Chiang Rai Trekking in the old days

Chiang Rai trekking to Doi Bo viewpoint along the way
View from Doi Bo

Trekking in the old days

In the early nineties, I worked as a tour leader in Thailand for the Dutch company Baobab Reizen from Amsterdam. Our four-week tour included a four-day trek Chiang Rai trekking, which started and ended in Chiang Mai. Hill tribe trekking was the most popular tourist activity in Chiang Mai in those days because there were no zip lines, cooking classes, bicycle tours, mahout courses, etc. yet. Therefore almost every tourist went on a trek, and four days was not unusual. Usually, my groups had 20 persons. Most of them had booked as individuals or couples.

Tribal woman with two kids
Yao village Chiang Rai province, 1991

Classic boat trip to Chiang Rai

The first day of our trekking was grueling. We left Chiang Mai early in the morning and drove to Thaton on the Kok River. Our transportation was a songtaew. The drive took four hours, including a coffee stop at Chiang Dao. During the long drive, some of my guests became car sick. After arrival in Thaton, we took lunch in a local restaurant.

After lunch, we boarded local boats for an almost three-hour ride on the Kok River. This was a very popular boat trip in those days. Thaton received a lot of tourists who often continued to Chiang Rai by boat. Nowadays very few people make this trip and Thaton is very quiet.

View over river and town
View of Thaton and Kok River from Wat Thaton

Elephant ride to a Lahu village

It is a pleasant ride but a bit long. I remember that we had to disembark about halfway at a police post. There had been a robbery of tourists during this boat ride a couple of months earlier, so authorities had beefed up security. After this long boat ride, we disembarked opposite Ban Ruammitr, the Karen village.

Elephants were waiting for us to take us to a Red Lahu village, high up in the mountains. It was quite a long way, and we arrived in the village around dusk. We felt sorry for the elephants because the trail was steep and sometimes muddy and slippery. After dropping us off, they had to return in the dark as well.

The elephant ride was an optional activity, but usually, every group member joined: how times have changed.

Akha boys in Chiang Rai Province 1964 Bring back the pictures
Akha boys in Chiang Rai Province 1964

Yao villages on a mountain top

After spending the night in the Lahu village, we descended towards the Shan (Tai Yai) village Pong Nam Ron. By now, about ten Lahu tribesmen, we hired as porters until the end of the trek, accompanied us. I remember names of these porters such as Jabo, Ja-eu, and Ja-thi, typical Lahu names. Some of them were opium addicts and looked very unhealthy.

We became a big group of almost 35 people trekking through the forest with the porters, two Thai guides, and me. After lunch in the Shan village, we hiked up to a Yao community on the top of a mountain. This climb took the whole afternoon, and quite a few guests arrived in the village exhausted. We all stayed together in one house. In the evening, the porters huddled together, and some were enjoying their opium. At night we could see the lights of the city of Chiang Rai. It was stunning.

Tribal embroidery
Typical Yao embroidery, Baan Huay Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province

A picturesque Akha village

On the third day, we descended to a very picturesque Akha village, where we arrived early afternoon. After lunch, there was time to explore the village. In the evening, our guide took us to an Akha house to meet the family. The following day it was a hike of fewer than two hours to a Thai village near Chiang Rai, where cars were waiting to bring us back to Chiang Mai. We always stopped at Charin Garden Resort, which was a real treat for everyone after spending days in the jungle. Their pastries are out of this world! Charin is still a regular stop if I travel to or from Chiang Rai.

Yao hill tribe women at the Old Cultural Center Chiang Mai
Yao hill tribe women at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. Picture courtesy of the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center.
cakes on display in bakery Chiang Rai trekking
Charin Garden Resort cakes

Chiang Rai trekking

The Chiang Rai trekking was one of the highlights of the trip for most guests. As a tour leader, I enjoyed it, although four days was quite long. It was also a very intense group experience as there were always a few incidents or tensions and conflicts within the group. Despite this, I have great memories of these trekkings. Nowadays, few tourists embark on a four-day Chiang Rai trekking. Two days is the norm. Elephants have disappeared from almost all trekking routes which is a good thing.

Please read my story about the trekking I made to Doi Bo in 2017.

Local boat on the river Chiang Rai trekking
Boat trip on the Kok River

Chiang Rai province features in these tours