Lonely Planet describes the northern village of Tha Ton as a “jungle outpost,” and in a way, it does feel like that. We encountered travelers from all over the world passing through–and some expat lifers who may have started out that way once upon a time.
How I got there:
This was the one part of the journey we really had no idea how we were going to approach, but luckily, the employees at our previous stop, Sib-San, were very friendly and willing to help. If we had taken a cab to a bus stop, there was a bus that would have gotten us from Mae Taeng to Tha Ton, but there was no definitive way to find a timetable for it–or to ensure that it would get to Tha Ton in time to catch the boat we needed. So after going through a few other options (cab back to Chiang Mai and get the bus from there, etc.), we decided to just shell out to have the hotel car drive us directly.
What I did:
We didn’t stay long in the city itself; we were there to start a boat journey through the Golden Triangle region to Chiang Rai, and I can’t say enough about that trip. We packed 12 or so travelers into one skinny longtail boat, sitting with our feet in alternating directions, with our backpacks and suitcases piled into the front. But the scenery was so gorgeous that you could hardly complain about being wedged in. For four hours, we zig-zagged up the river, passing mountains, forests, monasteries, villages and local fishermen wading in the water with their nets.
What I ate:
We spent about an hour at the open-air Sunshine Cafe, which was basically around the corner from the boat landing. There was only one woman there cooking for and serving everyone–and it got pretty busy by the time we left–but she was super friendly and helpful. The menu was expansive, and the fried rice we had was good, too.
The best thing about the cafe, though, was the clientele. We met several expats–from Germany, Belgium, New Jersey–who had been in Tha Ton for decades, eventually getting married, starting families, and making the village their home. 30 and 40 years in to their early retirements, sharing beers at the cafe at 11 a.m., they seemed to feel like they were living the good life–but the way they wrote off some of the obstacles they’d faced–language barriers, dengue fever, etc.–was pretty fascinating.
What I missed:
Wat Tha Ton, the village’s main attraction, is a hilltop temple that overlooks the river.