Something we’ve wanted to do for a while now (we had known about this activity even before moving to Thailand) is take a day trip and go bamboo rafting in Chiang Mai’s countryside. When a group of friends suggested that we join them for a lazy river trip through the jungle, it sounded perfect.
The way we saw it, bamboo rafting was the Thai equivalent of river tubing. This activity is a summer pastime of ours when we lived in the USA. We’d round up a few people, grab a cooler of beer, and spend an afternoon floating down a slow-moving river.
Bamboo Rafting on the Wang River
One of the popular spots to go bamboo rafting in Chiang Mai is the Mae Wang (or Wang River). It’s pronounced ‘wahng’. It’s about an hour’s drive southeast away from the Old City toward Doi Inthanon.
We rode there in a songthaew hailed from the Old City. Our driver dropped us off at a little no-name shop (which is now called Phutawan Cafe) just left of the entrance of Chai Lai Orchid. That’s where we paid and arranged for our bamboo rafting trip by ourselves. Then we took a short ride in a pickup truck to a big shack in the jungle that housed dozens of bamboo rafts.
|TIP: We were quoted 500 THB for a raft with a Thai guide and 300 THB per raft if we wanted to steer the rafts ourselves. Each raft can hold four people (or five if the water level in the river is high).|
The bamboo rafts were HUGE (roughly 25 feet or 7.5 meters long). They were very basic and made of several thick bamboo stalks bound together with rope and strips of rubber. After grabbing two long skinny poles for each raft, we propelled ourselves down the river gondola-style.
Scenic Views and Fun with Friends
The river is only a few inches deep in some places but the water was refreshing and not too cold. The jungle’s trees and grasses came up to the waterline, so we were in the cool shade for much of the trip.
One thing we worried about was how comfortable it would be sitting on the hard rafts and how wet we would get. It’s not at all like the cushiony inner tube we were used to back home! As it turned out, it wasn’t uncomfortable sitting on the bamboo raft. Even though our butts and feet got wet, it helped to keep us cool.
|TIP: Even though this is a water activity and we all wore our bathing suits, we kept our shirts on. Since Thailand is a modest country, it’s best to stay covered up.|
At one point there’s a sharp bend in the river and a huge rock to the right. It’s actually just before the first rope bridge that hangs over the river. We pushed our rafts onto the sandy bank on the left side to relax. A few members of our group did some cannonballs into a deep spot in the river much to the amusement people passing by. If you follow us on Periscope you probably caught our live stream video of our bamboo rafting adventure. You can also follow our friend Andy Dew for even more Chiang Mai Periscopes.
There were several twists and turns in the river and shallow spots. It takes some skillfull maneuvering to get around! We found that it was easier if two people steered the bamboo raft (one person in the front and one in the back). If you get a Thai guide, they steer the rafts on their own. We all took turns guiding the boat and got a good workout from the challenge. It was interesting to see how the bamboo raft flexed and bent through tight spots, too.
|TIP: We’d recommend getting a Thai guide to steer your raft if you are traveling with young children or if you do not have the balance or the upper body strength or mobility to maneuver the raft yourself.|
This trip was a fun excuse to have a few afternoon beers. We didn’t see signs prohibiting alcohol. Plus, the same shop where we paid for the bamboo rafts sold us beer, so we figured it was ok to drink on the river. We sipped on beer during our lazy river outing and saw several other rafters doing the same. We were glad to see that everyone kept track of their empty cans and didn’t throw them in the river. Thanks for keeping Thailand beautiful!
Near the end of the trip, we saw a momma elephant and her baby bathing in the river! We were too far away to get a good photo with our camera. However, there are several elephant camps along this river so there’s a good chance you’d see these giant animals, too.
We rafted for about two hours (including our stop at a rock) before passing a series of restaurants and reaching the end. You’ll know you’re done because there will be dozens of other rafts floating in the water. You’ll see several people hauling them out and onto trucks, too. Basically, you can’t go any further!
Bamboo Rafting Packing List
- If you bring drinks or snacks, pack an empty plastic bag to collect the trash
- Even though it’s shady, wear sunblock
- Bring a dry bag for electronics
- Bring a change of clothes – at the very least, bring a fresh pair of bottoms to ride home in because your bum is guaranteed to get wet during this trip
- Wear waterproof sandals because you’ll walk in the river a bit (when first getting on the raft and then again anytime it gets stuck); flip-flops are ok but are not the best choice
This activity is offered by several tour companies but we went on an independent trip. The entire trip lasted about seven hours. The cost of a round trip songthaew, bamboo rafting, beer, and lunch was just under 5,000 baht total for our group of seven people. Yay for cheap summertime fun!
If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants nearby. They along the road just a hundred meters or so before the Chai Lai Orchid sign (you must walk past them after you’ve exited the river). The restaurants might not look like much but the food is delicious. The cooks don’t water down the flavors, so the food is spicy but so worth it!
Our favorite dish was an Isaan style whole fried fish (lahb blah tub tim grawp or ลาบปลาทับทิมกรอบ). The filets are cubed, deep fried, then tossed with a tangy hot chili sauce, mint, red onions, and ground rice. We’ve eaten our best Thai meals at small unassuming places like this one.
How to Get to Bamboo Rafting in Chiang Mai (Plus Map)
The best way to the Mae Wang River is by hiring a local driver. The guide from Take Me Tour will pick you up from your hotel, drive you there, arrange for your bamboo rafts, take pictures of you while you’re cruising down the river, and choose a tasty stop for a Thai lunch, too. Otherwise, you can hail a songthaew (red truck taxi) from the center of Chiang Mai City. Hire the driver for the day and they will take you there and back.
If you decide to drive yourself by car or motorbike, go to a small shop called Phutawan Cafe directly left of Chai Lai Orchid (see map below). There’s a shady place to park on the side of the road under the awnings directly across the street from Chai Lai Orchid.
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