Many travelers who want to add some adventure and adrenaline to their trip, especially when they are in northern Thailand, decide to go whitewater rafting. A fun and exciting activity that allows you to practice sports and enjoy nature with a strong dose of adrenaline. There are options for both beginners and more experienced rafters. You just have to do some good research in order to choose the most suitable rafting area according to the season of the trip and your skills.
Another advantage of river sports in Thailand is the pleasant temperature of the water, which only gets cold on cloudy winter days… and even then it is much warmer than in other latitudes. So forget about wetsuits and just enjoy the refreshing water.
There are quite a few rivers scattered throughout the Thai geography where you can practice whitewater rafting. The best region for rafting in Thailand is the north, since there are several long rivers that flow between mountains and jungle landscapes, which allow rafting trips that can even last for a few days. In central and southern Thailand, on the other hand, despite the fact that there are spots where you can do good whitewater rafting, these are shorter stretches that only allow much shorter rafting trips, up to a maximum of three hours.
But since most travelers do not choose their travel route based on where they can go rafting, and they just choose the rafting place that better suits their route, here is a selection of 5 of the best places for rafting in Thailand, spread out in the vicinity of three regions that almost all travelers to Thailand include in their trips: the far north (Chiang Mai, etc.), the center (Bangkok) and the main coastal area in the south (Krabi , Phuket, etc.).
Best places to go white water rafting in Thailand
NORTH OF THAILAND
🚣 White Water Rafting in Chiang Mai – Mae Taeng River
Mae Taeng River is surely the most popular rafting area in all of Thailand, since overall it has very good characteristics: it is close to Chiang Mai, it is surrounded by a beautiful wooded landscape and it allows rafting of different difficulty levels, suitable for both beginners and experts. The highlights of rafting on Mae Tang River are the twenty islets that must be dodged during the tour.
The total rafting distance is about 10 km, and the complete tour, which lasts about 2 and a half hours, can be divided into 3 stages. The first stage is the easiest, and perfect for acclimatization, with level 2-3 rapids. The second is the most difficult, with a difficulty level 4-5 and 8 islets to avoid, while the third and last stage is level 3-4.
- When to go: all year
- Difficulty: 2-5
- Duration: up to 2.5 hours
🚣 White Water Rafting in Mae Hong Son – Pai River
The stretch of the Pai River that lies within ‘Namtok Mae Surin’ National Park is the northernmost rafting area in the country, in a mountainous region with a really beautiful jungle environment. It is located about 10 km north of the Mae Hong Son‘s provincial capital, about 100 km from Pai and about 225 from Chiang Mai. Pai River offers options for both beginners and experts alike, and since Pai is a major adventure travel destination there are a good number of experienced companies operating rafting tours.
The total rafting distance is about 50 km. It begins at the small Huay San Nok River, a tributary of Pai River, which features some gentle rapids and allows to make a stop to visit Susa waterfall. Upon reaching Pai River, there is a succession of up to 15 areas of rapids that reach a level of difficulty 3-4. The most spectacular is Kaeng Pai Kit rapid, in a narrow channel surrounded by cliffs that gets strong currents. There is a riverside hot springs area that offers a well-deserved relaxation at the end of the trip.
- When to go: all year round (best time: July-November)
- Difficulty: 3-4
- Duration: up to 6 hours
🚣 White Water Rafting in Nan – Nam Wa River
An excellent option for the more experienced, Wa River runs through Mae Jarim National Park, in a province (Nan) rarely visited by tourism and close to the Laotian border. In addition to the tranquility and the beautiful landscapes, it is a long river that, with its length of almost 100 km, allows rafting trips of up to 3 days. This option is the most remote that we suggest on this list, about 350 km east of Chiang Mai and 275 km southeast of Chiang Rai, but we include it since it is undoubtedly one of the best.
Wa River has 3 different sections. The upper section is about 35 km long, and is better during the cool season (December-February), when the water level drops and some rocks protrude, with rapids of level 3-4 –and even some 5–. The most exciting part of this section is in the last stretch, with a succession of 10 rapids in a row. The middle section of the river is good from October to February, but it is the most difficult and only advisable for the very experienced. In its length of about 50 km there are a hundred rapids up to Level 5, with strong currents, waves, eddies and small waterfalls. The lower section of the river is the shortest (about 12 km), and usually takes about 3 hours to complete. It is the easiest section -lower than level 3, so it is suitable for all audiences- and can be done throughout the year.
- When to go: May to February
- Difficulty: 3-5 (Jun-Oct), 3-4 (Nov-Feb), 2-3 (Mar-May)
- Duration: 3 hours to 3 days
CENTER OF THAILAND
🚣 White Water Rafting in Khao Yai National Park – Sai Yai River
Beautiful Khao Yai National Park is located about 3 hours northeast of Bangkok. If you visit during rainy season, in addition to enjoying its lush landscapes and abundant wildlife, you can go rafting on Sai Yai River. And in fact it is not only a good place to go rafting during the rainy season, but every July there is even a whitewater rafting festival, ‘Kaeng Hin Phoeng White Water Festival’.
To get to the starting point of the rafting you must walk about 45 minutes along a path through the jungle. The rafting length is about 4.5 km, with a total of 7 rapids of difficulty 3-4, and is completed in approximately 2 hours. The rapids are varied and present different obstacles in the form of rocks, eddies, currents and waves.
