Mae Ngat Dam floating housesEmma - 08 December 2016
Mae Ngat Dam’s floating houses are essentially raft houses anchored out in the middle of a large lake in Si Lanna National Park. They’re a place to swim, kayak, mess around in the water, or just sit back in the serene location.
Getting to Mae Ngat Dam Houseboats
Having arrived at Chiang Mai Station by sleeper train, we were feeling refreshed and ready for another adventure on two wheels. Mike had definitely enjoyed motoring around on a 115cc bike in Kanchanaburi, so we thought we’d do the same in Chiang Mai and go on a two day trip to stay at the floating houses on Mae Ngat Dam lake.
We went across the road from the station and hired a 125cc bike from a rental company for 200THB per day, 400THB total. The next problem was how to deal with our bags. We're travelling pretty light, with a 40L and a 50L bag between us. But two big westerners, plus backpacks on a bike is a bit of a squeeze. But, learning from the locals, we gave it a go. Our first attempt to squeeze on while both wearing the bags proved uncomfortable, and we worked out eventually that putting one bag between the driver’s feet was best. We must have looked like an accident waiting to happen to the people at the petrol station.
We and our heavily laden moped wobbled off into Chiang Mai traffic. Often people who haven’t been to Chiang Mai imagine it to be a sleepy town, quiet and full of hippies. I can assure you that Chiang Mai traffic is the absolute worst, and the road network around the city is anything but sleepy! But after some time, and with the person on the back constantly looking at directions on Google Maps, we finally made it out of the city and onto route 107 (check) which took us most of the way. The final stretch is lovely wiggly country roads that you can dawdle on, as there’s no one else around.
Booking a Mae Ngat Dam Houseboat
We turned up at the sight for the houseboats, and only saw one choice: Eakachai. They are the most popular, well-known and original boat on the lake, although competitors have now joined them.
We turned up and asked, and they only had one offer available. A one night package, which included kayak hire, transport, dinner and breakfast for 2,600 for both of us. That’s £59! We negotiated it down to 2000THB (£45) but it was still a splurge for us once you include the moped hire!
While arriving on the day means you might be able to negotiate a better rate, at the weekends you should book in advance, as Thais from Chiang Mai like to come here for a weekend away. It would be disastrous to come all the way here and then find that you can’t stay over!
Eakachai Floating House
Having booked with Eakachai, we were immediately driven down to the lake shore in a songaethaw. Here you pay the National Park entrance fee (100THB for foreigners, 20THB for Thai) which is the only thing not included in the cost.
The Songaethaw journey is ridiculously short. It takes perhaps two minutes, and could easily be done on foot. It takes you to the lake shore, where a waiting boat immediately takes you out. If you were doing the trip independently to another rafthouse the boat costs a fixed rate of 600 THB, which seems very expensive!
The boat speeds through the lake, going for 10-15 minutes before arriving at Eakachai. On the way you can nose at the handful of other businesses on the lake. They all looked nice, but once we got to Eakachai we were pleased with our choice.
The houseboat looks a bit like a higgledy-piggledy, cobbled together pirate pontoon! It is made of floating barrels topped with plank and floorboards. An eclectic collection of nicely carved wooden furniture fills the decking, looking out onto the lake. The different sections float independently, and are connected by walkways. In the centre is a ‘pond’ containing fish.
Our room was nicely decorated, a little like a beach bungalow, but floating! And best of all it was right next to the kayaks, dinner area AND the inflatable obstacle course!
Perhaps we’re just massive kids at heart, but this was so much fun, and surprisingly difficult!! You might think from the picture that it’s made for kids, but there’s absolutely no way a kid could get up these things. I needed help for practically all of them! There’s a wiggly round one with lots of handholds perfect for trying to push one another into the water, a doughnut (very difficult to climb out of once you fall in!), a trampoline, and a tower with climbing handholds up three of the sides, and a slide down the other! One of the ‘climbing’ sides was even overhanging!
As you can imagine, we spent quite a long time splashing about playing on the inflatables (cheered on by a group of Americans who I suspect were rooting for the underdog as I repeatedly slipped off and splashed belly first into the water). The water is pretty deep and there’s a few trailing ropes, which might be a worry if you’re coming with children. However, the national park seems to have a strict rule that everyone must wear life jackets, so there’s a degree of safety-consciousness!
After wearing ourselves out on the inflatables, we went out for a paddle around in a kayak. The current was stronger than it looked, which made this a bit more strenuous than expected, but we got to the other side of the lake to have a nosy look at what sort of inflatables they had there!
Once we got back around 5pm, we went to go shower. We turned the handle this way and that, but no water was forthcoming. We asked at reception and they said it’d be turned on at 6pm. Slightly puzzled by the system, we decided just to chill out on the deck for a while. Fifteen minutes later the manager came over and told us our shower was now working. We spend five minutes more on the deck then meandered back to our room… from which there was the distinct sound of rushing water! Opening the door to the bathroom we realised we must have accidentally left the shower turned on, as high pressure water was soaking out entire bathroom. Oops! I still don’t know whether the manager had been telling us the shower should be working, or FYI your shower is running full blast as we speak!
After an extremely cold shower we went to the dining area for our included dinner. We’d chosen when we arrived from a list of set menus, But still were not expecting the spread on our table. A huge cauldron of chicken galangal soup, a whole fried freshwater fish, dishes of cashew chicken and fried greens, an omelette, rice, and several bowls of dips. By far the biggest feast we’d had in Thailand, and all of it was delicious.
The following day we slightly apprehensively approached breakfast, wondering if it would be a feast of similar proportions. Luckily the buffet only consisted of fried rice, frankfurters, fried eggs, pork congee, and toast. For anyone thinking this sounds strange, it's basically a typical Thai breakfast!
We left around 10am, going back by boat to the mainland, where a songthaew was waiting to ferry us the two-minute journey back to the office. Everything worked extremely well, and it was striking how much more paying a little extra will get you!