Check out our crazy hike back to Chiang Mai the next morning!
After a brief 3 night stay at Wat Chom Tong (one of my favorite temples for meditation), meditating and visiting my friend Idan, it was time to go to the beautiful rice fields in Ban Pa Bong Piang (also commonly seen as “Ban Pa Pong Piang”). Some of the nicest rice field panoramas in Thailand! Situated in Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai province. But how do you get there?
What we did was to catch a yellow songthaew just outside of Wat Chom Thong. They leave every 2 hours starting at 9:30am. I wander around looking clueless near a yellow songthaew hoping it’s overly obvious that I need some help over here. Some guy yells out in Thai so I turn around with a smile 🙂 I asked him “Mae Pan? Mae Pan? Ban Pa Bong Piang? Mae Pan?” (Mae Pan is the waterfall where the 2km trek to Ban Pa Bong Piang begins). He nods his head and says “Yes,” pointing at the songthaew. I point again and say “Mae Pan” to confirm and it’s confirmed! Now that’s how you get things done in a foreign land 😉
It leaves on time and 1.5 hours later Antonia and I are dropped off at the intersecting road towards Mae Pan (when going back to Chom Thong the songthaew swings by every 2 hours ~10, 12, 2, and 4). It’s about 3km to Mae Pan and then 2 more to the rice fields, a nice little hike. Walking on the road to Mae Pan actually had a fairly steep decline, but very manageble. After following a sign for Mae Pan, we spot one that says “2km <– Ban Pa Bong Piang”. “OOooooo, we’re almost there!” But now here comes the rough part…
Typically people call the guest house they’re staying in to pick them up back at the intersection we got dropped off at (costs around 700-1000THB for a roundtrip – this is for the whole party, not per person). That’s because the road to get there is very rough and muddy and a regular motorbike or car won’t get through. But we decided to walk – I mean…it’s only 5km and only 2km off-road. Well…they aren’t lying when they say it’s a rough road – it was muddier than a monster truck rally in the world’s largest pig pen during a thunderstorm!
A few times we did sink down into the deepest depths of the Earth, but managed to pull our feet out with shoes intact. After a few foot mudbaths you loosen up a bit and stop worrying so much about it. All-in-all the entire 5km took an hour and 20 minutes to walk. We were not pushing hard at all and going super slow through the Tough Mudder fun run course. At the village it was difficult to know which guesthouse we had booked at, but I remembered the phone number and found the sign with that number 🙂
All of the guesthouses are little bamboo huts with a matress on the floor and a bugnet over top. They have no electricity and two outdoor bathrooms: a Western and an Asian style one (you may want to bring your own toilet paper). The showers are non-exisitent; instead they have barrels of water you use to scoop water over yourself with a bucket. I personally really enjoy bucket showers 🙂
It’s all very basic, and that is all that is needed because the main joy is looking just outside your balcony at the gorgeous vibrant green rice fields, watched over by towering mountains. It’s easy to spend an hour or two wandering around in the rice fields. There are no specific “trails” leading through them, but you can have a fun time finding your way around the maze of ridges (just be careful not to trample over their precious crops 🙂 ).
Every guesthouse stay includes a dinner and breakfast. The dinner was more than enough for the two of us and we didn’t even eat one of the dishes. We tried to explain that we are vegetarian, but one of the three dishes provided was fish. Oh well, we still enjoyed yummy cabbage, an omelette, fried bananas, and all the rice you could eat. Not the most delicious meal I’ve had in Thailand, but certainly enjoyable and not the reason I’m here!
The best part of staying over night is viewing the sunset! For us the sky was amazing! Just a hint of a crack in the skyline above the distant hills allowed the sunlight to peak through. The rays of sun lit the rice fields as if they were glowing. As the sun set further and further it pronounced the depths of clouds in the sky, showcasing the beauty in the air as well as on the ground 🙂
And the nature sounds are incredible! They are so LOUD!!! I can definitely see it bothering some people, but for me it is awesome. There are so many bugs and birds and frogs and butterflys everywhere (not that you can hear butterflies so much). I found it really nice falling asleep to all of these sounds.
The Best Time to Go
You need to come here during the rice planting season. So the months to come here are between July and October. I’d recommend the first half of that, so mid-July to early September. July has the rice newly planted, it’s got some green stalks coming out, with pools of water casting beautiful reflections. Then, later in August and early September (this is when I came), the grass is a little taller and a little greener. The plots look full and lush and this is my favorite time to see the rice fields. A little bit later into October the green turns to yellow and it’s time to start harvesting the rice in November.
