Ban Rak Thai (บ้านรักไทย) is a tiny town in Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand, surrounded by mountains and still home to Chinese style and Yunnan traditions brought here by Chinese settlers.
When we think of Thai winter tourist attractions, we imagine mist in the mountains, blooming flowers and a warm cup of tea. These factors combine to create a positive aura that makes us want to pack our bags and take a trip to travel through the thousands of twists and turns in the mountains to Ban Rak Thai.
In the rugged and untamed landscape, a tale of survival and resilience unfolds. Once a dense forest, the hills and mountains of this region served as a haven for a handful of Hmong hill tribe families, eking out a living amidst the wilderness. Opium cultivation, alongside crops of corn, rice, and vegetables, sustained these families, scattered across plots of land nestled in the foothills near Tok Mok Mountain, a towering peak that marked the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar.
The local mountains, which are the natural border between Myanmar and Thailand, in these places reach a height of 1865 meters above sea level, while the village of Ban Rak Thai is located at an altitude of 1180 meters above sea level.
But the history of Ban Rak Thai takes a dramatic turn, casting a shadow of war and upheaval. In the early 1960s, as battles raged between the National Army of Communist China and the National Army of Burma, a group of Chinese soldiers found themselves seeking political asylum in Thailand. These warriors, members of the 3rd Army under the command of General Li Wenfan, the 5th Army led by General Tuan Shiwen, and the 93rd Division, sought refuge in the towns of Fang and Mae Salong.
Yet, fate had more in store for these soldiers. In 1967, General Li Wenfan dispatched Commander Kung Chao Long with 180 soldiers from the 93rd Division to establish a strategic outpost along the border, a mere 6 kilometers from the site that would later become Ban Rak Thai. With their families in tow, these soldiers faced the daunting task of creating a semblance of civilization in the wilderness. They cleared the land, tilling the fertile soil to provide sustenance for the military and generate income by selling the bountiful vegetables they cultivated.
But their ingenuity didn’t stop there. These resourceful soldiers discovered another avenue for economic prosperity – collecting taxes at border checkpoints and providing protection for merchants and caravans traveling for trade between Thailand and Myanmar. This newfound role as guardians and intermediaries in cross-border commerce allowed them to earn a livelihood while establishing a foothold in the region.
In the foothills and eastern reaches of the village, the Hmong hill tribe joined the efforts, cultivating opium amidst the fertile slopes. These resilient families, banding together, cultivated vegetable gardens at the base of the mountain, each plot a testament to their unity. In the subsequent years, additional Chinese military families from the 3rd and 5th Armies migrated to this nascent community. They constructed earthen houses topped with bamboo roofs, transforming the landscape into orchards, farms, and thriving vegetable gardens.
Time passed, and this patchwork settlement grew into a close-knit community. In honor of their profound gratitude towards King Rama 9 and the Kingdom of Thailand, which had offered them refuge and a second home, the village was christened Rak Thai, meaning “Lovers of Thailand.” The name symbolized the deep bond these inhabitants shared with their adopted land, their devotion etched into the very fabric of their existence.
In this rugged terrain, where the echoes of conflict once reverberated, a new chapter had unfolded. Ban Rak Thai stood as a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who, against all odds, had carved out a place to call home amidst the trials of war and the wilderness. Their entrepreneurial spirit, combined with the richness of the land, allowed them to not only sustain themselves but also thrive in this remote corner of the world.
Located in the remote province of Mae Hong Son, Ban Rak Thai is a picturesque village in northernmost Thailand. This charming hamlet is situated 1,180 meters above sea level and offers a tranquil escape from bustling city life. Although reaching the Chinese village requires some effort due to its remote location, the journey is well worth it.
You can get to the village by taxi, car, songthaew or motorbike. When you get here, you can walk around the village. For a more immersive experience, consider joining a guided tour to explore the hidden corners of this village.
And while exploring the village, consider venturing to the nearby Mae Hong Son Town (Google Map), adding an extra layer of discovery to your journey.