- When to go: June to October
- Difficulty: 3-5
- Duration: 2 hours
SOUTH OF THAILAND
🚣 White Water Rafting in Phang Nga – Khlong Song Phraek River
It is the most popular rafting area for those staying in one of the two main tourist towns on the Andaman Sea: Phuket (80 km away) and Krabi (100 km away). The Khlong Song Praek River is within the ‘Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary’. The rafting route, flanked by lush vegetation, is about 5 km long and takes about 45 minutes to complete. At the starting point there is a dam that regulates the water level of the river, and allows rafting throughout the year.
It is a good option as a short activity for those staying in the Phuket or Krabi area, and is a nice day trip when combined with other activities in the area. It can be a good option for beginners, but it will easily disappoint seasoned rafters looking for something more serious.
- When to go: all year
- Difficulty: 2-4
- Duration: 1 hour
Best time to go rafting in Thailand
The best time to go rafting in Thailand largely depends on your rafting skills. The monsoon rainy season (generally from July to October) is the only season that guarantees a sufficient flow for rafting on all rivers. But bear in mind that in rainy season many rivers suffer large floods that make rafting more difficult (and more dangerous). This is a plus for expert rafters, but at the same time makes many rafting spots not suitable for beginners. On the other hand, during the last stretch of the dry season, especially in March and April, many rivers in Thailand have a very low water flow that does not allow rafting.
But, despite any other consideration, in Thailand there are several rivers that allow rafting throughout the year, and that offer different sections suitable for different levels of difficulty. So whatever season you travel, if you choose the right spot and pick a reliable agency, nothing will stop you from rafting in Thailand.
Rafting difficulty levels
- Level 1: Easy – Rapid waters with small waves and few obstructions, all of them easy to spot and navigate. The risk is very low, and self-rescue is easy.
- Level 2: Beginner – There are some easy rapids, and the passage routes are clear and obvious. You have to maneuver a bit, but the rocks and waves are quite easy to avoid. The risk of injury is low, and assistance is rarely needed.
- Level 3: Intermediate – Difficulty increases with higher and more irregular waves, rocks and small eddies. In the rapids areas the passages are narrower and less obvious, and they already require experience in maneuvering and identifying the correct passage.
- Level 4: Advanced – Long and intense rapids, high and uneven waves, dangerous rocks, strong eddies and difficult to determine passages. Knowing how to maneuver with precision and power is essential. It is necessary to study the route in advance.
- Level 5: Expert – Long rapids with many obstructions, falls with waves, rocks and slopes that are impossible to avoid, and passages that are very difficult to determine. Altogether require great dexterity and resistance, and pose a significant danger. It is essential to prepare the route in advance.
It must be borne in mind that the classification of difficulty levels is not an exact science. The difficulty of the same stretch of river can vary greatly depending on seasonal or occasional changes in flow, which can affect rafting in different ways. For example, in dry season the low level of water can cause the water to flow slowly, but on the other hand it can expose rocks that hinder the passage, or bushes that protrude from the water and make it difficult to spot which way to take.
Some tips on White Water Rafting in Thailand
- Book your rafting trip with a good operator. Rafting can be an extreme sport, and therefore it is not a good idea to choose the agency that offers the cheapest price, but the one that offers the maximum safety standards, with good equipment and experienced guides. Before choosing, take time to read reviews on the Internet. A good guarantee of quality when choosing the rafting agency is that it has an official whitewater rafting operator certificate.
- Choose the right level of difficulty according to your skills. Rafting trips must always indicate the level of difficulty according to the international classification: from Level 1 (the easiest) to Level 5 (the most difficult). Many rafting areas offer options of different levels, so they are suitable for both beginner and experienced rafters.
- The price usually ranges between 1000 and 3000 THB. Some of the reasons for the variabile price range are the number of participants, the quality of the operator (professionalism of the guides, quality of the rafting equipment and transport to the starting point, food included, etc.), the duration and difficulty of the rafting, the distance to the rafting area, etc.
- The necessary rafting equipment. Tthe equipment that the rafting operator must provide, besides boat and paddles, must include life jacket, helmet and waterproof bag. Each participant must bring light and comfortable clothes that can get wet and sunscreen to use during the activity, and a towel and spare clothes to keep in the car and use after the rafting.
- You’ll get wet from head to toe. It’s part of the fun! But precisely for this reason it is better not to carry anything on you… or only what is strictly necessary in case you have waterproof bags on board the boat. Despite this, it is better not to take anything at all: waterproof bags are only waterproof when properly closed, and don’t prevent whatever objects are kept inside from being broken when hit. And in all cases don’t carry your passport, money, sunglasses, mobile phone or camera.
- Listen carefully to the guide’s instructions. Before starting, the guides will give a speech explaining the basic instructions of rafting, safety measures and aspects to take into account of the specific route. Listen carefully!
Bamboo rafting: Thailand’s own traditional rafting
In some places in Thailand – especially in Chiang Mai but also in other areas – it is common for trekkings to be combined with a river rafting trip. But rafting is sometimes not done on modern rafting rafts, but on board a traditional bamboo raft, which is nothing more than a simple platform made of a dozen long bamboo poles tied together. It is a fun activity that has been adapted for tourism, but has a traditional origin: before Thailand’s roads were good and sealed, bamboo rafts were one of the main systems of transporting goods.
It is certainly a fun activity, but very different from whitewater rafting. In general, bamboo raft trips are short – less than an hour – and are done in stretches of river which are easy to navigate. Participants just sit on the raft but don’t even row, just enjoy the scenery and keep still, as the bamboo rafts are very unstable. A local guide stands behind, directing the boat with the help of a long pole. The waterline is so low that your ass will be soaking all the time! Despite being a low-risk activity, it is recommended to wear a life jacket, as well as hat, sunscreen, swimsuit and a waterproof bag to store objects that should not get wet.