Fantastic bike and rafting eco tours in Northern Thailand
It’s quite pleasant and warm but not too sticky and hot like I’m sure it will be in the next few hours. Pedaling easy on a joint gravel and asphalt road, I make my way ahead of my three other biking companions for the day through the beautiful and hilly countryside around the Lisu village in the northern Chiang Mai region of Thailand. This rural area just north of Chiang Mai is marked with rolling countryside and farms of bananas, longan fruit and cash crops like tobacco and rice. We are biking to visit one of those productive farms growing tea up in the cooler hill areas in the region. I’m grateful that we are starting at 8am while it is still warm but not oppressive in the heat and humidity which I’m sure it will happen in the next few hours. The road is hilly but comfortable and we are biking at an easy pace except that I want to turn this into a bit of a work out so I go ahead of the group and charge up a more challenging hill with an interesting temple on the hillside. Fortunately, I drop in and take a quick look at the grounds quickly while the rest catch up, but surprisingly the guide does not stop so I turn around and follow to join them.
Tea plantation visit
It’s less than 7 Km or about 3 miles biking to the plantation from the Lisu Lodge where I am staying for the next few days. The Lisu Village is a lodge that focuses on eco tourism and soft tours like this biking tour to the tea plantation and a rafting tour that I will be taking later in the afternoon. After passing a few farms and small villages, I notice a well-kept farm filled with clipped hedges that I immediately recognize as the tea-plant or camellia sinensis trees they are identified with. This is part of the Araksa Tea Plantation and the hillside and surrounding areas are filled with these maze-like shrubs going all the way to the tops of the hills and it is an interesting and different pattern to the rice fields and rows of large leafed tropical plants dotting the landscape.
Our tea guide is waiting for us and hands each of us large bamboo baskets almost the size of our torso. I ‘m assuming that we will be filling up these baskets with the tea plants that we will be harvesting. Although tea can be harvested year-round, I learn that there are two major harvest seasons when hired workers are needed to work the fields. We walk uphill to a nice patch where she can give us a demonstration of how the tea leaves are harvested. It’s a simple process where the tip and new leaf growth typically the first and maybe second leaves are plucked from the plant.
Once the large baskets are filled up, the buds are taken to a processing area for sorting and processing. After picking out rejects (typically a third of the picks) the tea is ready for roasting in a simple technique of dry roasting with a giant wok. Below is a picture showing the dry roasting process and sorting of the tea tips.
It is a lot of manual work preparing and roasting the tips until they are dried out and then set up for longer drying periods outdoors in secured areas and then later processed for packaging and then distribution. Fortunately, seasonal help is hired during the peak picking season for all aspects of the tea production.
After our roasting session, we are invited to the showrooms and sampling some of the freshly roasted teas on display. The tasting room is nearby and is smartly dressed in rustic modern overtones with very plush seating and contemporary dining table which is already set up for our tasting. Along with the various teas, we also get to sample some of the local snacks made in the area and complement the various teas we are going to try.
Tea tasting time
A friendly cat joins us for some tea
Rafting the Mae Taeng river
After and fun tour and tasting at the Araksa Tea Plantation, we continued our biking excursion to the main rafting location which is a short ride and mostly downhill. Even though it is the start of the dry season, there is still enough water on the main river called the Mae Taeng river which is still a very popular white water rafting and hang out spot for locals and regional visitors. We easily bike to the rafting station and load up into a bus that carries our equipment and rafts uphill about 4 miles to the launching location. It’s a quick and scenic ride and at our destination, we quickly have a safety session and slep the raft down to the river to launch.
Safety session before water rafting
Surprisingly, when we arrive, I notice some elephants chained at the entrance and see there is an outfit giving elephant river tours in the area. I’m a little shocked that this is still a very popular past time here, even though I’m not interested in doing this, I’m intrigued to see where they take the elephants and visitors through the area and easily spot them on the river crossing almost dangerously through water areas (at least I assume it’s dangerous but probably a normal route for the mahouts that navigate the animals through the river. For some reason, I feel a little sad that this is still a popular tourist activity that is promoted at this particular station, but I’m sure it is one of many that offer elephant tours in the area.
We eventually launch our raft and it is relatively tame and easy, the river scenes are quite pretty even with the occasional river cafes and bars we run across offering drinks and food for sale. Eventually we go through some adventurous areas that I consider a grade two but can easily be three or four during peak winter season when the river is full. I decide not to carry my camera on the rafting adventure but fortunately, they take photos of the group in the rapid areas so you can buy a copy for a nominal price for a hard copy. Here’s a picture of the rafting experience taken from the rafting photographer below.
The end of the rafting tour
We make it to the end which is very tranquil and scenic. I spot a few more elephants but this time just walking along the river bank with their trainers in a more relaxed manner. It really is a nice spot to take a few pictures and just admire this lush and green tropical scene. We are quickly rounded up into our jeep for the return trip back to Lisu Lodge to enjoy a nice nap or walk on the grounds before dinner and the dance performance of the Lisu tribes.
I hope you enjoyed my post on eco tours in Northern Thailand. If you are in the area and would love to visit the tea plantation or do some of the eco touring activities, you can check out the Asian Oasis website here for more details. I was an invited guest of Lisu lodge to do the eco tours, all opinions and thoughts are my own. I also did a tour and stay at their eco lodge that you can check out here.