Ban Rak Thai may be small, but it boasts a wealth of enchanting attractions that can be discovered leisurely. Renting a car allows you to embark on a scenic round trip, with opportunities to visit nearby points of interest.
Alternatively, songthaews, local shared taxis, operate daily and offer transportation to the village. You can hop on these vehicles in Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, or Pai. That said, it’s best to start your day early to secure a seat – since they tend to fill up quickly. Keep in mind that waking up too late may cause you to miss the departure.
For an adventurous and immersive experience, renting a scooter is highly recommended. The winding roads leading to the village provide breathtaking vistas and a sense of freedom as you navigate through the mesmerizing landscapes. Take caution as you ride; some stretches feature sharp bends requiring focus.
To make the most of your visit, plan your trip from mid-December to mid-January or February to March when the weather is most comfortable. If you’re not a fan of scorching weather, avoid visiting from April to June, as these months are the hottest. Instead, embrace the refreshing winters, offering respite from the humid Thai climate and an ideal backdrop for your exploration.
Ban Rak Thai is a place that you visit to relax and connect with nature. This hidden village is an experience for your soul, and while there aren’t many attractions here, it’s the perfect place to end your tour of Thailand and take in the magic of this hidden village. With that in mind, some of the things you can do in the village include:
The highlight of a visit to Ban Rak Thai is an immersion in Thai-Chinese culture that blends together in an amazing way. The atmosphere of Ban Rak Thai transports us to provincial China and allows us to imagine ourselves in scenes of Chinese movies.
Step into a world reminiscent of ancient Thai Chinese-style charm as you set foot on these resplendent boats adorned with vibrant red lanterns. Nestled within this secluded village lies a captivating lake where the allure of serenity beckons. While the village itself may offer limited diversions, an enchanting journey across the tranquil waters aboard a traditional vessel promises an unforgettable day.
Immerse yourself in the ambiance of distant lands, transporting your senses to the heart of China. Departing from the renowned Lee Wine Cafe (Google Map) starting at 7:30 in the morning, these boats gracefully glide throughout the day, affording you some Instagram-worthy views of the village, especially during the peaceful dawn hours.
The tea products of Ban Rak Thai are widely recognized. Because of the hilly landscape and the cold temperature due to the sea level of 1,776 meters, the area is very suitable for tea cultivation. In addition, traditional Chinese steamed Mantou buns are very popular among Thais and are worth tasting.
Follow your nose to bountiful tea plantations that will introduce a world of exciting flavors and aromatic brews. Delighting both the locals, who earn their livelihood from these plantations, and the influx of visitors who arrive during the vibrant Chinese New Year festivities in February, Ban Rak Thai offers a captivating tea-tasting festival.
This celebration honors the artistry of producing exquisite green teas, amongst various tea cultivation, and captivates guests with live performances and authentic local entertainment.
Along the scenic lakefront of the village, an array of enchanting restaurants and charming tea houses await, each boasting a panoramic vista of the shimmering waters. Indulge in the warm embrace of a fragrant cup of tea sourced from various dried fruits while immersing yourself in the awe-inspiring views of the serene lake and its natural splendor.
When visiting this mystical place, you can walk through the village and admire the ancient Chinese influence. You’ll be greeted with bright red lanterns, little eateries, cafes, and many tea houses, which the village is famous for.
One of the best places to stop for a cup of tea is Lee Wine Coffee (Google Maps); it’s got one of the most amazing views of the lake and is decorated with traditional Chinese architecture.
Many tourists also stroll through the cherry blossom walkway (as part of the “Thai Sakura” scene) and visit the village for a bowl of noodles or fried rice!
There are also many other activities such as hiking, biking, boating, and horseback riding to the Myanmar border. And the picturesque scenery would be a good idea to fill your Instagram.
Ban Rak Thai may be the highlight of your trip to Thailand, but a few nearby attractions make interesting stops while traveling through this part of Thailand. Many of these attractions can be visited before or after your trip to the village and are mainly found in the Mae Hong Son province.
