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River Rafting in Chiangrai

I'd gone to Chiangrai with some friends and found it a delightful northern city. Truly the "Gateway to the Golden Triangle," Chiangrai is fascinating in its own right and can readily be used as a base for excursions into the Triangle area. It's also serviced by an international airport which makes swift travel to and from really convenient. However, my friends and I were traveling by road so, as they wanted to stay longer in Chiangrai and I had business in Mae Sai, we parted company for a few days.

After concluding my business in Mae Sai, I had the option of returning directly to Chiangrai or taking the bus to Thaton and going the long way 'round. I opted for the latter because I'd heard about something and it tempted me -- river rafting from Thaton to Chiangrai! Not quite like arriving in New Orleans from a Mississippi riverboat -- but close enough, I thought!

Virtually all of the countryside in this northwestern corner of Thailand is mountainous so the scenery is glorious and the roads serpentine. The road to Thaton was no different -- a real switch-back -- but it had a top class surface and the bus made steady progress. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing many Hilltribe villages clinging to steep mountain slopes; being so close to the Shan States, this is real Hilltribe country with a mixture of Shan, Thai-Yai, Lisu, Karen, Akha and Musser peoples. Some very ethnic looking, and enterprising, villages were even offering "Bed & Breakfast" to interested travellers. I eventually arrived at Baan Thaton, astraddle the Mae Kok River, and overnighted there at a pleasant guesthouse. Booking passage for my next morning's "soft adventure" downstream was no problem so I slept well and rose ready for the adventure next morning.

By the way, there is a "long tail" boat service from Thaton which can propel you to Chiangrai in approximately six hours. However, I preferred a "slow boat home" so rafting suited me fine. My fellow "rafters" numbered seven (including our guide) and we were distributed evenly over the long "deck" of the bamboo raft. A "pole-man", fore and aft, completed the complement; I felt sorry for them (but not too much!) as they were out in the open while the rest of us relaxed under a shady thatch. Food and lots of ice for cooling the drinks was provided as was a sleeping bag for the overnight stop. Fortunately I wasn't wearing my Gucci gear (I'd been forewarned!) so I didn't worry about getting wet. Initially, I thought we were seated perilously close to the water (and sometimes awash) but we had plenty of buoyancy and, anyway, the river isn't very deep.

So off we floated, at a very gentle pace, until the current took us and the "pole-men" were using their poles to steer rather than propel. It was very leisurely as we passed many hilltribe villages, some elephants (I guess from a jungle-trekking tour) and one or two resort properties. The guide was a wealth of information about the river, what to watch for and the area in general. He also had a guitar and serenaded us right royally. "This is the life", I thought. Sometimes a long-tail boat would zip past leaving us with its spray and wake, locals would wave from the river-bank and, at one point, an exciting cascade of rapids captured everyone's attention so we tended to hang-on more than was actually necessary. It was splashy and wet but certainly not white-water rafting. I saw the movie "Deliverance", years ago, and I'm definitely not into that sort of thing!

The overnight, and on board toileting, were simple and basic; I had a splash in the river before sliding into my sleeping bag and stretching out on deck. Our guide and "crew" stayed in a tent on shore so that the rest of us had more space -- and sleeping mats provided a welcome softness. On board toileting? Well, let's say I'm not in love with squat toilets and if the toilet is moving slightly, as the raft bobs along, then you have an extra challenge! What the heck!! At least it was at the after-end of the raft and screened for total privacy!

At some time during the following afternoon, we drifted into Chiangrai after some 100 kilometers of river rafting. I was a little damp, slightly tired and certainly looking forward to a hot shower and a seat which wasn't moving. But I'd thoroughly enjoyed myself, thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of our little group and I'd seen heaps. This river-rafting trip, from Baan Thaton to Chiangrai, is "soft adventure" but I felt I'd done something -- and that was reward in it self.

Rafting trips down the Mae Kok River, from Thaton to Chiangrai, may be pre-booked in Chiangrai (or Chiangmai) or directly in Baan Thaton. If you're not a shrinking violet then give it a go!

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