Kayaking in Chiang Mai – Paddling down Mae Ping River

Thailand is a land of heart stopping seascapes. Kayaking in Thailand is popular and much sought after activity for the tourists. For sea kayaking you can head to Phuket for some great kayaking experiences around limestone caves. But if you are interested in river kayaking then look no further to Chiang Mai. A Lot of visitors keep this activity ” Kayaking in Chiang Mai ” in their Top Things To Do list as Mae Ping river provides a great opportunity.


Brilliant day out in the waters of Chiang Mai

River Kayaking is a challenging sport comes without saying, but it doesn’t have to be advanced level (class 3) to be enjoyed. River Mae Ping provides that equal opportunity to both beginners and experienced kayakers to enjoy the challenges this river provides. There are some tight turns and rapids which provide challenges and adrenalin rush.


This trip will offer you the perfect balance of thrill seeking, sight-seeing and peaceful serenity drifting down the river.

There are some very good operators of kayaking in Chiang Mai who operates full day programmes on various courses and they have the high-quality equipment and guides. They operate whole year, choosing different stretches at different times depending on the level of water.

The “mighty” Mae Ping river presents creek like conditions with Kayaking under lush canopy.

Aidan, the owner of the kayaking company I went with, is an expert kayaker and most of the time he himself lead the groups. He painted a romantic picture of adventure; a fast-flowing river, where you would have to quickly duck under the bamboo and pick a way through hanging vines without hesitation. We would fly past temples and remote monasteries in Chiang Dao mountains. Exciting!

After a quick lesson on how to kayak, we drove in a tuk-tuk for two hours to the starting point in Chiang Dao. There were people from Canada, France, Netherland, Singapore etc., some had done it before and some were absolute first timers like me. The tour we were taking was level-1 (for beginners).


There was a brief stop-over on the way to relax and have some coffee and snacks.


At the starting point, Aidan again explained on how to handle the kayaks, and paddles, and how to manoeuvre the rapids. We had all levels of experience in our group from total beginner to some who occasionally kayak and one gentleman who was a regular. For me, it was the first time. This lesson in the beginning was a good chance to learn some basic skills to make the day on the water more enjoyable.


Aidan, last minute special on basics of kayaking...

Aidan, last minute special on basics of kayaking…

For beginners, they provide Sit on Top kayaks, the intermediate and advanced kayakers are provided with touring kayaks with a large cockpit for easy entry.


The paddles are light and easy to handle.All of us were given the sit-on-top kayaks which are more than capable, and in case the kayak flips, it’s easy to climb back. Aidan, being the expert, uses sit-inside type.

For those who are new to kayaking, the following two images will make the difference clear between a sit-on-top kayak and touring kayak. I was not knowing the difference before taking this trip :-)

Sit on Top kayaks are great fun for beginners. They have sealed hull and moulded depression on top for sitting. It is easy to get on and off whether you are on the shock, shore or in the water. These boats are also typically wider than traditional kayaks and hence more stable. Best for recreational purpose in warm climates.

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Touring kayaks (Sit-inside kayaks) on the other hand are best for long distance kayaking in open water, as well as performance in rough condition. Also, great choice for cold climates. They are narrow and easy to manoeuvre. They have a cockpit, your legs can get inside and there is a skirt for preventing water to get inside the kayak.

Touring kayak

Touring kayak

There are many more types of kayaks, but this post is not about the type of kayaks. So let us come back to our kayaking trip in Chiang Mai.

I was little nervous, trying to remember how to eddy out and which side to lean and what to avoid. When I climbed on my kayak and tried paddling the kayak immediately flipped and I got the taste of things to come. I immediately knew that this river will test me today.

We had not even started and I had my first flip....hmm the day will be tough

We had not even started and I had my first flip….hmm the day will be tough

When everyone was in, we started downstream tackling the river. It was hard for me. The water was fast and it was difficult to manoeuvre the turns and twist. I had a water proof camera, but I could not take many photographs as I was far too busy flipping my kayak, coming out of the water and then again trying to steer my kayak.


At one point, the flow was almost like white water and we were required to take two 90 deg. turns one after another. I crashed into the bamboos at a very high speed, for a moment I thought I going to die. Luckily I escaped without any injury, not even a bruise. But I lost my Kayak, paddle and the hat. Aidan then recovered my kayak, but it took him some time to spot the paddle. And till he did not get the paddle back he kept reminding me the cost of the paddle and that I have to bear it. I was, of course, more worried about how to complete the rest of the course without the paddle.

We took a break in between to take some rest, have some bananas and also swam in the river.


Anyway, after this incident the river became wider and lot easier to travel.


This river is a perfect intro to kayaking because there is nothing too difficult but still has enough turns and twists to keep it fresh and enjoyable.


It took us 4 hours to complete the 28 km. course and at the end all were very tired. We took a late lunch – fried rice, pad kapow, fruits etc.


We travelled back in tuk-tuks to Aidan’s shop and then we were dropped back to our respective hotels.

The day was full of excitement and at the end everyone was happy and also tired. For me, it was a learning experience and opportunity to develop some skills.

If you are in Chiang Mai and interested in River Kayaking you can contact Aidan at Chiang Mai Kayaking.

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I am Shailender Kumar, founder of this travel blog “”. I am a traveler, a travel blogger, wannabe photographer and adventure enthusiast. This blog is all about my travel experiences, travel tips and inspirational photo essays.

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