Phu Klon Mud Spa is a unique spa offering mud treatments that rejuvenate your skin. The mud used isn’t just any mud sourced from a nearby spring, known for its rejuvenating and healing properties. If you’re in need of self-care or want to try a unique mud treatment, this is a great place to stop on your way to Ban Rak Thai.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is a Burmese temple founded in 1860 and houses the relics of a monk called Phra Maha Mok Kallana Thera. This exquisite white temple is a great place to visit; buy a few souvenirs and enjoy views of Mae Hong Song from the temple’s coffee shop.
Not too far from the village of Ban Rak Thai is Pang Oung, a resource and wooded area with a lake and mountain ranges. There are a couple of accommodation options close to the lake, but the real beauty can be experienced by camping here.
Pang Oung is a great place to jog, picnic, and enjoy the natural surroundings. This reservoir is also called ‘Switzerland in Thailand’ due to its resemblance to the landscapes found in Switzerland.
The Kaew Komol Cave stands as an awe-inspiring testament to the marvels of nature. Renowned as one of Thailand’s most extraordinary caves, its crystal calcite formations are unrivaled in their splendor. Since opening its doors to visitors in 1995, this hidden gem has mesmerized explorers with its ethereal beauty.
Immerse yourself in a 20-minute journey of wonder as you traverse this subterranean realm. Venture deep into the heart of the cavernous chambers, where you’ll encounter a tapestry of five magnificent halls adorned with glistening calcite crystals. Be prepared to be captivated by their sheer purity and exquisite allure.
The cave’s entrance fee grants you access and includes a delightful songthaew ride leading you to the gateway of this natural treasure.
Around 43km (26 miles) south of Ban Rak Thai lies Mae Hong Son Town (Google Map). Comprised of luxuriant mountains and forests, this charming town with a mere 7,000 residents offers a serene escape from urban chaos. Infused with a captivating Burmese influence, Mae Hong Son Town unveils its unique architecture, culture, and cuisine.
Delight in the enchanting sight of illuminated temples like Wat Jong Kham (Google Map) and Wat Jong Klang (Google Map), their grandeur mirrored on the tranquil Jong Kham Lake. Meander through quiet streets, explore local markets, and savor Shan specialties like khao soi (noodle soup), and kaeng hang le (pork curry).
Beyond its cultural riches, Mae Hong Son Town serves as an ideal gateway to the region’s natural wonders. Explore various scenic road trips, winding through rice fields, cascading waterfalls, rejuvenating hot springs, and mysterious caves. And for the adventurous, immersive trekking tours lead you through dense jungles, where encounters with ethnic minority villages await.
While the Long-Neck Karen villages are renowned attractions, it’s important to conduct prior research to navigate the ethical considerations. Mae Hong Son Town beckons travelers who seek authenticity, diversity, and a genuine connection with nature—an opportunity to experience Thailand beyond the clichés, away from the crowds.
Ban Huai Makhuea Som (tomato village) is a village that is a 20-minute drive from Ban Rak Thai village. In the center of this village is a towering temple called Wat Ban Huai Makhuea Som, and it’s the first thing you’ll notice when entering the village. This temple is the main attraction in the town and is a great place to take a few photos and admire the architecture and design of the village temple.
Su Thong Pae Bridge is a bamboo bridge that is over 500 meters / 547 yards long and runs across the Mae Sa Nga River and rice field, linking the Kung Mai Saak village and the temple. This incredible piece of infrastructure is used daily by locals and monks, and the locals in the village constructed the entire bridge.
Although the bridge isn’t very high, the trek across it is something to behold, and you can follow it all the way through the winding valley and rice fields, admiring the natural wonder surrounding it. The best way to travel to the bridge is by scooter, as there is no public transport traveling to the bridge.
