Chiang Mai's final frontier: Tha Ton

A fading backpacker hideaway

What we say: 4 stars

“To boldly go where no tourist has gone before” — well not so many, anyway! The small town of Tha Ton, located on the border of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces and a mere stone’s throw from the Burma border, used to be a popular stop on the backpacker trail. It’s the starting point for boat trips down the scenic Kok River to Chiang Rai city and was popular trekking territory, being surrounded by Akha, Lisu and Lahu villages.

Kok River - no sniggering at the back please!

Gleaming Kok River and not a backpack in sight.

It is still great, and relatively un-touristy, trekking territory but is perhaps a bit too far from the backpacker centre of Pai and on the whole seems to have suffered from competition with Laos, the primacy of aforementioned Pai as a destination and not least the current Thai immigration regulations of issuing only 15-day visas for overland entries. As with many of the more off-the-beaten-track destinations in northern Thailand (we’re thinking Nan, Tak, the further reaches of Mae Hong Son province), it hardly sees any more foreign visitors now than it did say 20 years ago.

Tha Ton, Thai/Burmese border

Tha Ton, Thai/Burmese border

The photo above is looking to the north from Tha Ton — note the Thai army border post on the hilltop. Now even if you don’t want to go trekking — or take the boat to Chiang Rai — we reckon it’s still well worth a visit to this scenic little town. There’s some decent accommodation and eating places and some good walks to be done along the riverbank without having to go too far (though it’s so far off the beaten track we don’t have it in yet — a situation that will be rectified soon.)

Funky Chinese style riverbank temple in Tha Ton

Funky Chinese-style riverbank temple in Tha Ton.

You can also organise shorter boat trips — you don’t have to go all the way to Chiang Rai and most local guesthouses should be able to offer trekking and other activities in the area. Do not miss the view from the hilltop chedi and Buddha that tower over the town (picture below) — but probably best not to attempt the ascension on foot.

Worth the climb!

Worth the climb!

Tha Ton’s approximately half way between Fang and Mae Salong so interesting stops are either side of it and it makes an excellent halt if you’re doing that loop. If you’re travelling by bus you will probably have to do Chiang Mai-Mae Ai-Tha Ton or in the other direction Chiang Rai-Mae Salong-Tha Ton.) We’ll leave you with one more scenic shot of the picturesque Kok in Tha Ton:

Scenic or what!?

Scenic or what?

Last updated: 11th October, 2013

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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Chiang Mai's final frontier: Tha Ton

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