One of the most enjoyable things to do while visiting Northern Thailand is to take a "Long-Tail" boat ride. The most popular ride is on the Mae Kok river from Thatorn, in far north Chiangmai province, to Chiangrai. Most ride the local bus from the Chang Puak bus station departing at 7 and 9 am, although those leaving at 9 might miss the boat, which departs at 12:30 pm from Thatorn, as the bus journey is 3 1/2 hours. It's much better to take your time and stay in Thatorn for the evening.
The boat holds 12 passengers but don't worry as there are plenty of boats. Each person sits sideways with their legs crossed for the entire 3 hour trip with one stop in Ban Mae Salak, about 45 minutes from Thatorn. However, there is a much easier and better way to enjoy this great journey on the Mae Kok and that is to go from Chiangrai to Thatorn.
The reason is 95% of the people riding the boats start in Thatorn leaving a lot of empty boats going in the opposite direction. The boats depart Chiangrai at 10:30 am arriving in Thatorn about 2 pm. This way you miss the heat of the day and you will probably be the only one in the boat. This means you can stretch out and relax while enjoying the beautiful scenery along the river. Local hill tribe people who live along the river also take this boat as it will stop for them if they wave it down. The boats from Thatorn filled with tourists going to Chiangrai won't stop but those who live along the river with boats and provide a ferry service to Chiangrai do.
Another possibility is you can charter a boat and spend the evening on the river at the hot springs next to an Akha hill tribe village before going on to Thatorn. This is a great way to enjoy the river for a group of two to four persons.
Good food can be had just across the river from the hot springs at the Karen village of Rhummit where you can also arrange for elephant riding. Your boat driver will take you there when you want to eat.
If you don't speak Thai it is best to arrange for a guide from one of the tour companies or your guest house in Chiangrai. They can also provide things like blankets or sleeping bags and food if you would rather eat by campfire.
Sleeping is aboard the boat which has plenty of room and comfortable. The hot springs has toilets and showers along with a small store. The springs run into the river which is a good place to take a refreshing bath as the water is not too hot. The Akha hill tribe village next to the hot springs is very authentic with most dressed in their traditional costumes and all living in Bamboo houses. Not many tourists visit the village as most go to Rhummit to do elephant riding and trekking which leaves this area peaceful and mostly unspoiled.
The last bus from Thatorn to Chiangmai leaves at 2:25 in the afternoon. Don't be in a hurry to leave as Thatorn has many things to see and do along with accommodations from 60 to 2000 baht. There is also Asa's guest home in a Lisu village that is very easy to get to from Thatorn if you would like a nice hill tribe experience. The Tourist Police in Thatorn will help you with any information you may need. They are located along the river not far from the boat landing.
Hundreds of people each day during the busy season ride to boats from Thatorn to Chiangrai. They all leave about the same time in a large convoy one behind the other. For a better experience be different and see the river in the opposite direction. When you see the boats full of people passing just smile and wave from your uncrowded boat as they are sure to be envious.