Every morning around 6 am, the offerings to the monks take place on the bridge, and this is the ideal time to immerse yourself in this experience and capture a few images of the bridge as the sun comes up.
All of the above attractions, and many more, including the village of Ban Rak Thai, you can explore on a self-guided tour of the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Lee Wine Rak Thai, a famous clay resort in Baan Rak Thai, is surrounded by tea plantations in the hills with beautiful views. It is also incredibly close to another popular spot, Pang Ung, which is perfect for those who want to stay at Baan Rak Thai and see the misty sea in Pang Ung at sunrise. Lee Win Rak Thai stands on steep hills, getting there can be a bit tricky, but you won’t regret the stunning views if you decide to visit this place.
It is worth noting that Baan Rak Thai is also famous for local wines such as: mulberry wine, peach wine, gooseberry wine. The place is also famous for green tea, oolong tea, and dried fruits.
The weather is very comfortable during the day and can be very cold at night. But for the sake of Thai winter, it is worth getting into the atmosphere of the area, surrounded by fragrant tea plantations.
In this area, the situation is the same as everywhere else in Thailand. The vast majority of guesthouse owners are not represented in any way or anywhere, so you can’t find them on any booking platforms. However, consider the following guest houses if you want to sleep in Ban Rak Thai modestly and without any frills.
This is a good quality accommodation, affordable, overlooking the river, where you can see the residential part of the Chasa Resort and Lee Wine Rak Thai. Check the location on Google maps.
You can book a room with a fan or air conditioning, or stay in tents. Reservations are made through the Facebook page. When booking, transfer half the amount, upon check-in, pay the rest.
Inside the rooms, wide beds with soft mattresses, warm blankets, a dressing table and a hair dryer. In a separate bathroom you will find soap, shampoo and shoes to wear in the bathroom. The rooms have hangers, shelves for clothes, a sofa, slippers for walking in the room. For breakfast, you will be served Yunnan fried noodles. Here you will also find unlimited toast and hot tea, because this village is famous for tea.
Fried noodles are served around 07.30 in the morning. If you would like to check out early to continue your journey, please let the host know so that they can serve your breakfast earlier than usual.
Another guesthouse located on the shore of the lake with stunning views of the surrounding area. Good value for money, even though some guests complain about poor soundproofing. The friendly hostess will always treat you to free tea or snacks, or cook Yunnan cuisine for a small cost.
The only inconvenience tourists may experience is that the hostess does not speak English and the English-speaking staff is not always on site. Nevertheless, the accommodation fee overrides any possible disadvantages, as rooms even in high season are available for only 400 baht per night.
Large rooms, large bathroom with good water pressure, hot water, clean towels, fast wi-fi (200Mb/s), a small terrace with a table overlooking the lake – what else does a tired traveler need?
Despite the fact that the outside of the house is earthen, the interior has a nice and neat finish. You will not need air conditioning here as it is always cool.
Camping located on the shore of the lake. The cost is 150-200 baht per tent. In the morning you will find a very wonderful atmosphere here, enjoying the view of the lake covered with thick mist. Nearby are many cafes and stores, which is very convenient for travelers.
Note that there is no hot water and there are stray dogs running around. But the main disadvantage is that there are no reservations. If you want to stay here, you first have to go to Ban Rak Thai, come to the campsite, and only then will you find out if there are any spots available. Nevertheless, we recommend this place. An overnight stay in a lakeside tent is always unusual, relaxing and reassuring at the same time.
Nice little family owned Yunnan restaurant (Google Map) with a very friendly owner. On the menu you will find both traditional and vegetarian dishes. Here you can also taste the local tea and, if you like it, buy it. The price of food starts at 40 baht. The staff speaks English.
On the outside it looks very simple and unpretentious, but this meal will blow your mind! Try the salad with fresh green tea leaves or the pork noodle soup. The owner of the restaurant (Google Map) is very friendly.
In this cafe (Google Map) you will find a traditional Chinese meat and vegetable soup that you can cook yourself. The cost of the set is only 800 baht per pot, which will be enough to feed 4-5 people. Here you will also find the famous steamed Chinese buns.
