Our bus pulled up on a dusty parking lot. Stray dogs lay in the shade, now and again waging their tails against the flies. It seemed to be the final stop so we got off and collected our backpacks. We had arrived in Thaton. A small Thai town right near the border with Myanmar. However, we had not come here to cross the border.
From the bus stop we walked towards the Mae Kok river where we had seen a sign of a guesthouse. Along the dirt track appeared to be several guesthouses. The first one we looked at didn’t appeal to us but the second one had a great feel to it. We got our own little pink bungalow in a beautiful garden. All very simple but good for a night. After we freshened up we explored the town. There was not much to explore. One long road with a few small shops, a 7-Eleven and more stray dogs. The bridge over the river was the most grand looking part of town and was clearly the favoured hang out for locals. The mountainous backdrop and lack of tourists made Thaton a wonderful place to be though.
After some fried chicken at a little stall along the street and an ice-cream from 7-Eleven we walked to the pier where the boats to other towns along the river moor. We had come to Thaton to catch a boat along the Mae Kok river to Chiang Rai. Not because it’s a fast route but because we wanted to experience something different and see the scenery. We enquired about the boat for the next day, only to find out that there would not be a boat unless there were four people or more. And by the looks of it, there would not be anyone else but us planning to go to Chiang Rai the next day. We agreed to come back the next morning to see if there would be more travellers.
That night we found a little restaurant along the river where we ate a delicious dish with pork and eggplant and had a few beers before we retired to our little pink hut.
The boat ride
The following morning we checked out from the guesthouse and returned to the pier to see if we could get the boat. It turned out nothing had changed and we were still the only ones heading for Chiang Rai. After some discussing of what to do we offered to pay the fee for four people. And so it happened that we had our private boat from Thaton to Chiang Rai. It was a low wooden boat with an incredibly loud car motor built onto the back. The captain took advantage of the fact that the boat was so light with just the two of us and our backpacks, cranked the motor and spurted full speed down the river. Past beautiful green fields, forest, mountains and small villages. Through rapids where the river was shallow and we got soaked from the water splashing over the bow of the boat. In around 2,5 hours, rather than the normal 4 hours, we made it to Chiang Rai. With a buzz in our ears from the loud motor we hopped onto land and waved goodbye to the captain.
Our detour from Chiang Mai to Thaton to then catch the boat to Chiang Rai had been more than worth it. Although we spent more time and money we had seen so much more than if we would have just caught a mini bus for tourists straight to Chiang Rai.
From Chiang Mai you can catch a local bus to Thaton. In Thaton you will find several guesthouses. We stayed at Apple Resort, which has an amazing view over the river. If you pay a bit more you can get a bungalow with river view but seeing we were on a budget we went for a cheaper bungalow with garden view which was still lovely. There is a daily public boat at 12.30 from Thaton to Chiang Rai that costs around 350 Baht. But when you are travelling in low season it’s possible that the boat will not depart with less than four people, as happened to us, unless you agree to pay the fee for four people. You can also rent a private boat so you can make stops along the way. This will cost more but is a great option if you are with more people. You can find more information on this journey on the Travelfish website.