By Karen Emmons
2005 – Having a wild night in Thailand is rather easy to do, at least in Bangkok. Having a wild day, and having it with children even, takes a little more planning. But it is gloriously possible.
Certainly for early risers, it can be easy to pull together for a one-day trip out of Bangkok. Booking a seat on the 6:25 a.m. Thai Airways flight to Chiang Mai, 700 km to the north, between now and April and then contacting one of the several river rafting companies in the northern city will take you into the deep countryside and to some of the wildest white water Thailand has to offer. Light clothes for the river and a change for after is all the packing needed.
There are several river rafting outfitters in Chiang Mai, though one, Siam River Adventures, touts its American owner’s 10,000 miles of experience on North American and Asian (Japan and Lao PDR) rivers. The Mae Taeng, says Siam River’s owner and chief guide, Jason Younkin, “is pretty high quality” with good water and good rafting for eight to nine months a year, which is uncommon.” Younkin’s company also offers what he claims is the only white-water kayaking in Thailand and has cosy “homestay” lodgings amid a green tea plantation available at their river base, in case early morning flights seem unreasonable.
From June to mid-February, the rapids on the Mae Taeng can rank as high as a class 4 (out of a possible class 5). There are not many of them and while they are challenging, with names like Dragon and Khaoboy, they are short-lived. This makes a typical 10 km stretch of rafting good fun for old-hands and ideal for beginners and young people. However, Younkin recommends not taking anyone younger than 13 over the white water, though they make exceptions based on size. A 10-year-old who recently braved the hurly-burly rapids – initially with utter-terrified crying until he survived the hairiest turns without spilling out – called it “fun” and said he wanted to go again the next week.
A striking wild man figure with a heavily tattooed body, Younkin, 29, has rafted down the Mae Taeng for four years, and married into one of the families living alongside the river. His Siam River Adventures package offers “lifeguards” who stand on the river’s edge with ropes in waiting, on the off-chance that he or his “very experienced” guides fail to keep everyone in the rubber raft. “I thought the guide was very competent, and good looking,” commented Kate Gunn, an Australian who works in Chiang Mai. When halfway through the trip the guide said he made Dunkin Donuts before joining the crew two years earlier, Kate decided it might be best in the future to ask for a guide’s qualifications only at the end of the adventure. All in all, she found it an easy but exhilarating day trip. “I have been on other rivers in Thailand but this was much more challenging,” she noted.
Younkin’s says he charges slightly more than other outfitters, but he claims to offer more professionalism: “To me, professional means solving a problem quickly and in a safe way.”
In between the rapids are sufficiently long spells of quiet fresh air, pecked by the common kingfisher. Through the bamboo, banana and jungle foliage comes the occasional song of elephants trudging home.
Departure for the river, at least with Siam River Adventures, begins with a 9 a.m. pick-up from anywhere in the city, which makes it possible to head to the new Chedi hotel for a lovely breakfast tea overlooking the Ping River that flows through Chiang Mai city. The ride north includes a stop-over at the company’s own coffee house about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai and about an hour before the base camp. Once there, lunch is served and rafting begins around 2 p.m.
The return drive winds up back in Chiang Mai by 6 p.m., which still allows time for shopping and dining in the night market or on the ever-groovy-growing Nimanhaeminda Road, particularly Soi 1. The last flight to Bangkok takes off at 9.10 p.m., landing you weary but having had a truly wild excursion.
Recommended white-water tour agencies in Chiang Mai
(from the Chiang Mai Tourist Guide):
Siam River Adventures
with its own trips on the Mae Taeng and Nam Wa Rivers.
A trip on the Mae Taeng River with lunch 1,800 baht (USD $45); children 1,500. Also available is a five-day rafting trip on the Nam Wa River.
Tel: +66 (0) 9-515-1917; +66 (0) 6-586-5386
Web site: www.siamrivers.com