Sailing down the Ping River with WagonersAbroad!
We woke up to the sound of our alarm at 9:30am and were about to hit the snooze button, again, for probably the tenth time when we realized what we were doing and set off into a panic. We had made arrangements to meet with a family of travel bloggers, the Wagoners of WagonersAbroad.com, and take the Scorpion-Tailed River Cruise along the Ping River at 11am. We still had to dress, eat breakfast and try and find the place with only a drawn map from the website and a Google map of a nearby landmark, a condominium.
We were excited to meet the Wagoners after following their site for a few months and some recent correspondence. We had only met one blogger (Emily), and we really wanted to connect more with our new community. Plus, this family just seemed pretty awesome in general. So while we were hesitant to shell out the 500baht (18.50 CDN) per person, as that was the majority of our budget for the day and we had read a few TripAdvisor reviews (although there were many good reviews) that had us worried, we knew the ride would be a neat outing and we could potentially make some new friends. Plus, the ride included a complimentary dessert, so how could we resist?
Surprisingly, we arrived early and bought our tickets and since we had skipped breakfast, we decided to use the fifteen minutes we had to find something to eat. After grabbing some pastries and coffee from a nearby café, we returned to find the Wagoners there. It’s a strange thing this blogging world. You end up knowing a whole lot about other people you’ve never actually met. So there we were introducing ourselves and shaking hands with people with whom we were already familiar.
We learned quickly that they were not only awesome people on their blog but they were truly great people in real life. Genuine, kind, funny and fun, this family is exactly what they portray themselves to be online.So when the tour was about to start and we saw that it was only our two groups boarding the boat, we were pleasantly surprised. Our tour guide, complete with a headset microphone and a speaker secured to his waistband, lead us onto the boat with a giant smile and we set off.
Starting along the river our guide held up cards with photos to show what the different buildings along the route used to look like and explained their significance. He went through some history about the river, bridges that were built over it, buildings of importance and the design and construction of scorpion tailed boats throughout history. Even though we couldn’t always fully understand him with his strong Chiang Mai accent, we got most of what he had said and laughed quite often at the many jokes he told. We particularly liked his one joke, after discussing the importance of elephants in Chiang Mai culture. He said that there is a saying in Chiang Mai, “Never stand below an elephant”, they eat so much food in one day, he said, so if you stand below, you better watch out…poo-poo. A neat aspect of the boat was that it was propelled essentially by a rudder attached to the engine of a Toyota Mercury, with a key ignition starter. it seemed odd when he told us but worked very well.
In between explanations we got a chance to talk to our new friends about their experiences. They had recently lived in Spain for almost two years before leaving, touring around Europe a little and then heading to Thailand. You could tell they all found great enjoyment in travelling and we enjoyed talking with them all about their life in Spain and their success in relocating and developing their blog. The parents, Heidi and Alan, were kind of like us, but with kids. They seemed to love life and adventure and find enjoyment every chance they could. The kids were bright, engaging, fun to talk to and lucky for being able to learn so much through their travels. Honestly, we were a little in awe of this family and all that they had seen and accomplished. So with a great guide and conversation flowing when possible, we rode the boat at a leisurely pace first one way and then back down the other before stopping for our promised dessert.
Sticky rice and mangoes and a lesson in Chiang Mai gardening
Disembarking, we were lead through a garden of Thai plants, flowers, herbs, and fruit where we were given an explanation about each of the plants growing. We were shown dragon fruit and bananas, given parts of citronella and anice leaves to smell, and shown the different crops of jasmine and sticky rice. The garden was beautiful and interesting and our guide explained each one with great patience for all of our questions. It was an amazing learning experience that we were not expecting. While examining the different bugs we also found throughout the garden, we were shown a hammock made of just one piece of bamboo. Carolann decided to take a quick break before we were given our dessert!
Guided to our seats for dessert, we were brought out some mango slices with sticky rice and a delicious lychee drink. We had seen a few street vendors in Pai selling mango and sticky rice and were interested in trying it out. The mango was flavourful and the sticky rice had a bit of condensed milk on it adding a sweet taste to match the fruit. While we were eating, our guide showed us snake and eel catching traps and explained how they work. He also showed us some cobra/scorpion whiskey discussing the supposed importance of combining both creatures to balance out the toxins. It was great entertainment while eating and he again told jokes and had us all laughing. After dessert, we headed back on the boat to return to the dock, the entire trip taking just over an hour and a half.
Scorpion Tail River Cruise – The Best Ping River Boat Ride
The previously mentioned poor reviews that we read discussed the fact that the water was dirty, the guide held up cards to describe different parts of history and that he was hard to understand. What we decided about these reviews was that all of the comments were missing one crucial point, we are in Thailand to experience a culture different than ours and learn more about the places we visit so no, the Ping River during high season when the rains wash soil and sand into the water is not going to be pristine and clear as it is during low season or off the coast of some gorgeous island, the cue cards aid in explaining what we are seeing along the bank and the historical significance, and as far as accented English? We are getting a tour with a Chiang Mai local who is incredibly warm and welcoming and likes to tell jokes and explain his homeland, accent and all.
There were four things we noticed that set this riverboat cruise apart from the others we saw:
1. They don’t take commission. Many of the river boat cruises pay a commission to Tuk Tuk and taxi drivers for dropping tourists off. If you are an unsuspecting tourist looking for the Scorpion Tail River Cruise, even if you point it out on a map, they will take you to one of the others stating it is better and that the other one is no good. They then get paid a commission for doing so. The one we went to had a strict “No Commission” policy which we agree with and would recommend that if you are looking to take this river cruise, be prepared to tell the driver that you do not want to go to any of the others. Apparently the Wagoners experienced this trying to get there that day and told them explicitly where on the map they wanted to go.
2. It is all included. Unlike many of the other boat cruises you take, they don’t push you into buying other products or trick you into paying more for something you didn’t expect. We were told we’d get the dessert for free and we did. We actually received more from the cruise than we expected, like the walk along the gardens and explanations of all the plants. We even found out that where he had taken us for dessert and the garden walk was his own home.
3. They use LPG rather than the diesel fueled engines of the other boats which is better for the river and the environment and something we really appreciate
4. They had a funny and informative guide. We noticed that some of the other rides we passed had a driver but no guide to comment on what they were driving past or seeing. We enjoyed the information we were given, the tour along the garden and the entertainment during dessert. After the river cruise, we got to spend a little more time with the Wagoners, walking along the streets and markets and chatting along the way. We had a great day, both on the cruise learning about the Ping River, Chiang Mai and the local culture as well as meeting some great new friends.