For two months now, Val and I have been traveling through SE Asia. We quit our jobs, sold most of our stuff and put the rest in storage. Starting in the Philippines, we’ve been working our way north, through Malaysia, Singapore and now into Thailand. We’re currently staying in Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand.
We decided to try paddling on the Mae Taeng River, which is about 75 km north of the city. After looking around, SiamRiver Expeditions won our money. On Sunday, December 16, their van came to our guesthouse and picked us up for the 2 hour ride to the river. We stopped twice along the way to pick up some folks who were doing the rafting portion.
Once we got to the put-in spot, the rafters went on a short elephant ride while Val and I went to scout the Class IV rapids. Here’s a pic of the rapids map from their brochure:
After elephant rides and scouting, it was time for lunch! We got a yummy Thai buffet. Then it was time to get our kayaks outfitted. We didn’t bring any gear with us from the States, as it is really hard to schlep that stuff across the world, so we got to use what they had there. I would’ve preferred my own pfd and paddle, but the gear was mostly serviceable.
I fit into my boat, a Bliss-Stick Mystic, with no problems. Seems that the guy who had it before me was about the same size. I didn’t even have to move the bulkhead.
Val, on the other hand, had more problems. They had a pretty big boat for her and she was swimming in it. We put her into a Bliss-Stick Scud and managed to put enough foam into the front so that her feet had something to push against. The loose feel and other equipment that didn’t fit led to a not so psyched for whitewater feeling in her, which was only exacerbated on the water. Val isn’t the most daring paddler in the best of times and the wonky gear was giving her some serious misgivings.
On the river, I had a great time, working the easy rapids at the beginning of our run to get a feel for the boat. I could roll it easily on both sides and it held a line, especially when I put it on edge.
At one of the Class III drops, our guide, Sok, gave us a simple direction and showed the line. Val hesitated because she couldn’t see the bottom of the rapid. After I ran it without problem, she dropped in and did just fine. When we got to the Class IV drops though, she decided to hop in a raft and let one of the guides take her boat through. She’d been wondering how the rafts fit down such a narrow and technical drop. Once out of the kayak, it became pretty obvious: the rafts just bounce and slide over the rocks.
Mostly the guide just told the raft passengers to get into the middle and hold on. Val couldn’t do that though and tried to help out. With all its momentum, the raft still hit rocks and bounced its way down.
My line was a little different:
After running Dragon (IV), I had to empty water out of the boat. Didn’t matter though, as I was having a great time. Super psyched, we dropped Near the Wall and Khao Boy. Woot! The last IV was Standing Wave and it was pretty fun too. Not too hard in a kayak, but the rafts all hit the sides.
Val even managed to smile on this rapid
After Standing Wave, Val got back into the kayak and paddled the rest of the river, except for Swimmers Chute. She wasn’t really trusting the guides because they kept saying one more, then one more.
All in all, I had a great time on the Mae Taeng. Siam Rivers was the best outfitter we could find here and if you have your own gear, they’re happy to shuttle you up to the river. If you’re a Class IV paddler, you should have no problem on this run. I hadn’t paddled for about 3 months before this and I know I was a bit rusty. However, the warm water made it easy to loosen up. I was happy to use a bigger boat for my first time down too, as it would’ve been pretty challenging in a play boat.
As a tentative Class III paddler, Val made a wise choice and rafted the Class IV rapids. At this low level, they were very technical and rocky. At higher flows, you wouldn’t have to worry about hitting rocks as much. Higher flows could also mean higher hydraulics and holes that are sticky. I won’t know until I come back in the wet season (July-August). I do know that I’d like to paddle this river again.
After a little searching, I found this video of the river at higher flows. Looks less technical, but still fun!