Kayaking in Chiang Mai, Thailand

22:04 Amy 1 Comments

I recently started doing something I've loved doing for ages, but hardly ever actually did: kayaking. It turns out that Northern Thailand is a pretty sweet place for kayaking of all kinds. There's slow and easy, swift and wide, and rapid and bamboo-death-trappy.

Last weekend, I went on the river in Mae Tang. I hadn't been kayaking for ages, and it seemed like a good place to start up again. Paddling began at about 10am, and about twenty eight lazy kilometres later, it was over. Kayaking seems to come easily to me; I love the easy motion of cutting through the water, gliding past life on the river banks in silence, zero pollution. It was a relaxing, lovely day. But I wanted more. I wanted challenge! I got it last Saturday.

Aidan, the owner of the kayaking company I went with, recommended that I try to conquer the Mae Ping River, starting in Chiang Dao. The river runs all the way to Chiang Mai. He painted a romantic picture of adventure; a fast-flowing jungle river, where you'd have to quickly duck under bamboo and pick a way through hanging vines without hesitation. We'd fly past temple ruins and remote monasteries in the Chiang Dao mountains. Exciting!

I met Daphne and Iris from The Netherlands in Chiang Mai at the kayaking centre. After a quick how-to-kayak lesson, our Thai guide Baigun drove us two hours north to Chiang Dao, with a brief stop to buy fresh rambutans from the side of the road. Have you ever tried this red and green spikey fruit? It’s kind of like a lychee. Particularly big and juicy rambutans are a real treat in Thailand.

Rainy season has recently descended upon Thailand, and the river was brown and swollen. We looked at it from the bank, a little nervous, trying to remember how to eddy out and where to lean and what to avoid. I tied my Converse tightly; there was a very definite chance of losing your shoes in this river. Daphne and Iris were wearing flip flops... oops. They tied them to their kayaks.

Straight away, I realised that this river was going to test me a lot more than the Mae Tang one. It wasn't easy, and it didn't feel like it came so naturally this time! After I'd pushed out into the river, I was supposed to paddle upstream to wait for the others to get in. I just wasn't strong enough, and was feeling a bit nervous! So I eddied out – went to the edge of the river where there’s no current. That’s when I first saw the spiders. If a spider is near me, that’s OK, though not desirable. But if one plops on my arm or head? I hate it.

River spiders are big, fast and scuttle-y. One was dangling off a twig over my kayak. I tried to brush it away with the oar, but these spiders are sticky. It ran up my oar, and I frantically splashed it away into the water. But a crazy thing I never knew about spiders? They can walk on water. It ran across the river, back onto its twig. Errgh. It was the first of many.

When everyone was in, we turned to face downstream and began tackling the river. It was hard going. The water was fast and it was difficult to avoid the bamboo hanging down over the water. I crashed into it nearly every time. I realised why a helmet was so important. The bamboo scratched my arms and tried to pull my oar from me. Spiders apparently like to chill out on bamboo, and as I scraped through it loads fell into my boat. I didn't love it. Daphne got caught in some bamboo, and leaned the wrong way. Her kayak filled with water and she went over! She was fine, and laughing, but lost a flip flop.

I didn't take any photos for this part of the river - I was far too busy trying (and failing) to steer around bamboo. I think I glimpsed an impressive monastery during a quiet part.

It was certainly adventurous.

We stopped for lunch: fried rice, spicy pad kapow and a lot of water. Kayaking in this river was hard work! At lunch a super-fluffy black and white caterpillar joined us. It looked cute, but was dangerous, so I didn't stroke it. Baigun said that there was hardly any bamboo in the second half of our trip. Thai guides are notorious teasers, though, so I wasn't sure if he was telling porkies or not. I was pleased to find that it was the truth!

After lunch, we soon broke out of the bamboo-death part of the river, and it became wider, and a lot easier to avoid the obstacles. We relaxed; it was easy again! We played about, splashed each other and raced. It was fun, and there was plenty to look at: mountains, river-side-life and temples.

Is it crazy to want to go again?

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