Ban Rak Thai, Thailand – 5 Reasons Why Once is Not Enough!

We were so close, only 13 kilometers from Ban Rak Thai when my scooter died. 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. We were so blessed to be introduced to Ban Rak Thai, Thailand. 

My friend Deborah and I began the 5-day trip in Chiang Mai, headed south to Mae Sariang, up to Mae Hong Son followed by a side-trip off the main loop to the Chinese village of Ban Rak Thai. We didn’t quite make it when my scooter died an unexpected death while her scooter was on life support, limping up those steep mountain roads.

Our angels appeared a short time later – two young Thai border guards dressed in camouflage uniforms driving a small scooter, followed by a Chinese couple driving a pick-up truck. Together they heaved my very heavy, very dead scooter into the back of the pickup and threw me into the back seat.

We received a military escort into Ban Rak Thai straight to the “mechanic” shop located in some guy’s front yard. His family was eating dinner at their outdoor dining table and offered us some food.

This was our introduction to Ban Rak Thai.

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Rescue mission by Thai border guards and kind strangers. Photo – Deborah Provenzale.

Ban Rak Thai (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 spent only 14 hours in this town but fell in love with it.

Five reasons why once is not enough, and why you really should visit Ban Rak Thai soon:

1.) Incredibly kind people

The couple who aided in our rescue also helped us find a hotel and refused to leave us until they were sure we’d be alright. As they said goodbye, I considered giving them some money as a small thank you for their kindness and their time. My friend suggested a gift instead, so I presented the woman with a beautiful sarong I had purchased earlier that day at an ethnic Long Neck tribal village near Mae Hong Son. She was so grateful and gave me a hug. I felt it was the least I could do to repay their incredible kindness to two total strangers. I love moments like that!

2.) An amazing hotel

After our stressful day on the road, we splurged on the nicest room at the best hotel in town – Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort. Beautiful bungalows set in a hillside tea plantation, we had views of the lakeside village down below and the Burma border on top of a distant hill. Expensive compared to typical Thai prices ($50USD) but well worth the splurge.

Fortunately, it was low season and they had plenty of rooms available. During Chinese New Year and other peak season times, book ahead of time by calling or emailing. A Chinese interpreter may be required as English is very limited.

Phone: (+66)89-950-0955, (+66)89-262-1335

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Beautiful bungalows surrounded by tea. Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort.
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Cold Chang and crunchy cicadas.

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. The local people warmly welcomed us and offered free appetizers of crispy fried cicadas and freshly sautéed local mushrooms. The salty, crunchy bugs were a perfect snack paired with an ice-cold Chang beer! We ate the whole bowl of bugs, polished off the mushrooms and then attacked our entrees; fresh fish and an unusually delicious pork omelet. Simple food but amazing!

4.) Fascinating History

One of the local men joined us for the bug appetizers and was the owner of the neighboring museum. He found out we lived in Taiwan and was excited to share the history of his village, a history which closely parallels Taiwan’s. We promised to return the following day to tour the museum and talk more, communicating through sign language, his limited English, and my friend’s beginner Chinese. But, sadly, our trip was cut short due to scooter issues.

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 was almost persuaded to switch my addiction after a few hours in this tea heaven!

The following morning we woke up early. Sitting on our patio, we soaked up views of the sunrise over the Burma border and life in the village below. Mist rose off the lake as someone took an early morning swim.  Breathing deeply, sipping tea, feeling very zen!

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Morning view from our patio. Very zen.

Our zen-bubble was burst a short time later when our “mechanic” arrived with his scooter diagnosis. “Scooter no good,” he said. Our only choice was to deal with the scooter issue in Pai, another larger town about 3 hours away.

So, we hired a local guy with a pickup, threw our scooters into the back. We hitched a ride to Pai where we could exchange our scooters. Sadly, our brief but blissful Ban Rak Thai experience was over way too soon.

(Ban Rak Thai – Even Better the Second Time! – the rest of the story…)

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12 Replies to “Ban Rak Thai, Thailand – 5 Reasons Why Once is Not Enough!”

  1. Deborah Quigley says: Reply

    Dear AndiOnAdventure,

    LOVE reading your travel news. This is an area I’ve desired to explore for decades. TG used to fly to HGN. Thanks for taking us along!

    Spent a brief time in Mae Sot – making contacts in the Burmese Refugee Camps.

    1. Thanks Deborah! We plan to spend a lot of time in Chiang Dao, Soppong, Mae Hong Son, and Ban Rak Thai on this next trip. We also plan to revisit one of the refugee camps near Mae Hong Son. It’s a fascinating area!

  2. Deborah Quigley says: Reply

    Hi Andrea.

    1. Hi Deborah! I’ll send you a FB message tonight. Many questions for you!

  3. The village in the old movie – “A home too far “, you find the place!

    1. Really? I’ll have to google that movie! Thanks for the information!

  4. […] friend Deborah and I returned to Chiang Mai to retrace the northern part of the Mae Hong Son loop, a 10-day scooter adventure through northern Thailand. After our long 4-hour flight from Taipei, we […]

  5. […] friend Deborah and I fell in love with Ban Rak Thai last year during our brief 14-hour layover. Unfortunate scooter issues during our first trip into […]

  6. 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. Where such information?

    1. It was difficult to find information on the Mae Hong Son loop and especially Ban Rak Thai. I am writing a detailed post on the loop and hope to have it published later this week! I’ll let you know when it’s finished. Are you considering doing it?

    2. Mae Hong Son Loop information just posted. Check it out!

  7. […] first to Mae Sariang and then north to Mae Hong Son. Scooter issues in the mountains outside Ban Rak Thai forced us to abandon some of the most scenic parts of the northern section of the loop. So we did […]

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