MOUNTAIN FLOAT | Darrin Henry
There’s a secret holiday retreat in northern Thailand, a long way off the beaten tourist track but well known and appreciated by the local people. It’s our second week in Thailand Sharon and I have come to Mae Ngud Somboon Chol dam, a reservoir in the mountains of Sri Lanna National Park.
Only a week after my ‘not so happy’ trip in a Bangkok long tail boat I find myself climbing into another, this time in Chiang Mai, the northern province of Thailand. Our friends, Alan and Noi Floate and their son Fuel, are taking us on a camping trip which is about as much as we know, other than it involves swimming and is called, Mountain Float.
The noise of the huge engine on the long tail boat makes conversation difficult so we just sit tight and enjoy the ride. We are obligated to wear the new but rather stiff, blue lifejackets, which gives everyone the appearance of having stiff necks when trying to catch the views on either side.
The reservoir is known as Mae Ngud dam, approximately 20 square kilometres in size, created on the Ping River. It resembles a large lake, stretching lazily into the distance and bending around the mountains.
About three or four minutes into the trip we spot some of the first floating cabins. From this distance my initial thought is they appear to be on stilts.
Travelling about 6km, half the length of the reservoir, we finally reach our houseboat. The surrounding mountain scenery is stunning, steep and covered in thick jungle. We really are in the backwoods, tucked away from anywhere.
The rest of our group and their kids are already here, enjoying the swimming and sun bathing. Introductions are quickly made before we change into swim gear and jump into the warm water of the lake. It’s a wonderful surprise this place; beautiful, idyllic and full of fun already. The easy going friendliness and down to earth humour of everyone reminds us of our home island, St Helena. We’re soon splashing about and behaving like the children.
The last time I went swimming was with whale sharks on St Helena and that was special. This is completely different but equally unforgettable.
Included in the facility are kayaks, one-man sailing dinghies, floating lounge chairs, a large tube trampoline and of course, life jackets and other floatation aids. I believe biking may also be an option at other parts of the lake.
Sharon and I jump in a kayak and go for a paddle out across the lake. Not even half way we have to turn back; it’s far wider than we had realised.
The Mountain Float resort is pretty amazing. The houseboat we are staying in is secured by hidden anchors and connected by floating walkways to three other houseboats, plus a communal floating restaurant where a small service team are on standby 24/7. The houseboats themselves are made from natural materials and blend into the mountain setting. The structures’ balance and stability is very good, just the tiniest of movements to remind us we’re actually afloat.
Inside our houseboat, the largest of the ‘complex,’ there are four bedrooms and five bathrooms. The children will bunk down on camping mattresses and sleeping bags. There’s a huge dining room complete with flat screen TV and a kitchen. Electricity is delivered via standard mains sockets and clean, filtered water runs throughout. There are sun loungers, bean bags and cushions to help us relax with large parasols bolted onto the porch deck.
As daylight begins to fade I know I’m living one of those magic moments and I’m desperate not to take it for granted. I gaze across the stillness of the reservoir and try to lock the scene into my special memory vault; the sun sinking slowly below the mountains and reflections from boathouses across the lake, twinkling off the water. The smell of a barbeque wafts around the house; there is a feast of delicious food the ladies are preparing and soon we are sitting to a table on deck, having dinner and sipping our Singha beers as the stars and a full moon lights up the lake.
At midnight, the temperature at 28 deg C, we are still mooching around wearing t-shirts and shorts, barefoot. Some of the ladies are playing a Thai card game and it’s entertaining watching their reactions. Despite many attempts we are unable to grasp the rules well enough to join in. Finally, reluctantly, we drag ourselves off to bed at 1pm; it’s such a lovely night it seems almost a shame to waste it by sleeping.
A gorgeous Thai sunrise over the mountains introduces the new day. The lake has mystical swirls of early mist hanging over the water. We all troop along the walkway to the restaurant house. As breakfast settings go this is surely one of the most unique. It’s the kind of scene you see in exotic brochures and never think it will happen to you. The buffet was extensive, a mixture of Asian and western options. With Noi’s guidance I’m trying a traditional rice soup starter, which I have to admit seems kind of weird for breakfast but actually tastes pretty good.
As breakfast finished and we sat around chatting for a bit, a monk and a cute little puppy (I kid you not) came motoring across the glassy lake in a long tail boat and tied up alongside the floating restaurant.
Thai people have great respect for monks and the spiritual support they offer the community. In return, food and sometimes monetary offerings are made every morning to sustain the monks physically. Women must be careful not to touch the monks.
It’s an interesting moment to observe. Prayers are said together after each of the offerings have been accepted and then the monk, and the puppy, go on their way.
Back at our own boathouse it’s time for more swimming and water sports. Sharon and I laze on the deck chairs and watch as the kids race each other across the lake to see whether the pedal surf board or the kayak is fastest. (It’s the kayak) We could stay here all day. Tranquillity base it certainly is, so peaceful and detached from the troubles of the world.
Eventually though, we have to leave. Alan and Noi have plans to show us more of Chiang Mai, so about 11pm, bags packed, we climb back into the long tail ferry boat and depart Mountain Float resort.
It’s hard to describe how amazing the two days have been. The warm temperatures, the swimming, the drinks at sunset, the dinner on deck, the sounds of laughter and conversation… but, once again, as we are finding on this trip, what made it special were the people. We were welcomed with such warmth that rather than feel like guests we felt part of a circle of friends from the first minute. It was a real privilege.
Thailand is spoiling us rotten.