Beautiful Ban Rak Thai, Thailand – Even Better the Second Time!

My friend Deborah and I fell in love with Ban Rak Thai, Thailand last year during our brief 14-hour layover. Unfortunate scooter issues during our first trip into this magical village cut our time short. We left the village in a pick-up truck with our dead scooters in the back and tears streaming down our long faces.

We decided to try again and planned an even longer Mae Hong Son loop scooter trip over Chinese New Year. This time, we vowed, there would be no unexpected crashes in moss-covered streams and no unfortunate mechanical issues on remote mountain roads. (Thank God for Travel Insurance through World Nomads!) Nothing would keep us from getting the full Ban Rak Thai experience this time.

Unfortunate Incident

And then, about 30 minutes into the trip, barely outside of Chiang Mai we had our first “unfortunate” incident – a police checkpoint! A gang of Thai cops pulled us over and demanded our licenses. My guy was not at all impressed when I handed over my US passport, Taiwan residency card, and Minnesota driver’s license. He fined me 500 baht for being too stupid to actually pack my International Driver’s license on this trip. As I was handing over my money, he laughed at my stupidity, shook my hand, and told me to have a great trip. Nice guy.

Police checkpoint just outside Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Fined 500 baht for being stupid!

Travel tip: if you have an International Driver’s License, bring it with you on any international trips when you plan to rent a vehicle. Don’t be like me.

A few days later (day 5 of our 10-day scooter trip) we found ourselves climbing the mountain road toward Ban Rak Thai, having flashbacks to the last time we traveled that road. Once safely over the pass, we cruised down the steep hills into town, on a beautiful northern Thailand winter day.

Ban Rak Thai was even better than I had remembered, postcard perfect. Possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to, or at least in the top 5.

What is there to do in a small Chinese village on the Thai/Burma border for a few days?

1.) Catch the sunrise.

Like me, Ban Rak Thai wakes up slowly. 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 in the middle of a tea plantation. And then pour another cup.

Sunrise over the lake from our patio at Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort.
Misty lake sunrise view.
Bungalow at Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort. Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
Bungalow at Lee Wine Ruk Thai Resort.

2.) Breathe. Relax.

Walk around the lake, and then sit. The view of the lake changes depending on the time of day and your vantage point. In the morning, the view from restaurant row is stunning. Later in the day, as the sun is starting to set, the reflection of the lake is magical from the opposite side.

Late afternoon views of the lake. Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
Sunset view.

3.) Visit the history museum and talk to Mr. Jata

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.

History museum in Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
Mr. Jata’s History Museum.

4.) Hike to Burma.

Mr. Jata’s book mentioned that the Burma border is only a 20-minute walk from town. In order to save time, I decided to try to drive it. Big mistake. The road is nothing more than a bumpy hiking trail, so I gave up, parked my scooter and hiked the rest of the way.

Approaching the top of the hill, I caught a glimpse of a large red bar indicating the Thai-Burma border. As I walked closer, I noticed the bar was up and the guard shack was empty. Lunchtime? Shift change? I didn’t know but figured it was a good time to slip through “Checkpoint Charlie” and have a look at Burma.

Unofficial border crossing between Thailand and Burma.
Thai/Burma border. Looks open to me!
Border guard shack at the crossing between Thailand and Burma.
Border guard shack. Lunchtime?

So, I walked right past the shack, the barbed wire, the open gate, and kept on walking. It was a beautiful day for a hike, so I hiked down into a valley, certain that I’d run into a border guard of some kind and would be escorted back into Thailand. But there was no one, not one human being in sight, so I kept walking. The only life form I saw was a mangy dog, who just snarled and kept walking toward Thailand.

Eventually, I turned around and hiked back up the steep hill toward Thailand, wondering what would happen if there actually WAS a border guard in the shack this time. Would I be thrown into a Burmese prison camp? Deported to the US? But again, no guard in the shack and the border gate was wide open. So I quietly slipped back into the country. No one even noticed I was gone.

Wire border fence between Thailand and Burma.
Border from the Burmese side. Still unguarded.

(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.)

5.) Sip Coffee with Kai

Stop by the hospital for coffee with Kai, the English speaking nurse. I was exploring the village area by scooter and stumbled into a parking lot with a nondescript building overlooking the lake. The building boasts a beautiful garden and view of the town below.

“Welcome! Come and have some coffee!” a friendly voice called out.

I approached him and asked if this was a restaurant. He laughed explaining that it was the village hospital he’s the nurse. He and one other nurse are the only real medical help in the entire area. Kai is also a historian for the village and was so excited about my genuine interest in the village history. I spent over an hour hanging out with Kai, sitting around his plastic table in the driveway of the hospital.

He served me coffee, biscuits, fruit, candy, and stories. And another amazing view!

View of the lake from the hospital parking lot (cafe). Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
View from the hospital “cafe”.

6.) Wine tasting and tea tasting

Ban Rak Thai is well-known for its tea plantations – our hotel is set in the middle of one. Wooden tea shops line the main street selling all kinds of tea, tea cups, tea sets, tea pots, and t-shirts. The village is also becoming known for their wine production, so we decided to do a little wine tasting before buying. Unfortunately, it was pretty disgusting. Plum sweet, plum dry, pineapple sweet, all of them had a very vinegary taste and one sip was all I could handle. My advice: stick to the tea tasting.

Chinese tea shop along the main street. Ban Rak Thai, Thailand.
Chinese tea shops line the road and offer tea and wine tasting.

I was also intrigued by the mud-hut B&Bs lining the lake, very small and very basic but all with amazing views. Someday, I’ll go back for a lot longer, rent a hut, sit on a dock, sip tea and write stories. Someday…

Primitive mud huts along the lake in Ban Rak Thai.
Mud huts along the lake.
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4 Replies to “Beautiful Ban Rak Thai, Thailand – Even Better the Second Time!”

  1. I am planning to fly to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Rai, spend the night at Ban Rak Thai, wake up early for some photo shooting, spend the day there and go back to Chiang Mai. What I can’t decide is whether I should spend all day here and fly to Chiang Mai (coz I will have only 2 day left for chiang mai. I am on a tight schedule) or I should spend half day here, half day at Pai, and stay overnight at Pai and go back to Chiang Mai the next day. What do you think?

    1. Alev – sorry for the delayed response and I hope I’m not too late to offer advice. I think your first options is better if you’re on a tight schedule. Half a day in Pai isn’t worth it. Spend as much time as possible in Ban Rak Thai since it’s so remote. You can always do Pai later. Again, I am so sorry I missed your comment – my site was under renovation. Please let me know how your trip went and send some photos!

  2. By the way thank you for the post. You make me wanna go to BRT even more now.

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