River rafting in Phato, Chumphon Province

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This past weekend Phato held its annual Rafting Festival, celebrating the opening of the season for bamboo rafting on the river. Rafting is the main tourist draw in the area, bringing mainly Thai but also foreign tourists to the town.

In January of this year, severe floods struck across much of Southern Thailand. One area that was hit particularly hard was Phato District in Chumphon Province. The town’s river broke its banks when a once-in-a-hundred-years flash flood swept through, destroying homes, businesses, and livelihoods.

This past weekend Phato held its annual Rafting Festival, celebrating the opening of the season for bamboo rafting on the river. Rafting is the main tourist draw in the area, bringing mainly Thai but also foreign tourists to the town.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) stepped in to help locals build new rafts in time for the opening of the season, and they invited us along for the opening ceremony and to enjoy a raft trip down the river.

River rafting in Phato District, Chumphon

Phato Flooding Malin Rafting

We met Siwalin Intkham just steps away from the foundation of what had recently been her home but was swept away in the flood. She and her family were lucky to have escaped that same fate, and spent hours in a tree as the waters rushed below them. Siwalin owns Malin Rafting Service, the company we’d be rafting with. Her new home is under construction on higher ground nearby, and her business is ready with new rafts for this year’s season.

The raft trip was very nice. It wasn’t the adrenaline-fueled adventure we usually try to find when we travel, but it was definitely the local experience we go for. Chumphon doesn’t get the tourist attention of most of its neighboring provinces, but we often find that to be a good thing.

Southern Thailand local experience

For both of us, some of the best experiences we’ve had traveling in Thailand have been in these more out of the way places. What they lack in pristine white sand and crystal clear water, they make up for in incredibly friendly locals and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Rewat Thongbunchu — a local man who develops and teaches natural building techniques in the area — put it well. He said that Phato isn’t the most beautiful area, but it’s a true local experience. He’s right, but he’s selling the area short. The river really is lovely, lined most of the way with steep banks and small farms of rubber, palm, beetle, durian and mangosteen trees. To us Westerners, even after years in Thailand, these scenes are still exotic and beautiful.

Phato also has a stunning waterfall — one of the better ones we’ve seen in Thailand. Even on a Sunday there were very few people there. We didn’t have long at the falls before our lunch at the rafting festival but we did get a drone flight in. It does look like a very nice place for a swim though.

Drone over Haew Loam Waterfall

Chumphon adventure travel

Chumphon doesn’t get the tourist attention of some of Thailand’s better-known provinces, but there’s plenty to do there. And if we had more time, we probably could have found some adventure. This website lists scuba, paragliding, kitesurfing, caving, and white water rafting among the province’s activities. We might have to come back sometime to check all of that out.

Contacts

Siwalin Intkham
Malin Rafting Service
07753 9053, 089 592 8376

Rewat Thongbunchu (Bow)
Din Dang Natural Building Center (and local tour guide)
087 287 2745