A Day Trip From Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai Day Trek Elephant Ride

Steve rides on his first elephant.

A mere two weeks into our Thailand trip Steve and I joined a traditional tour with a real tour guide…and honestly I’d probably rate the experience a 5 or 6 on a 1 to 10 scale. We booked our trip with AA Tours in Chiang Rai (it’s on the same road as the clock tower and the BIG electronics store). It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t unique or adventurous. We did ride on an elephant down the river….moderately entertaining, but once you’ve done it once you don’t need to go again.

Our WONDERFUL guide did know alot about the local culture and we happened to be there during their New Years preparations… it’s essentially a giant party, complete with spouse-swapping and binge drinking. From what our guide told us they spend a week preparing and a week recovering.

Chiang Rai village AATour

Here’s the little village we hiked to.

Our guide did get us up to the village before the other groups…awesome… and we had some tea with one of the local women. None of the villagers seemed interested in entertaining any farang (Thai for foreigner), so once we cooled down from our trek up to the village we headed back down the hill through some farmland and a bit of jungle until we reached an extremely cold waterfall. Steve went for a dip, but I preferred to stay dry and warm.

Chiang Rai Day trek waterfall


After the waterfall it was a short hike back to the truck. From there we went to another local village where many of the adults were working on rebuilding someone’s home after a fire nearly burnt it down. But the kids were running amok and I was able to snap a couple of fun shots of them acting like maniacs.

Chiang Rai Day Trek kids

Kids will be kids….I remember pushing my brother around in a wheelbarrow.

And a couple of them looking sweet…

Chiang Rai Day Trek kid2

Cutie pie…

Chiang Rai Day Trek Kid

Big brown eyes

And we still weren’t done. After the third village of the day we headed to a “hot” spring….it was more warm and sulfuric, but we went for a dip anyway. After 20 or so minutes we were ready to go…it had been a LONG day. We were picked up from our hotel super early, so we could meet up with the boat transportation that took us up the river to the elephant village and it was now getting dark and we were ready for a cold beer.

Honest opinion: Skip the day tour. You will be much more happy if you book a multiday trip instead of being rushed along from activity to activity. Steve and I did part of our day trip with other people and part of it just the two of us…which was both good and bad. Our final guide when it was just us was really awesome, but there was always some confusion in the transfer of us between the earlier guides and we were often left to “wait” without much direction or even the name of our next guide. So get ALL of the details before you head out and be clear about what you want and expect.


Tumalo Falls to Happy Valley

Quick Stats

Distance: 8 miles roundtrip (can also make a loop out of it if you want)

Time: 3 1/2-4 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Season: June to October

Permit: Northwest Forest Pass

Dog Friendly: Yes. Off-leash fun for most of the trail, but there are steep drop offs in places and the trail is used by mountain bikers….

Pros: Beautiful waterfalls, gentle trail, close to Bend, views of neighboring mountains and a pretty meadow.

Cons: Multi-use trail, parking lot can be full even on a weekday.

I’ve been eye-balling this area for a couple of years now, so I was pretty stoked to finally check it out. We hiked from the parking area up to Happy Valley, which is just under 4 miles one way. The trail winds through the forest at times, but mostly follows along the creek, allowing stupendous views of waterfalls and occasional access for a doggy dip.

Happy Valley trail waterfall

Waterfall peeking through the trees along the trail to Happy Valley.

Happy Valley waterfall2

One of the many waterfalls along the trail.

The trail is easy going, a nice gradual grade with some flat spots too… ie. much easier than most of the hikes we do. We had a non-hiker friend with us and she loved the hike and didn’t complain…maybe we can convert her?

It was a perfect cool fall day….rain was predicted for mid afternoon, so we turned around at Happy Valley after having a creek-side picnic.

Happy Valley Sal

Sal taking a break in the creek bed in Happy Valley.

Honestly this was an incredibly easy hike with beautiful scenery. It’s perfect for days when maybe you aren’t at 100% energy, you just want a quick jaunt out of town or you’re introducing a friend or child to the outdoors. And the trail is incredibly straight forward, no junctions, no “off trail” navigation…just beautiful trees and waterfalls.

Tumalo Falls

Bonus!!! You don’t even have to hike to see stunning Tumalo Falls…the viewpoint is practically in the parking lot.

And to keep our non-hiking friend happy, and to keep us happy too, we wrapped up our afternoon at 10 Barrel for a victory beer before heading home.