Now that the rainy season is quickly upon us, places with wet sandy beaches and cloudy rainy skies seem less appealing. However, the culture rich mountainous north is at its most attractive time of year.
There is a wonderful, scenic, and peaceful place where brief afternoon rain showers are definitely an advantage. This little known gem is the community of Ban Thaton in Mae Ai district and Chiangmai 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.
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 Akha, 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 .
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. 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.
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. Trekkingseems 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.
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.
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