The pot is filled with water or broth, and when the water comes to a boil, chopped vegetables, pieces of meat and other products are poured into the pot – and soon it all becomes a delicious soup.
As the diners eat, broth is added to the pot and more food is added, so that the hot meal doesn’t run out as long as the meal lasts.
As the name suggests, this cafe (Google Map) specializes in making Khao Soi, which was named the world’s most delicious dish in 2022.
However, in addition to Khao Soi, you’ll find noodles, meatball soups, salads, coffee, and even shrimp crackers. And the view of the lake during your meal will give you additional pleasure.
If you’re visiting this hidden village, there are a few things to remember to make the most of your trip or holiday and enjoy this hidden village.
Although you can visit this Yunnanese village all year round, the best time to visit is November-February. During this time, the temperature drops to 30℃ during the day and 9℃ at night, the rainy season is over and the smoky season has not yet begun.
The rainy season in Ban Rak Thai lasts from May to October. Yes, we’re not wrong – it continues for six months. The rainiest months are June, July, August and September. During these months, it rains almost every day.
We advise avoiding travel between March and April, as it is common for farmers to burn straw from the rice harvest, and the sky is thick with smoke. Nevertheless, air pollution varies from year to year. For example, in 2022, there was only about a week of smoke, whereas in previous years, the smoke started in early February and didn’t end until early May.
If you are in Chiang Mai and prefer to travel by motorcycle, you can rent a motorbike from our company. If you prefer to travel by car, we advise you to use meta-search websites to find cheap car rentals. Read our article on how to rent a car cheaply in Chiang Mai. Travel time is about 4 and a half hours.
Since you will encounter a large number of attractions along the way, we encourage you to make your trip part of the Mae Hong Son Loop.
The cheapest way to get to Ban Rak Thai is a combined trip. First, you will need to buy a ticket for Chiang Mai – Soppong bus #612, which departs from Arcada bus station every 4 hours. The ticket costs about $8. In Soppong, at the bus station, you will need to hire a cab to take you to your final destination for about $30. Travel time is about 6 hours.
Ban Rak Thai is a mystical hidden village that’s worth exploring and perfect for the curious traveler. This hidden village may not seem like much at first glance, but when you walk through the tea plantations, interact with the locals, and admire the natural beauty of this Thailand destination, you can’t help feeling like you’ve been transported somewhere in China. So when will you be visiting Ban Rak Thai?
Ban Rak Thai is located in northern Thailand. More specifically, the village is located in the sub-district of Mok Cham Pae, Mueang Mae Hong Son District, Mae Hong Son Province.
The distance from Mae Hong Son town to Ban Rak Thai village is only about 40 kilometers, but nevertheless, because of the winding roads and the inability to accelerate on the road, you will spend about 2 hours of your time on this journey.
The drive from Chiang Mai takes about 4.5-5 hours
As this village has a Chinese cultural background and lifestyle, we recommend that you pay attention to the local souvenirs: green tea, oolong tea, jasmine tea, dried fruits and candied fruits, tea sets imported from China and Taiwan.
The easiest way to do this is by private transport, renting a motorcycle or car. The travel time is just over four hours. Alternatively, you can take a public bus №612 (read the details above), but then you will miss many of the sights on the way that you could see traveling in a private vehicle.
If you want to hire a private driver, though, there’s no point hiring one to visit just Ban Rak Thai. After all, you will meet a lot of interesting sights on the way, so the trip may take you several days. As we mentioned before if you want to visit Ban Rak Thai you can also take the Mae Hong Son Loop which takes 4-5 days.
The rainy season in Ban Rak Thai typically runs from May to October.
Smog season in Ban Rak Thai typically runs from February to April.
The hottest time of year in Ban Rak Thai is typically from March to May.
The best time to visit Ban Rak Thai is typically from November to February, when the weather is generally cooler and drier.
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