The Best Places for Kayaking in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand with an Oru Kayak

Despite there being few natural bodies of water in Northern Thailand there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the stunning scenery on your Oru Kayak and explore areas otherwise difficult to reach by any other means of transport.  The Beach LT is the kayak of choice for Trailhead Thailand’s multi day adventures  thanks to its lightweight construction and stable hull design making it perfect for recreational kayaking on calm water.  It’s intended use is smooth, calm water such as lakes slow running rivers and streams and below we will look at the best places for kayaking in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand suitable for this kayak.

Mae Kuang

Starting off with the closest reservoir to Chiang Mai city, Mae Kuang is located just 45 minutes’ drive away in Doi Saket district and is a pretty resevoir surrounded by forested hills and some nice lookout points.  It is relatively small and can be kayaked across in an hour or 2 making it ideal for those short on time but wanting to get out in the countryside for a few hours.  Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of litter on the banks of the dam and discarded fishing gear due to the many fisherman who live off the lake and forest fires are an issue in the dry season so the best time to go is between June – December.  If you’re new to kayaking in Chiang Mai then this is an ideal place to start.

Mae Kuang
Kayaking under the popular suspension bridge on Mae Kuang in the dry season.

Mae Ngaat

Just north of Mae Kuang and 1 bour from Chiang Mai city is Mae Ngaat Somboon Chon Dam, a multipurpose hydroelectric dam in Mae Teang district, forming part of Sri Lanna national park.  The reservoir is quite popular with locals and tourists with several floating restaurants and resorts which are worth a visit.  Many people visit Mae Ngaat to kayak around the national park entrance but its possible to kayak the entire length in a few hours if you can arrange transport to drop off and pick up.

The eastern side in particular is very beautiful with tall cliffs either side of the narrow water channel and very few signs of life, be very well prepared with food and water and sun protection as its quite a long way to any kind of civilization.  It is possible to kayak at Mae Ngaat year-round and thanks to its national park protection the forests are usually spared the annual burning. The water levels drop quite considerably during dry season however so what appears to be water on google maps may be dry land. This option is the natural progression for enthusiasts of kayaking in Chiang Mai and looking for a bit more of a challenge.

Kayaking at Mae Ngaat
Beautiful scenery and peaceful surroundings await kayakers on Mae Ngaat resevoir.

Bhumibol Dam

Built in the 1950’s to exploit the agricultural and hydroelectric potential of the basin and is one of the largest dams in Thailand and currently the highest at 154 m (505 ft) tall.  The resevoir straddles several provinces including Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Tak and forms part of Mae Ping National Park and Mae Tuen Wildlife Sanctuary.  A popular area for starting a kayaking trip is Keang Koh, a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai city and despite the long journey is certainly worth it.  From this point it is over 100km to the dam, a journey which would take several days on a kayak.

Trailhead Thailand offers a 2-day adventure with overnight spent close to Ban Ko Jadsan School and for those lucky enough to stay overnight you may be greeted to the sound of gibbons living in the nearby forest.  The area is very beautiful with large mountains either side and fascinating rock formations on the water’s edge.  There are several fishing communities living on floating houses who are very welcoming to kayakers who pass by and there is plenty of birdlife and other interesting wildlife in the area making for a memorable experience for kayaking in northern Thailand.  This kayaking trip is not ideal for beginners due to its remote location and a guided tour is highly recommended.     Find out more about the Back to School 2 day kayaking tour here.  It is also possible to kayak here year round but the area is badly effected by the smoke haze in the dry season due to agricultural and forest burning.


Kayaking at Mae Ping National Park
Amazing kayaking adventure in Mae Ping National Park.

Kiw Lom

A 2 hour drive from Chiang Mai city to Lampang province will take you to Kiw Lom, a dam built in 1968 on the Wang river to provide water for Lampang municipality.  The reservoir is approx. 30km in length and in places just 20-30m wide.  Whilst it is possible to kayak the length in 1 day, a 2-day journey is recommended to explore the many islets and tributaries that make up the reservoir.  Kayaking on Kiw Lom can begin at the northern side or southern side with easy access in both areas, there are some very interesting karst rock formations dotted around the lake and at the narrowest point is a stunning gorge which is incredible to kayak through.  The northern part of the resevoir consists of rolling hills and corn fields whilst the southern end is forested mountains and craggy rock formations.

Trailhead Thailand also offers 2-day camping and kayaking tours in Lampang with a night spent under the stars on a small bluff with no access other than by kayak / boat.  Check out the kayaking and camping tour here.


Kayaking in Chiang Mai
Kiw Lom has some amazing rock formations, small islands and steep gorges.

Whilst Chiang Mai may not spring to mind when thinking of the best places for kayaking in Thailand, there are some amazing places to explore some of which are seldom visited and often only accessible on a kayak making it an ideal destination for adventure enthusiasts.  The Oru kayak is a great option especially for those with a small car to travel between places or for those who want to travel further afield with their kayak.  The Oru Kayaks can be purchased in Thailand at TANKstore who also offer a wide range of kayaking accessories.  Have you experienced kayaking in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand?  Let us know any recommended spots!

Get more ideas on what to do on the Chiang Mai Travel Guide.