The great beauty that abounds on this mountain is awesome. The visitors' center is filled with photos and information.

How many of us have ever stopped to appreciate what a marvel of nature the topography of Thailand is. The mountain tops are where the fallen leaves decompose from the continuous sun and rain. During the heavy rainy season some of the rich soil washes down the mountainsides, flowing down to the plains. There the water sits in the lowland. The rich soil is the natural fertilizer needed to grow the rice. The standing water partially dehydrates or gradually flows into the major rivers and then into the ocean.

Now what happens to the natural cycle when so many trees have been cut down? The lowland agriculture area is disturbed while man constructs buildings and dams in the natural agriculture areas. Man ends up fighting the forces of nature to turn the acreage into his idea of a modern livable civilized habitat that for thousands of years was a perfect agriculture sight. As we are finding out, controlling nature is not an easy thing to do. Such is the information visitors are given throughout the tour.

Before continuing on the tour, guests stop in a dense forest and the guide informs everyone about the living floor of the forest. For example many chestnuts covered with sharp needles are pointed out to us. These are a favorite food for wild boars. How do they ever get through the sharp needle covering? Guests are shown an award winning tree towering proudly above us. Its tree trunk is completely covered with orchids and ferns. The tour continues on to Mae Jaem district for lunch. Then everyone is ready for rubber rafting downstream on the Mae Jaem River. The destination is nearly at the end of The Ob-Luang National Park. The one-day outing is especially for those with a spirit of adventure allowing for a possible spill now and then. The river has some exciting grade 4 rapids and navigating the rapids without turning over takes teamwork.

The boating site is 45 kms from Mae Jaem and 180 kms southwest from Chiangmai or 5 kms from main road Hod to Mae Sariang. The raft travels at about 5 to 10 kms per hour. The Rafting tour from Mae Jaem to Hod is around Bt. 1,800 per person. Ready for rafting - 10K
Here rafters anticipate a wild and rugged journey.

The second rubber rafting destination is a rendezvous with nature. This tour takes two days with one night for the adventurers to camp in tents on the banks of the river. Whereas tour one departs from a small village on a major road, the river departure of the second tour option is at the end of a 15 km off road adventure drive.

The pathway for the 4-wheel drive vehicle skirts the side of the mountain and looks down into the valley. The Mae Jaem river is always in sight -- sometimes quietly flowing and sometimes crashing around the huge boulders in the river. This is a 15 km drive of sheer beauty. After this wild ride, the thought of rafting on a peaceful river is something to really look forward to enjoying.

The best way to truly appreciate the quiet and pristine nature on the two day tour is out on a raft where one can look straight up into the towering trees. The trunks and branches of hundreds of trees are the hosts to fragrant, wild orchids and large stag horn ferns. Here stand majestic wild mango trees with mango fruit no larger than a plum. Another tree seen often on the river banks is water loving 'ma deua'. It's a good tree to know because its colorful fruit goes into a type of jungle curry dish.

Khun Wiboon is an expert on the ecology of northern Thailand. We came upon one part of the river where the overhanging tree branches touch each other in the middle of the river. Khun Wiboon told us that during the trips on the Mae La Mao River in Mae Sot occasionally gibbons will be jumping across through the branches overhead. When the rafts suddenly pass under them, the gibbons are startled and lose their concentration for just a few seconds. Instead of catching the branch they miss it completely and plop into the river. It's an amusing sight for everyone to watch the gibbons as they hurriedly swimming about in the river.

For the moment, here on the Mae Jaem it's so peaceful. Hawks soaring overhead, "takuad" lizards sunning themselves on drift wood and kingfishers skimming the river are a common sight. Although this area may not be ranked as one of the eight wonders of the world, it's nice to know such beauty is so close at hand here in northern Thailand. The sight of hillsides covered with long flowing grass are wonders to behold.

There's more to rubber rafting than just admiring the scenery. Everyone is instructed on how to wear a helmet and life jacket. Life jackets are checked to see that all buckles are secure. Rafters are also informed how to handle an emergency if they do fall out of the raft. It's really all part of the fun, so don't panic. Just enjoy!!

This experience in the great outdoors certainly will be an excellent reminder for all of us to be more careful with our environment. The plastic bag you throw out that misses the trash can gets caught up in the sewer and flushes out to the spoil a river located 50 kms from the city. Plastic bags and litter destroy the habitat of the fish and frogs. So next time, please take a few minutes to go back to pick up the refuse with the thought you are doing your part to preserve our beautiful earth.

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