Chiang Rai is the capital of Chiang Rai province, in Northern Thailand. The town has a population of around 62,000 and is the main commercial centre serving the Golden Triangle border region of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. It is an excellent base for exploring the region.
How to get there
Chiang Rai is Thailand's most northern province and is frequented mostly by tourists and shoppers. Attractions include the famous Golden Triangle and the mighty Mekong River. A wealth of cultural diversity awaits those who take the time to explore the region.
The name Golden Triangle evokes an impression that illicit drugs are the activity of this area. Yes, it was once a notorious place. However, with strict enforcement by various countries particularly the United States and Thailand, playing an important role of eradicating the drug menace by educating the many hill-tribes to have a permanent settlement instead of the slash and burn to grow crops. Schools were built to educate their children on the Thai curriculum and welfare.
Changrai is 785 km north of Bangkok and is in the midst of mountains and hills. Across the great Mekong river is Myanmar and Laos, thus the name “Golden Triangle”. All nationalities can cross over to these countries easily by road, boats, or air with valid passports and visa. Being the first to establish into a city by King Mengrai of the Lanna Kingdom, it has many ancient ruins. There are many activities you can indulge like visiting the only handcrafted White Temple in Thailand; the ever changing flowers in the most beautiful botanical garden (Doi Tung); Hill-tribes, Opium or the National museum; elephant riding; shopping for foodstuff; clothing; jewelries; handicrafts or ride on a long propeller boat on the Mekong river; explore the natural rock formation and caves with spectacular formations e.g. Big Cave, Fish Cave.
Of course, if you are a nature lover, go to the mountains. Doi Tung – it has a sacred hilltop Buddhist shrine built in 911 AD and it is believed that the left collar bones of Lord Buddha is enshrined in the twin pagodas. On your way up, enjoy the panoramic view then drop in to visit the Akha and Lahu hill-tribe village famous for their hand woven textiles and silver jewelries. Not satisfied with one mountain Venture to Thailand’s little Switzerland, the Doi Mae Salong, incidentally “doi” means mountain. It sits on an elevation of 6000 feet above sea level. The air is cool and refreshing throughout the year. The settlers are ethnic Chinese descendants of the KMT nationalist army who took refuge in Thailand to escape from the Communist forces of Mainland China more than 50 years ago. The settlement has its own Christian churches, Buddhist temples, schools, locally produced oolong black tea, shops and restaurants.
A better way to experience first hand the local foods, way of life and customs of the Northern Thai is through a village home stay.
Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) is located on Phaholyotin Road 8 kilometres from downtown Chiang Rai. Car rental is available on arrival from Avis .
The airport is served by Air Asia and Thai Airways to Bangkok and SGA Airlines to Chiang Mai. Despite the name, the airport has no international connections at all.
There are two bus stations in Chiang Rai. The old bus station and new bus station - A minibus service runs between the two. It costs 10 baht and takes 20 minutes.
Old Bus Station is located in the centre of town. Buses coming from Chiang Rai province stop here.
Chiang Khong, on the Laos border. Buses leave every hour or so and have the destination clearly marked. The journey takes two and a half hours and costs 70 baht on local bus.
New Bus Station, Arcade Bus Terminal, (7km north of the city, opposite Carrefour and just off the super highway). Buses from else where in Thailand stop here
Chiang Mai - There are three types of bus: normal, a/c and VIP. Normal (local) - stops everywhere. Takes 4+ hours. Costs 96 baht. A/C - stops one. Takes about 3 hours. Costs 169 baht. VIP - takes 3 hours, costs 360. Operated by Greenbus depart Chiang Mai's on a regular basis.
The nearest train station is at Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai is about 820km north of Bangkok and is easily accessible from Bangkok via highways # 1 / # 32 and from Chiang Mai on highway # 118.
