We were so close, only 13 kilometers from Ban Rak Thai, Thailand when my scooter dies. An hour before sunset in the mountains of northwest Thailand, it could’ve been an ugly ending for us – two adventurous “Biker Babes” taking a side-trip off the Mae Hong Son Loop. It could’ve been a mess, but instead, we were blessed. Rescued by Thai border guards and introduced to the magical land of Ban Rak Thai…
My friend Deborah and I begin our 5-day trip in Chiang Mai. From there we head south to Mae Sariang and then up to Mae Hong Son. Intrigued by this mysterious village called Ban Rak Thai, we plan a side-trip off the main Mae Hong Son loop to check it out.
And then my scooter dies an untimely death while her sad scooter limps up the steep mountain roads.
As we’re prepping for the possibility of a spending a night on this dark mountain road, two young Thai border guards stop to help. They’re followed a short time later by a Chinese couple driving a pick-up truck. Together they heave my very heavy, very dead scooter into the back of the pickup and toss me into the back seat.
We receive a military escort into Ban Rak Thai straight to the “mechanic” shop located in some guy’s front yard. His family is eating dinner at their outdoor dining table and offer us some food.
This is our introduction to the generosity of Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
Ban Rak Thai, Thailand (also known as Mae Aw) is a mostly undiscovered Chinese village in northwest Thailand right on the Burma border. This traditional Chinese village is made up of descendants of Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers who fled from Communist rule in 1949 and landed in the jungles of Burma. In the early 1960’s, when the Chinese forces invaded Burma in an attempt to crush the KMT, they fled south into Thailand and settled on the border. The Thai government allowed them to stay with the agreement they would protect the Thai border from Communist threats.
We spend only 14 hours in this town but fall in love with it.
Here are five reasons why one visit to Ban Rak Thai is not enough!
1.) Incredibly kind people
The couple who aid in our rescue also help us find a hotel and refuse to leave us until they’re sure we’ll be OK for the night. As they say goodbye, I consider giving them some money as a small thank you for their kindness and their time. My friend suggests a gift instead, so I present the woman a beautiful sarong I had purchased earlier that day at an ethnic Long Neck tribal village near Mae Hong Son. She’s so touched she gives me a hug with a little tear in her eye.
The small gift was the least I could do to repay their incredible kindness. I love moments like that!
2.) An amazing hotel – The Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort
After our stressful day on the road, we splurge on the nicest room at the best hotel in town – Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort. The beautiful bungalows are set in a hillside tea plantation with views of the lakeside village down below and the Burma border on top of a distant hill. It’s a bit expensive compared to typical Thai prices ($50USD) but well worth the splurge.
3.) Wonderful food
Chasa Ruk Thai Restaurant is set right on the lake and serves surprisingly delicious Yunnan style Chinese food. We were starving after a rough day on the road and the local people warmly welcome us with free appetizers of crispy fried cicadas and freshly sautéed local mushrooms. The salty, crunchy bugs are a perfect snack paired with an ice-cold Chang beer! We eat the whole bowl of bugs, polish off the mushrooms and then attack our entrees; fresh fish and an unusually delicious pork omelet. Simple food but amazing!
4.) Fascinating History
One of the local men joins us for the bug appetizers. Through Deborah’s “bad Chinese” and some basic sign language, we learn he’s the owner of the neighboring museum. When he finds out we live in Taiwan, he’s eager to share the history of his village which closely parallels Taiwan’s.
We promise to return the following day to tour the museum. But we don’t.
5.) Tea Heaven
Ban Rak Thai is well-known for its local tea plantations and celebrates by holding an annual Tea Tasting Festival in February. Tea plantations dot the hillsides along the road into town. Our favorite hotel is set in the middle of a tea plantation. The wooden shops in the village are lined with locally grown oolong, green, and jasmine tea and offer complimentary tea tasting. I’m a coffee addict but am almost persuaded to switch my addiction after a few hours in this tea heaven!
The following morning we wake up early. Sitting on our patio, we soak up views of the sunrise over the Burma border and life in the village below. Mist rises off the lake as someone takes an early morning swim. Breathing deeply, sipping tea, feeling very zen!
Our zen-bubble is burst a short time later when our “mechanic” arrives with his scooter diagnosis. “Scooter no good,” he says. Our only choice is to deal with the scooter issue in Pai, another larger town about 3 hours away.
So, we hire a local guy with a pickup, throw our scooters into the back. We hitch a ride to Pai where we can exchange our scooters.
Sadly, our brief but blissful Ban Rak Thai, Thailand experience is over way too soon. But we’ll be back!