Day #153: The long boat to Chiang Rai

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September 1st 2013
Published: September 12th 2013
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My plan for today was to travel from Chiang Dao to Tha Ton in the North of Thailand, where it is possible to get a boat to Chiang Rai, down the Kok river, a tributary of the Mekong. The boat leaves daily at 12:30pm but my plans went awry as I had not realised that on Sundays the bus from Chiang Dao does not go as far as Tha Ton but stops at nearby Fang, from where you have to take a shared taxi. Various delays - the bus was late, then got stuck on the winding road to Fang, then I had to wait a while for the shared taxi to arrive - meant I arrived flustered at Tha Ton at around 12:25pm.

Worse though was that when I arrived the woman at the boat ticket office informed me there were no other tourists wanting to travel and there hadn't been for the past 4 days. The boat only runs with a minimum of 4, so if I wanted to go I would have to buy 4 tickets and travel by myself. After some deliberation - after all that there wasn't much hurry given the boat wasn't running otherwise - I figured I didn't have much choice: there's no other way to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Dao other than returning all the way back to Chiang Mai and getting a bus from there, which felt a bit defeatist, and the chances of more tourists turning up the next day were low (and there is little to do in Tha Ton, which is really just a village). I was surprised, though: it is off season, but I thought all of Thailand was full of tourists pretty much all the time.

So anyway, that's how I ended up chartering a boat! It was a wooden long boat that sat low in the water, no seat or bench, just a piece of wood wrapped in cushioning on the floor of the boat. The trip down the river takes about 2 and a half hours at this time of year and was probably my highlight in Thailand so far, once I had got used to the quiet (there was almost no one else on the river, never mind another tourist, so it was just me and the friendly but silent boatman). The views changed as we travelled along, from flat farm lands with mud and straw huts, to bucolic mountains further down river. The few solitary people I saw on the river banks were mostly tribes people who farm the lands who looked curiously at this lone traveller in her own boat, although at one point there was a resort area with the only bridge I saw during the journey, and I caught a glimpse of some elephants being ridden along the banks. The river itself is much like the Mekong, thick, swirling, muddy brown water that was occasionally alarming to travel through as the boat smacked against the currents. It was the ultimate in solitude, at times I felt like the only person for miles and miles around, whether that was really true or not.

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