Public transport consists mainly of tuk-tuks and songthaews, plus a smaller number of taxis. The city itself can be explored on foot, but for trips into the province consider renting a car or a motorbike. Budget and Avis both have offices in Chiang Rai and there are several local agencies. If you don't feel up to driving in what may be a very different environment, then consider hiring a car with driver - it doesn't cost much more.
A motorbike is a good way to see these parts; there are several trails and a 250cc dirt bike is a great way to see the country side. However be aware that many of the mountain roads are narrow and winding and that Thailand has one of the highest rates of motorcycle accidents in the world. Stay alert.
What to see
Temples and churches
Guardian statue, Wat Klong Wiang
Ordination hall (wiharn) at Wat Ming Meuang
Wat Phra Kaeo - this beautiful Buddhist temple on Trairat Road right in town is famous for having housed, in the 14th century, the Emerald Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha images in Thailand. According to legend, the statue was (re)discovered when a bolt of lightning hit a chedi (stupa) on the grounds, cracking it open and revealing the Buddha inside. The temple grounds are lush with greenery and house a compact but excellent two-story airconditioned museum, with a near-exact replica (1mm shorter!) of the Emerald Buddha. The original is now housed in Bangkok in the temple of the same name, on the grounds of the Royal Palace.
Wat Phra Sing is located near the townhall used to house a major Buddha statue, the Phra Buddha Sihing, which is now enshrined in Chiang Mai. Like Wat Phra Kaeo, the temple now houses a replica instead. A special feature is the Lanna-style Ubosot and the wooden door panels carved by Chiang Rai contemporary craftsmen. Tel: 0 5374 5038
Wat Klong Wiang. Dating back to 1432, this is an excellent but little-visited temple showcasing exuberant Lanna style at its best. Check out the colorful guardian statues, the elephants in the back and the "No Killing Area" admonition at the entrance.
Wat Ming Meuang, intersection of Th Banphaprakan and Th Trairat. Small temple housing the spirit of the city (ming meuang) in an exquisitely carved and decorated Lanna-style, almost Laotian wiharn.
Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong , located on Doi Chom Thong on the banks of the Kok River within town area, contains what is believed to be the oldest Holy Relic even before King Mengrai built Chiang Rai. The Chedi containing the Holy Relic was probably renovated at the same time the town was being built. A major religious site in Chiang Rai was from here that King Mengrai spotted the strategic location on which to establish the town. Tel: 0 5371 6055
White Temple ( Wat Rong Khun), located at Ban Rong Khun, Tambon Pa O Don Chai, along Phahonyothin roadside at Km. 816, approximately 13 km from the city. This unique modern temple was designed and built by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat starting in 1998. A beautiful white ordination hall – Phra Ubosot - is decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors. There are large mural paintings of the Lord Buddha in different gestures. A gable is decorated with a gable apex, a leaf-shaped gable-edging – in the shapes of Phya Naga, dragon and mythical creatures, which are entirely made of white stucco. There are viharn, small hall for recitation surrounding the ordination hall, museum and reception pavilion. The gallery exhibits paintings of Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. Posters, drawing albums and T-shirts can be purchased. The earnings will contribute to the fund for building the temple. It opens daily at 8.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. Call Tel: 0 5367 3579 Fax: 0 5367 3539.
Munniti Chiang Rai Across from Sammakkhi Wittayakhom School on Banpaprakan is this Taoist and Mahayana Buddhist temple, a rare sight in Theraveda Buddhist Thailand. There is a Shan house nearby. And on the road to Pattaya Noi is a temple dedicated to to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy featuring a large statue. In the Ban Kheck area is another Goddess of Mercy temple.
Chiang Rai First Church, its largest, was built in 1914 at PratuSiri corner. It's Presbyterian.
Hilltribe Museum and Education Center, 620/1 Tanalai Rd, tel. 053-740-088, . Situated in the center of town is aimed at promoting a better understanding of hill tribes and their cultures etc. The dusty low-key displays include that of housing styles, tools, utensils and traditional hunting, fishing and agricultural equipment, but it's worth a visit for an unsanitized view of how the hill tribes are systematically exploited by Thais and the tourist industry. The Center also runs their own hilltribe tours, where the money actually goes to employ and help the tribesmen. Open 8:30 AM to 6 PM. There is a branch of Bangkok's Cabbages and Condoms restaurant downstairs, whose profits go to support family planning and sex education projects in Thailand.
