THERE are few opportunities in any part of the world these days to enjoy a pleasant and eventful cruise down a major river at a reasonable price, but in Chiangrai this opportunity makes itself available to you every day. The Mae Kok Boat Service Company in Ban Thaton, Chiangmai runs a Thaton-Chiangrai boat service with departures every day at 12.30 pm. The trip takes approximately three hours and there are many sights along the way.
The Mae Kok River winds into northern Thailand from Burma just north of Ban Thaton in upper Chiangmai Province. Ban Thaton was originally formed in this location because of the river and for nearly two centuries now the Mae Kok River has been the main trade artery between the Thaton-Fang area and Chiangrai. The Boat Service today runs primarily for passengers rather than goods, and departing from the boat landing in Thaton, the cruise is an excellent way to see the backwoods of Chiangrai Province.
The Mae Kok River runs through portions of very dense jungle and at occasional intervals hilltribe villages rest upon the banks. When the river is deep, during and immediately after the rainy season part of the river become rapids that must be traversed with skill. There are hundreds of small inlets off this river, and these are destinations of boat trips from Thaton carrying trekking parties. Approximately three-quarters of the distance from Thaton to Chiangrai is the Karen village of Ruammit, an elephant town where the Karen locals raise elephants and use them in their daily work in the jungle. This village is easily seen from the river and depending on what time of the day your boat passes Ruammit, the elephants may be bathing in the Mae Kok. They do so everyday in the late afternoon.
Ruammit can also be reached by boarding a long-tail boat from Chiangrai. These passenger boats are headed to Thaton and will pass Ruammit and other villages along the river; they depart the Chiangrai pier every morning at about 10.30 am.
From Thaton, other river activities include:
- Charter boat trips include one-hour or two-hour long-tail boat rides part of the way down the Mae Kok and docking at Shan or Lahu villages on the River with return trips the same day.
- Rafting trips which are part of local treks that venture down river and explore some of the river bank jungle area.
- Overnight camping and hiking trips at various spots along the river can be organized by local tour companies.