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Tha Ton

Travel Guide

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Nestled in the green hills and fertile valleys of Chiang Mai province's northern reaches, Tha Ton is an idyllic riverside getaway that is closer and more convenient than most might think. Though it has long been recognised as a prime location for tourism, the local way of life is still somehow untainted by the frequent visitors, both foreign and domestic.

Its location near the Golden Triangle, combined with its proximity to the Burmese border (which lies just a couple of kilometres away) means that Tha Ton and the surrounding area have seen their fair share of turmoil and instability over the last century or two. The border was in flux as recently as the early 20th century, and the presence of the Kuomintang (KMT) and other opium producers made the area off limits to most outsiders for many years.

Only in recent decades have these elements been eradicated, and the fields of contraband guarded by guerillas with machine guns have been replaced by acres of lychee trees and paddy, tended to by friendly locals armed with a smile. While the area is stable and very safe, few would describe it as developed, and only the most basic and pertinent relics of modernity have made it to the outlying areas around Tha Ton. This is fantastic news for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience, as they are readily available in every direction you look.

The town of Tha Ton itself has long been part of the development — fuelled mostly by tourism — that can be seen in the rest of Thailand. Comfortable accommodation, excellent eateries, and easy access to communication are conveniences enjoyed by most in town. Tha Ton sees the majority of its visitors in the cold season from November through January, so don't be surprised if it seems a bit crowded during this time. There isn't a great deal in the way of entertainment, and businesses close rather early, so most tend to focus on Tha Ton's beautiful scenery and laidback feel. While some describe it as a mere day-trip destination or stopover en route to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, visitors who have the time to settle in for a day or two may find themselves staying much longer.

The town's two biggest claims to fame are the Mae Kok River Cruises, which essentially put Tha Ton on the map, and the iconic Wat Tha Ton, an absolute must-see even if you're only passing through. Those with a bit more time on their hands and an itch to explore can avail themselves of the culturally diverse wonderland surrounding the town.

Hop on a motorbike and head in any direction to witness village life firsthand. Highway 1314 (on the north side of the main road just south of the bridge) provides locals with a back-way to Mai Ai and provides visitors with scenic vistas and village after village to explore. Mae Salong is also a possible day-trip/onward travel option, as it's only about two or three hours from town, and the drive is fabulously beautiful.

All in all, though Tha Ton is short on excitement, it makes for one of the best spots in the north for pure relaxation, and its combination of remoteness and accessibility ensure that it will be a popular spot for years to come.

Tha Ton is a small town, and few will have trouble finding their way around. Highway 1089 is the main thoroughfare through town, and leads south to Mae Ai/Fang, and east towards Mae Salong and Mae Chan. A high concentration of accommodation lines the river, especially northwest of the bridge.

Internet can be found at most guesthouses, as well as several coffee shops and restaurants in town and along the river.

The police station is just on the south side of the bridge, while the nearest hospital is in Mae Ai, though anything really serious would probably warrant heading to Chiang Mai.

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Text and/or map last updated on 18th August, 2012.

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