35 km, 2 hr.
Since we did not need to be in Tha Ton before noon, and Fang to Tha Ton was only 25 km, we decided to go find someplace for breakfast. While walking down the main street of town, we came across an alley way that led to the morning wet market. Lots of interesting food available, both raw and cooked. There were a few places to sit and have rice soup – a typical breakfast, but they were a bit too close to the meat vendors for our taste. Instead we walked through the market and picked up a variety of treats to make up our breakfast.
The ride to Tha Ton was quick – it felt like it was mostly downhill, but we actually gained altitude until the last 4 km. We averaged 21.5 km/hr, which is very fast for us – maybe yesterday’s ride through the mountains (and the massage afterwards) was good for us?
Upon arriving in town, we found the place to purchase tickets for the long-tail ferry. We debated seeing if anyone wanted to share a private boat, but opted for the standard 350 Baht per person ferry with a surcharge of 150 Baht for each bike. It turned out we made a good decision, as the boat only had two other passengers. It would have been horribly crowded if all 12 spots had been sold.
The ride began smoothly, but not 10 minutes into it we heard the grinding of sand as the boat grounded on a sandbar. The pilot got out and as he walked alongside the boat his ankles were just barely covered with water. We were clearly aground – not an auspicious start! The pilot tried a few times to move the boat on his own, but to no effect, so we all hopped out. Fortunately, the water was nice and warm. After 20 minutes of grueling pushing and rocking we got the boat back into deeper water and were again on our way. Becky read in the guidebook that this might happen during times of low water, but we hadn’t expected it quite this soon into the trip!
Most of the ride was smooth going, with the pilot zig-zagging us across the meandering river, finding the spots deep enough for the boat traverse. Several times we heard the telltale scritch of sand scraping the bottom of the boat as we passed over a shallow spot. At one point, we entered some small rapids and suddenly there was a loud “thunk” – we had struck a rock just in front of where Scott was sitting. Fortunately, the boat survived unscathed – Scott checked the bilge below him for leaks a few times to be certain. We traversed several other sets of rapids, each time expertly navigated by our pilot, but several times Scott and the gentleman behind him got soaked as a wave crashed over the side. We never realized our river journey was meant to be an adventure tour!
Scott was very impressed with our pilot, since he was clearly blind in one eye. With no depth perception, navigating a 12 meter boat through the rapids and shallows of the river was quite a feat.
Shortly before we arrived in Chiang Rai, we stopped in a Karen Hill Tribe village. There were several other privately chartered long-tail boats there and it appears this is a regular stop on the river run. The Karen were selling food, drinks and various souvenirs, and also had a snake petting zoo, but the main attraction was the elephants. There were several elephants chained in the main square, which we could feed, and if we had more time we could have taken an elephant ride. It felt more like an amusement park than the villages we have ridden through, and we quickly grabbed some food and got back on the boat. We did take a few photos of other visitors riding elephants, and our fellow passengers feeding the elephants though.
After a short tour around Chiang Rai we decided to stay at the PS Guesthouse. They had a nice big ground floor air conditioned room for 450 Baht. It is about a 2 km walk to downtown and the night market, but in a nice quiet neighbourhood. Once we saw the room, we just had to stay – Becky fell in love with the lamp!
We are not sure how we managed to gain 80 m on our down river boat trip!