The Chiang Rai Trek to Doi Bo
The Chiang Rai trek to Doi Bo is certainly one of the best treks I have made in Chiang Rai Province. It starts and ends in the Akha village Ban Apa. My guide was Amoe. Amoe runs a homestay in the villages. He is married, has two daughters and a son. His family migrated to Thailand from Shan State in Burma more than 40 years ago. They first lived near Doi Tung, which is about 60kms north of Chiang Mai. Doi is the Northern Thai word for mountain. After about 5 years they moved to an area close to the mountain Doi Bo because the area around Doi Tung was not safe anymore. About 24 years ago the villagers moved from that location to the current location. Amoe worked in the past as a porter and cook on trekking tours organized by the company Golden Triangle Tours, based in the former Golden Triangle Inn.
During my first visit to the village weeks before Amoe had told me about Doi Bo. He pointed to a place in the far distance and told me it would be full day trekking to get there and back. It sounded really remote and I love those kind of places. A couple of weeks later I returned to Ban Apa. After having spent the night in Chiang Rai I drove the short distance to Ban Apa on a beautiful, chilly December morning. After a cup of coffee we left the village at 0745. We walked to Ban Yafu, a village of the Lahu tribe. Both Ban Apha and Ban Yafu are used to accommodate visitors. In each village there are a number of certified homestays. The villages have featured in trekkings for many years. The vicinity of the Huay Mae Sai Waterfall adds to the attraction of the area.
Our trek to Doi Boi though took us off the beaten track. At Ban Yafu we drank a cup of tea (from the quintessential blackened kettle) and chatted with the locals. The village is nicely located with wonderful views. We were blessed with blue skies. We continued to the Doi Bo viewpoint which has a viewing platform, campground and very clean toilets. There was a young Lahu family with children. The Doi Bo viewpoint gets tourists in the months of November and December only, Amoe told me. We left the viewpoint at around 1000 and would not see a human being until we arrived back at Ban Apha at 1500. We entered an area that is totally abandoned. There were traces of human presence though. During the ascent to the highest point of Doi Bo we walked along dirt roads, sometimes very steep, and narrow forest trails. It was very quiet. We chatted sometimes but most of the time there was only the sound of our footsteps on dry leaves and branches.
The forest is mostly secondary forest with lots of bamboo, huge dipterocarp trees, ferns, wild ginger, orchids and wild banana trees. Views are magnificent. The dirt road made way for forest trails that were mostly overgrown. Apparently very few people enter this area. I enjoyed the silence and the natural environment. The going was difficult sometimes, the trail going steep up or down. My guide had often difficulty finding the right trail. Amoe told me this was the first time this year he guided someone into this area. I thoroughly enjoyed the trekking, the nature and the total silence. My guide pointed out areas where in the past opium was cultivated. He also showed me the former location of his village in the distance. It turned out to be too far to go to on this day.
We passed an area with young trees where Akha and Yao villages used to be. Many of these villages were established in the 70s, a period in which North Thailand was in turmoil. It was the time of Khun Sa and his United Shan State Army. Khun Sa’s base was in Ban Hin Taek, not very far from Doi Bo. In the 90s the Thai army took control and authorities started to get a grip on the situation in the highlands. The agricultural practices of many hill tribe communities had a devastating effect on the upland watershed areas. Local authorities forced many communities to move to locations at lower elevation. This happened also to the Akha and Yao villages in the Doi Bo area. The villages are now located much closer to the road and have facilities such as water supply and electricity.
Doi Bo is not a real high mountain so please don’t expect a hike to a summit such as the trek to the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao. Especially after having passed the viewpoint where vehicles can go it really starts becoming interesting. It really felt remote. The area is regenerating from human presence. Animals seem to have returned to the area. To my utter surprise we spotted a wild deer. I was incredibly excited. I had never seen a deer in the wild in Chiang Rai province. It was a perfect day. I will certainly go back to Doi Bo in the future. The Chiang Rai Trek to Doi Bo is definitely one of the great things to do in Chiang Rai.