Whenever people ask about my most memorable part of Thailand there is such a clear place in my mind because of the natural beauty and the quality of people I met while there. It's unassuming and about off the beaten path that you can stumble on so close to two major tourist cities in Thailand.
Nestled comfortably between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, where the infamous White Temple was made, is Tha Ton, in fact you can catch a boat ride from the small town to Chiang Rai from June until December. The little fishing village has been caught between the boarder wars historically between Myanmar and Thailand changing the national identity of the village multiple times. There is even a large group of Chinese refugees from Burma. While Tha Ton is now a sleepy, sweet village and completely unassuming the history is important in understand the architectural design and even the people there.
The best time of year to visit Tha Ton is actually the least popular time to visit! In Chiang Mai, a bigger city about three hours away, there is a festival every year which attracts thousands tourists of all kinds to the city. During this festival, Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, not only are people celebrating in Chiang Mai but all over Thailand. However, a lot of these events have been diluted or Westernized to attract tourists but if you want as authentic of an experience as a foreigner can get, I recommend visiting small villages during this time. Especially Tha Ton because it's not completely out of reach from nearby cities, either.
During these festivities, aside from enjoying the waterside and the great cafe where you can look over everything, there are krathongs to be made, bought and sold - shops to look through, a bouncy castle I still wish I had bounced in because I'm an adult-sized child. There is even music and dancing by the beach as well as a procession with the beauty queen giving smiles and warm wishes to those she passes by on her elaborately decorated float. The first part of the festival culminates in sending your krathong down the river.
Separate from the festivals, Tha Ton has a hilltop wat which is completely worth visiting. Whether you walk or take a motorcycle up, the trip is beautiful as you get closer to the golden Buddha which can been seen from the centre of Tha Ton and even further. Afterwards, however, the best thing to do in the little village is eat until you simply cannot eat anymore. Then eat some more to wash down your food. If there is one thing that Tha Ton does right, it's food. There are many food stands strewn about, even on back roads. While I didn't know exactly what I was eating most of the time, it was all delicious. A particular favourite was a stand which had bar stools and served cold beers while you waited for your order. It made it that much more social. Second fiddle to the food would be the kindness of everyone there, despite the language barrier.
During Yi Peng I could see this kindness clearly. When most people were working on their own lanterns, two little boys were struggling with theirs and so two strangers helped them with it. Monks were lighting the sky just as everyone else was and while some of the older residents were nervous for the fireworks there was just a complete sense of togetherness even though I was a foreigner. I was invited to take part in the process and really be a part of the community there, even if it was only for a few days. It made Tha Ton, one of the best places I've travelled to so far.