So close and yet so far. Only 13 kilometers from Ban Rak Thai, Thailand, my scooter dies an unexpected death. It’s an hour before sunset in the mountains of northwest Thailand and this story could have an ugly ending. We’re two adventurous American women and it could’ve been a real mess but instead, we find ourselves blessed. Rescued from potential disaster by two kind Thai border guards, we are introduced to the magical land of Ban Rak Thai.
Our 5-day trip along the Mae Hong Son loop begins in Chiang Mai, tourist mecca of northern Thailand. Departing Chiang Mai on a sunny winter day, we head south to Mae Sariang and then along the gently winding road to Mae Hong Son. We had heard about a mysterious village called Ban Rak Thai, so we plan a side-trip off the main Mae Hong Son loop to check it out.
Sadly, on approach to this mysterious village, my scooter dies an untimely death while my friend’s scooter chugs and limps up the steep mountain roads of northern Thailand.
We’re prepping ourselves for the possibility of a spending a night on this dark mountain road when two young Thai border guards stop to help. A short time later, they’re joined 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 the people in Ban Rak Thai.
Ban Rak Thai, Thailand (also known as Mae Aw) is a mostly undiscovered Chinese village in northwest Thailand located right on the Burma (Myanmar) 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, these soldiers 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 and decide to plan a return trip. Why?
Five reasons why one brief visit to Ban Rak Thai is just not enough!
1.) Incredibly kind people
We were so touched by the kindness of the local people. The couple who aided in our rescue also helped us find a hotel. They refused to leave us until they were sure we’d be OK for the night. As we 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 those spontaneous travel moments!
2.) Our amazing hotel – The Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort
After our stressful day on the road, we decide to 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.
Check Agoda for current rates at Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort.
3.) Wonderful food
Chasa Ruk Thai Restaurant is set right on the lake and serves surprisingly delicious Yunnan style Chinese food. Starving after a rough day on the road, we’re warmly welcomed with free appetizers of crispily fried cicadas and fresh local mushrooms. The salty, crunchy bugs are 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.
The view is wonderful and so is the food. It’s simple but amazing and quite different from the delicious Thai food we tried in Chiang Mai.
4.) Fascinating History
One of the local men joins us for the bug appetizers. He speaks little English but, using my friend’s limited “bad Chinese” and some basic sign language, we learn he’s the owner of the neighboring history 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 his museum. (Only a year later, we return as promised!)
5.) Tea Heaven
Ban Rak Thai is well-known for its local tea plantations and the village celebrates during the annual Tea Tasting Festival in February. Tea plantations dot the hillsides along the road into town. Tea plantations surround our hotel. 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 they almost persuade me to switch to tea 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!
The knock on the door a short time later bursts our bubble. It’s our scooter mechanic offering his diagnosis. “Scooter no good,” he says. Our only choice is to deal with the scooter issue in Pai located about 3 hours away.
So, we hire a guy with a pickup and throw our scooters into the back. We hitch a ride to Pai where we can exchange our scooters and continue our journey.
Sadly, our brief but blissful Ban Rak Thai experience is over way too soon. But we’ll be back!
Getting There: Ban Rak Thai is located just off the Mae Hong Son Loop (highway 1095) on highway 108 about an hour north of Mae Hong Son.
Staying There: Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort is the finest hotel in town and we highly recommend splurging a little on this wonderful hotel. Check rates on Agoda.
Check rates and availability in the Ban Rak Thai area on Agoda!
Our return to Ban Rak Thai: Ban Rak Thai – Even Better the Second Time!
Plan your own adventure: Mae Hong Son Loop Scooter Trip – Northern Thailand’s Best Ride
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