Tha Ton is the next stop on the backtracker trail if you want to catch a boat into Chiang Rai rather than a lengthy bus ride from Chiang Mai. These guys we met on the rickety ride up from Fang had just travelled across India for a month and were now headed through Thailand, across Laos and then eventually to Australia. Nine months of travel. Sigh.
The boat trip was our plan as well, but when we got off the song thaew from Fang and spied the quiet Kok River with a few guesthouses perched along the front, we realised had enough flexibility in our plans to stay here a night. There's sure something to be said about the ability to book accommodation along the way as you need it and having some room in your travel plans to stop a night here or there different or additional to what you might have planned.
There's not much here besides a large monastery and Wat Tha Ton and a reasonable number of guesthouses. If you were really looking for a place to get away (to write that novel, plot world domination or do and think about nothing at all) this would be perfect.
Right where the song thaew drops you off is a little place to grab a soup or rice with. If you are heading for the boat, just keep walking across the bridge and you'll see the boat station.
Business wasn't exactly brisk. Tha Ton has declined in tourist terms over the years, but there's a slow rise in domestic tourism pushing it along.
Noodle soup with chicken, about 30 baht. A good clear broth soon muddied by a spoonful or two of chilli flakes, with bits of poached chicken and flat rice noodles.
'All day dinning (lunch and dinned)'.
The view from the top of Wat Tha Ton. Even the Buddha seems to be celebrating the victory of the climb.
After walking back down to the main road from the monastery past schoolboy monks eating snowcones, lunch was upon us.
Firstly we spied the tour mini vans waiting outside this restaurant opposite the 7/11, then the waiting drivers eating their lunch sans tourists. A good enough recommendation for us.
Thai BBQ greatest hits.
First up a whole fish baked/BBQd in a thick salt crust, sealing up the flesh inside.
The insides were stuffed with lime leaves adding intensity to the already super salty flavour. The flesh wasn't overly tender but the taste was extreme. The best part was some of the salty flavour stuck to your fingers, so when you shoved your digits in your mouth with some sticky rice and herbs the saltiness came across as well. The green chilli sauce served with it cut across the salt and heightened the flavour.
The BBQ pork was served with a red chilli sauce that was a little bit sweeter and was perfect when you wrapped up some pork with herbs and lettuce and dunked it. All up about 190B.
Budgie branded drinking water.
Bus tour with all the inclusions and exclusions you might desire.
Our digs for the night was the Apple Resort. We splashed out on a river view room because a) we could and b) why stay along a river and not enjoy it?
We didn't go too far for dinner, we ate in at the guesthouse (which we rarely do) as Shawn took a punt that the food would be good as the Apple Resort catered to a big mix of domestic Thai tourists as well as foreign. He was correctomundo.
While the whole lot, including a couple of Beer Chang cost around 450b, it was so good and really worth the converted ah, 20 bucks. And no cab home.
Lucky the growly, talky labrador says goodbye in his bounding, joyful way. He came in during dinner to make an inspection and make sure everything was OK (especially checking if any food had been dropped anywhere). We got barrelled over a couple of times by his enthusiastic greetings.
There are two choices with the boats down the river. There's one boat a day at 12:50 (the public boat) which costs about 350 baht per person and makes all the stops. Otherwise you can hire your own boat for 2,200 baht and go whenever you want with one stop along the way of your choosing.
Being the cashed up flashpackers that we are, and intolerant of waiting two hours for the cheaper boat, we splashed out for the private rental. It was worth every extra cent. We got a boat to ourselves, stopped for a coffee along the way and got to travel down the river at a more pleasant, cooler time of day.
Strangely, we couldn't convince some other travellers to come with us, no charge. They had bought their tickets and wanted to wait for two hours in the hot Thai sun for their packed all stations boat later on. No pleasing some people.
'How you doin'?'
Eeek! Uncovered a pussycat cardboard party at the Hot Springs coffee stop along the way where we changed boat drivers.
Help me please, I'm being held captive here!
The best thing about hiring our own boat was being able to skip all the exploitation worlds, human, animal or otherwise. Some people just can't help themselves though.
Next stop - Chiang Rai.
We love Thailand.