Published/Last edited or updated: 25th July, 2018
Nestled among wooded hills, with the picturesque Kok running right through the town centre and the pastoral landscapes of the valley stretching south and east, Tha Ton lends itself perfectly to exploration on foot or by bicycle while short motorbike rides can let you explore further.
The hike up to Wat Tha Ton with its stupendous views and forest walkways is the obvious top option in town, but a stroll along the east bank of the Kok River is another convenient and rewarding hike. Take the lane leading off behind the old Tha Ton Chalet and just keep following the river as closely as possible. You’ll have to skirt around a few of the resorts—or pop in for a cool drink—but eventually the chalets run out and you’ll reach the rustic Shan settlement of Kang Saimoon.
This is where Thailand runs out so don’t try going any further, but do stop and grab some lunch or refreshment at one of the little riverside cafes which provide simple fare and cold drinks on tables overlooking the Kok or even on bamboo rafts tethered to the bank. This is a delightful and friendly spot with a very out of the way feel. Back in town, take the east-bound lane on the north bank of the Kok River and wander past the cute riverside eatery Chanhkasem, then continue through a small residential area into the paddy-fields and orchards south of town. This is another fine area to discover on foot or by bicycle.
If you’ve got motorised transport then heading either west or east along Highway 1089 provides a variety of sites without needing to go too far. In an easterly direction, you’ll find yourself in Chiang Rai Province with the interesting Akha village of Ban Lorcha at around the 30-kilometre mark. They have an excellent community tourism scheme organised by Chiang Rai’s PDA (of Cabbages and Condoms and Hill-tribe Museum fame.) It’s a couple of kiloemtres on the right before the junction with Highway 1234 so if you reach the Mae Salong turn-off, you’ve gone too far.
Shortly after Ban Lorcha, the road bifurcates with 1089, continuing on towards Mae Chan and the 1234 ascending to Mae Salong. The former holds a couple of interesting sites—hot springs and an attractive and rarely visited temple, while the fascinating old Kuomintang settlement of Mae Salong is worth at least a half-day in its own right. Starting early you could conceivably do this all as a day loop, while at a more leisurely pace a return day trip to Mae Salong is easily do-able.
Westwards, the district capital of Mae Ai lies seven kilometres west on highway 1089. It’s not a particularly exciting destination in its own right—although the large and bustling market is definitely worth a peek—but you can reach it from Tha Ton by an interesting detour around Doi Lang on the rural route 1314.
This heads north from Tha Ton—and is signposted in English—and snakes its way through scenic hills along the Burmese border. The route actually offers three different loops; short, medium and a long one. The first terminates in Mae Ai, the second, roughly halfway between Mae Ai and Fang on HIghway 1089 and the third at Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park to the west of Fang District.
From Tha Ton, the turn-off is signposted in English (Doi Lang) and the road surface, initially at least, is good. After some 10 kilometres of sublime vistas you’ll find yourself at a T-junction with a check-point and army bunker. To the left is a short-cut running south back to Mae Ai while the right takes you further along the border before looping back down to re-join the 1089 west of the district town (the first loop). Another five or six kilometres sees you at a second checkpoint at what we’re reliably informed is Pang San Khrua village.
A spectacular and well-maintained road leads south towards the 1089 (the second loop) while a much rougher route continues to parallel the border, eventually emerging some 50 kilometres distant near the park headquarters beyond Fang Town (the third loop). If the army sees fit to man the check-point then it may well be they won’t let you go through but as our GT-Rider’s map is covered in “dangerous” notices—and they know better than we do—we took the southerly (second) route anyway.
Please note that unless you’re in training for the Tour de France this is way too steep for average cyclists, while the longer loop should only be attempted by experienced motorcyclists on decent bikes and never alone. There are serious mountains to be negotiated; some rough roads and this is one of the remotest parts of the entire country. Shorter circuits terminating in Mae Ai or west of Mae Ai however are relatively straightforward with decent, albeit steep, road conditions and still pass through some pretty remote areas but we wouldn’t recommend even these to inexperienced riders.
Both Doi Lang and Pha Hom Pok are twitching hot spots in north Thailand—North Thailand Birding contains good twitching information and detailed road information on the area.
Address: Around Tha Ton
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.