Oub Kham Museum , 81/1 Na Khai Road, Tambon Rob Wiang near Den Ha market, one kilometre from the centre of town. The collection embraces objects used in the royal courts such as Lanna, Khum Chao Phare and Khum Chao Chiang Mai some parts are from northeast Myanmar, southwest China and Vietnam which are about 500-1,000 years old. Visitors can admire 120 year-old ancient fabrics, Sin Mai Kham-golden silk skirt-from the Mandalay, the golden throne, king’s golden costumes and silver ornaments. A golden bowl used by royals, is a masterpiece. All of those show the glory of the kingdom in the past. It opens daily from 09.00-17.00 hrs. Admission for adults is 200 Baht and for children 100 Baht. Tel: 0 5371 3349.
Cultural Hall Museum near the TAT building on Singhaklai Road is a large white building that has a huge statue of King Mongkut at the main entrance. Visitors can find prehistoric tools, two medieval cannons, costume examples, ancient pottery and examples of ancient Lanna literature in the Dhamma script. There are also videos available, a model of the city and a display of five major areas of Tai culture. The fee for adults is only B10, for children B5.
Princess Mother '90 Museum is a sizable fascinating pavilion dedicated to the life of the beloved Princess Mother (mother of the present king, King Rama IX). On display are fine collections of lacquer boxes, wood pulleys, pottery, weaving equipment and some old handwritten folded texts with drawings. Admission is free.
Haw Shan Art Gallery - out NongBua Road, across from Family Bakery, in a large, dark-wood, Shan-style pavilion. It can be opened for special showings.
Lanna Museum, at Rong Rian Ban Sang Khong Yai, just southwest of Chiang Rai Hospital at an elementary school. It can only be opened by request.
The Chiang Rai Cultural Center is just north of the new airport, to the other side of the highway, next door to Rajapat Teacher's College.
Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park, 5km west of town, has lovely two lakes, a barge and several large Shan-style small ponds. There is interesting Haw Kam Golden Temple with two Shan halls containing accouterments collected by Princess Maha Chakri and examples of Lanna craftsmanship: seven-armed candelabra, Buddha Images, wooden alters, embroided cloths for wrapping Buddhist scriptures, carved wood screens, swords and monk’s fans.
The Sirindhorn Chinese Language and Culture Center in Mae Fah Luang University was established through the cooperation of Mae Fa Luang University and the People’s Republic of China. The center was built as a memorial to honor the Princess mother as a symbol of friendship between the two nations. The center’s design was drawn to adhere as depicted in China. The construction took 7 months to complete at a cost of approximately 60 million Baht. The architecture replicates the Suzhou Chinese structure, building decorations and the garden ornaments by complying with the design layouts and using authentic materials shipped from China. The roofing tiles, the doors and the marble tiles laid at the entrance are all examples of a few of the materials brought from China. Tel: 0 5391 7093, 0 5391 7097 http://www.mfu.ac.th
The Kok River flows through the town of Chiang Rai and is 130 kilometres long. Chiang Rai Beach lies on the banks of this river and is a popular picnic spot in summer. Long-tailed boats and cruise can be made from town to travel along both sides of lovely sceneries. Stops can be made at hill tribe villages of the Akha, Lisu, Lahu and Karen, etc. Elephant rides are also available to see the surrounding area. For more information, contact C.R. pier Tel: 0 5375 0009. Another river route starts from Tha Ton in Chiang Mai going northward to Chiang Rai town. The boat trip takes about four hours. Trips by bamboo raft takes 3 days and 2 nights, contact Tha Ton boat club Tel: 0 5345 9427, Thip Travel Tel: 0 5345 9312
Gate of Siam - on the border with Laos - you stand high up on a mountain and Laos is in front of you and the mighty Mekong River
Phucheefah - great sunset view
Namtok Khun Kon Forest Park can be reached by taking Highway No.1211 from town. After 18 kilometres, turn right and proceed on for another 12 kilometres. Or go along Highway No. 1 (Chiang Rai-Phayao) for about 15 kilometres where there is a right turn to proceed further another 17 kilometres, then a 30-minute walk to the waterfall. The highest and most scenic waterfall in Chiang Rai, Khun Kon, is some 70 metres in height. Along the route to the site are cool, shady natural surroundings suitable for relaxation and nature walk.
