Our first trip to Ban Rak Thai a year earlier was brief, lasting only 14 hours. But memories of our encounter with this enchanting village were seared into my memory. Ban Rak Thai seemed worth a second look so we schedule a return visit to this small Chinese village located in a remote corner of Northern Thailand.
On our second attempt, we plan an extended Mae Hong Son loop scooter trip over the long Chinese New Year holiday. This time, we vow, there will be no unexpected crashes in moss-covered streams or unfortunate mechanical issues on a remote mountain road. Nothing will keep us from getting the full Ban Rak Thai experience this time around!
Have a look at our second visit to Ban Rak Thai and why it was even better the second time around!
How do you spend a few days in beautiful Ban Rak Thai? Here’s how…
1.) Catch the sunrise
Just like me, Ban Rak Thai wakes up slowly as the sun creeps in from Burma and crawls over the mountains. Watch the mist rising off the lake as you sip a cup of hot coffee from your patio. And then pour yourself another cup.
Our favorite hotel in Ban Rak Thai is the Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort, set in the middle of a tea plantation. The bungalows are quaint, cute, and very comfortable. The views from the patio are amazing!
The prices at Lee Wine Ruk Thai are slightly higher than most hotels in Thailand, but the splurge is well worth it!
Check rates and availability on Agoda!
2.) Breathe & Relax
After your morning coffee, take a walk around the lake and then sit and relax. The view of the lake changes depending on the time of day and your vantage point. In the morning, the view from the restaurant row area is stunning. Later in the day, as the sun is starting to set, the reflection of the lake is magical from the opposite side of the lake. Explore and enjoy!
3.) Visit Mr. Jata’s History Museum
We met Mr. Jata last year when we stopped by his lakeside restaurant and he offered us some fried bugs to snack on. He doesn’t speak much English, but when he found out we’re from Taiwan, he was eager to share his Ban Rak Thai history book. Mr. Jata is a former Kuomintang (KMT) soldier who personally funded the museum, dedicated to telling the village’s interesting history and keeping the story alive. He is a very generous host, offering tea and whatever appetizers (fried bugs?) he happens to have on hand.
4.) Hike to Burma
Mr. Jata’s book mentions that the Burma border is only a 20-minute walk from town so I’m intrigued and decide to explore. In order to save some time, I attempt to drive to the border on my scooter. Unfortunately, the road to the border is nothing more than a bumpy hiking trail, so I give up, park my scooter and hike the rest of the way.
Approaching the top of the hill, I catch a glimpse of a large red and white security bar indicating the Thai-Burma border. As I walk closer, I notice the bar is up and the guard shack empty. Lunchtime? Shift change? I don’t know but figure it’s a perfect time to slip through “Checkpoint Charlie” and have a quick look at Burma.
So, I walk right past the shack, the barbed wire, and the open gate and I keep on walking. It’s a beautiful day for a hike, so I hike down into a valley feeling fairly certain that I’ll run into a border guard of some kind who will escort me back into Thailand. But there is no one, not one human being in sight, so I keep walking. The only life form I encounter is a mangy dog who just snarls and keeps on walking toward Thailand.
Eventually, I turn around and hike back up the steep hill toward Thailand, briefly wondering what might happen if there actually IS a border guard in the shack this time. Will I be thrown into a Burmese prison camp? Deported to the US? But again, I find no guard in the shack and the border gate is wide open. So I quietly slip back into the country.
No one even noticed I was gone.
(FYI – there is another Burma border checkpoint near Ban Rak Thai that actually does have armed border guards. They wouldn’t let me cross with my US passport.)
UPDATED BORDER INFORMATION (May 2019)
According to Thomas, my source on the ground in Ban Rak Thai:
“The main border crossing into Myanmar (Burma) located about 3km from town is allowed on foot. Guards will happily let you through between 6 am and 6 pm. On the Burmese side, there is a Shan state soldier at the guard hut and once you’re through you can explore the small, hilly village which also has a small museum of Shan history. Thai Baht is the only currency accepted here despite being in Myanmar.”
5.) Sip Coffee with Kai
As I explore the village area by scooter, I stumble into a parking lot with a nondescript building overlooking the lake. A beautiful garden surrounds the building, which has an amazing view of the town below.
“Welcome! Come and have some coffee!” a friendly voice calls out to me.
I approach this friendly stranger and ask if this nondescript building is a restaurant. He laughs and explains that it’s the village hospital he’s the nurse. He and one other nurse are the only real medical help in the entire area. He’s also a historian for the village and is excited about my genuine interest in the village history. I spend over an hour hanging out with Kai, sitting around his plastic table in the driveway of the hospital.
He serves me coffee, biscuits, and other snacks while he shares interesting stories of village life along with his amazing view!
6.) Enjoy the wine and tea tasting
Ban Rak Thai is well-known for its tea plantations. A tea plantation surrounds our hotel, The Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort. Wooden tea shops line the main street selling all kinds of tea, tea cups, tea sets, teapots, and t-shirts. In addition, the village is becoming well-known for its wine production, so we decide to do a little wine tasting before buying. Unfortunately, it’s pretty disgusting. Plum sweet wine, plum dry wine, pineapple sweet wine – all of them had a very vinegary taste and one sip was enough for me. (My advice: stick to the tea tasting.)
Opposite the tea shops and restaurants, the lake is lined with mud-hut style B&Bs, very small and very basic with amazing lake views. I dream that someday I’ll go back to Ban Rak Thai for a much longer stay. In my dream, I rent a mud hut, sit on the dock, sip the local tea and write travel stories. And maybe I’ll even invite Kai and Mr. Jata over for dinner!
Getting There: Located on highway 108, just off the main Mae Hong Song Loop road (1095). Ban Rak Thai is about an hour north of Mae Hong Son.
Staying There: We recommend the Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort. Check Agoda for current rates.
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