If you’re a cycle tourist purist e.g. only ride your bicycle and never use another form of transport, then you can skip this post. However, if skirting rapids, racing through lush tropical forests, feeling the wind in your hair, and taking photos with natives interests you, then read on.
This morning, after a great rest and the luxury of sleeping in, making a few phones calls to family, and enjoying a second cup of coffee with delicious scrambled eggs, we loaded up our bikes and cycled about 500 meters down a sandy, dirt road to the bank of the Mae Kok (tributary to the Mekong) River. There we met our long boat driver who proceeded to load our bicycles and packs onto our very own long boat.
The cool mist was thick over the river and I was actually a little chilled and wearing my first long sleeved shirt and jacket in over a year. The crisp air and the excitement at having a rest from cycling added to the fun.
After a couple of false starts, the engine sputtered to life and we were off. The driver steered a quick 180 and down the river we headed.
I was surprised at how fast we were traveling. Even more surprising were the number of rapids, twists and turns in the river and obstacles including rocks, driftwood and sandbars dotting the river bed. It was actually kind of thrilling/scary kind of like a roller coaster and I was mentally making a note to give the guy a good trip if we made it to Chiang Rai alive.
As it turns out, our driver was very skilled and navigated the river like a seasoned pro. He ran the rapids, steered through tiny channels, and rolled up his pants and pushed us off a sandbar with ease. At one point he docked on the edge of a tiny hill where about four hill-tribe children came running down, met the boat, and led us to their village to sell us some local purses and scarves.
Another stop was at a hot springs where we soaked our feet in warm water and enjoyed the laughter of several very young children splashing in their birthday suits.
The ride ended just under four hours later and the long-boat driver even dropped us on the south side of the river where there was a sandy beach that was easy to push our bikes up. (The other side was steep stairs).
All day long I couldn’t help but pinch myself. A boat ride for 4 hours with our bicycles down a beautiful river in Northern Thailand is something I never dreamed of doing. I recommend the boat trip from Tha Ton to Chiang Rai as another “must do.”