These schedules shift by a few weeks each year depending on the rainfall. This year, 2019, they started really late. August is a safe bet for having very nice rice fields, but it is also the middle of the rainy season, so you might have some rain and clouds disrupting your holiday. In September the rice fields will be a little too full grown for my liking, but a better chance for clear skys. I would personally take my chances in August to enjoy Ban Pa Bong Piang, but I don’t mind the rain so much 😉
How To Get To Ban Pa Bong Piang
Public Transport + Hiking or Guesthouse Pickup
You can take the yellow songthaew (35baht) or the blue bus (34baht) from Chiang Mai Gate (the sourth gate of Old City in Chiang Mai). The songthaew is outside of the wall and the blue bus is inside the wall. I recommend the blue bus because it’s a more comfortable ride, you get to sit in a proper seat, and sit facing forward – but the yellow songthaews leave more frequently (every ~20min or so). I’m not sure about the buses, they may leave on the hour or every half-hour. We got the 11am bus, and it takes about 2 hours to get to Chom Tong.
The blue bus will drop you off at the big pagoda of Wat Chom Tong.
NOTE: Some guesthouses will pick you up from here for ~1000baht round-trip. Making life very easy 🙂
Just 50 meters further down the street is the tiny Chom Tong bus station. From there you can catch a yellow songthaew to the Mae Pan waterfall. The songthaew leaves every two hours starting at 9:30am and ending at 3:30pm. It takes about 1.5hrs to get to the Mae Pan road drop-off point. From here you can start hiking like we did (described above) or you can call your guesthouse and they’ll come pick you up from here for about ~700baht round-trip.
You can either rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai or take the bus to Chom Tong and rent a motorbike from there. It will be easier to do a 24hour rental if you rent in Chom Tong, but if you don’t mind paying for 2 days or doing a lot of driving (renting in the afternoon and leaving early in the morning the next day) then you can rent in Chiang Mai (read my article about good places to rent motorbikes in Chiang Mai).
You can drive up to the Mai Pan waterfall, park your bike, and then hike the 2km through the rough muddy trail – as mentioned above – or drive 30 extra kilometers and make it to the village entirely on road. Take 1192 until you make a right onto 1088. Drive a few kilometers until you hit Wat Thung Yao and make a right. From here you’ll have to use your maps to stay on the right road, but basically never deter from this main road. We haven’t done this drive but spoke with some local people who did. They told us it took about 2 hours driving from the Mae Pan waterfall (they were going to drive through the mud trail, but due to construction and downed trees they had to turn around). We did, however, accidentally walk those village roads and then hitchhiked 1088&1192 – it is a beautiful ride so you might enjoy this route.
What To Bring
Food at Ban Pa Bong Piang is hard to come by. It seemed as though they only have enough food for themselves and for their guests. There are so many crops around with corn, papaya, passion fruit, and the obvious rice! But we went in search of some fruit to buy and nowhere was able to serve us. So as far as food goes, you will likely only get the dinner and the breakfast (which turned out to be plenty enough for us). If you’d like some snacks or fruits then bring some with you.
Our guesthouse didn’t have toilet paper, so you may want to bring that. Also, there is nothing to do here except hiking through the fields and enjoying the views. So if it’s raining or when it gets a bit later, you may want some extra activities. Bring a book, bring some cards or games, make sure your laptop and phone are charged if you want to do some writing or watch a movie (though I’d recommend trying to leave a bit of technology behind to enjoy the open space and wild sounds).
You may need your own towel as well if you plan to take a shower. Since it was only one night, we didn’t bother taking a shower.
TIP: Leave as much as you can at your hostel in Chiang Mai. If you’re coming back to a hostel in Chiang Mai, you can leave most of your stuff with them and only pack a lightweight bag to carry. Especially if you’re doing a bit of hiking. It’s also much nicer taking public transit with small bags.
Where To Stay
All of the places here are very very similar. Bamboo huts overlooking the terraced rice fields. I personally really enjoyed staying at Piang Na’s (the host’s name is Piang Na). The people were very friendly and I have no complaints about anything else. It rained a little while we were here and the overhang kept us completely dry while still being outside and able to enjoy the view. The best way to make a booking in Ban Pa Bong Piang is by calling the guesthouses directly. I have a few pictures below of several guesthouses and their numbers. Make sure you call at least a week in advance during July to October (rice harvest season). And even further out if you are going on a weekend. We started making calls a week ahead and found 2 places already sold out. Good luck!
So most of the guest houses only showed Thai names, so I numbered the ones without names and placed all of the guest houses from farthest West to farthest East walking along the single village road. The first 3 are West of the bend. The rest are East/North of the bend.
|Guest House 1||080.794.6883
|Guest House 2||083.525.1080
|Guest House 3||097.920.1095
|Guest House 4||093.220.6128|
|Guest House 5||087.175.4461
|Guest House 6||096.829.6779|