The King Mengrai the Great Memorial is located in the town on the intersection leading to Mae Chan. Originally, King Mengrai was the ruler of Nakhon Hiran Ngoen Yang (an ancient town on the bank of the Mae Khong around Chiang Saen) before Chiang Rai was established as the administrative centre in 1262. He consolidated his power by merging the different city in the north and founded the Lanna Thai Kingdom in 1296 with Chiang Mai as the capital.
The King Mengrai Stupa in front of Wat Ngam Mueang atop Doi Ngam Mueang in Muang district was built by King Chaisongkram to contain the remains of his father (King Mengrai).
What to do
Organize a trekking tour to the hill-tribes
Visit Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle
Visit Buffalo Horn Hill and Khun Kon Waterfall (Nam Tok Khun Kon)
Rent a motorbike and go to the temple on Buffalo Horn Hill to have a splendid overview over Chiang Rai by following the old road to Chiang Mai, called Thanon Ratchayotha. Just about when you'll cross the city borders you'll notice a long curve in the road to the right. From this point watch for a hill in the distance at the lefthand side. That's where you want to go! Take a left turn at the next big Soi (Nongpoung soi 3). Take the first turn right after the lake and turn left. The entrance to the small road up is here: look for temple flags. You will be treated with the most beautiful view over Chiang Rai. Especially around sunset! The restaurant at the small lake serves nice fish and gourmet frogs.
Another way to find Buffalo Horn Hill (Wat Phra That Doi Khao Khwai) is to go Thanon Sanam Bin south to the Old Airport, turn right onto Thanon Pracha Santi follow this one and you see the hill in front of you.
Take the same old road to Chiang Mai for about 15 km and turn right at the white sign 'Kun Korn Waterfall'. The pitoresque road meanders up for 11 km. Walk the last kilometer to the waterfall itself through fantastic jungle. Impressive.!! You might need a swimsuit and/or dry clothes... prepare to get wet.
Visit Huai Hin Fon hot springs and nearby waterfall. The hot springs are located along the Mae Chan to Fang highway (Highway number 1089). It’s just a few kilometers (7.5 to be precise) from Mae Chan and is situated directly next to the road, on the south side. One of the geysers is so prominent, it’s hard to miss while driving pass.
Another nice place to visit are the hot springs of Pong Phra Bat. Again you could do some walking in the nearby national park of the same name. Take highway 1 north out of Chiang Rai, to the first village (Bandu) / turn off, past the airport. Take the access road along the highway and turn to your left, drive up this road for a km or so until you have a sharp right hand turn. Instead drive through the gate straight ahead of you with the pond on your left. For the Pong Phra Bat waterfall just continue on the paved road for another 5 km's until you come to the end parking. From there it's a 20 minute walk. No entrance fee required!
Then there are the clean hot springs of Pha Soet nearby the river, a great place to while away a late afternoon. Pha Soet Hot springs is located on the only road going directly west out of town, once on this road, there are many signboards, announcing it's impending existence and after 20 km's you pass a bridge with the hot springs site on your left.
Play and practise golf at The Old Airport. Here you have a very good Driving Ranch and also a 9-hole golfcourse. You can find one of the best teachers in golf here, Barry Finch. And when you are hungry there is a hamburger restaurant.
Golf in Chiang Rai There are two highclass golfcourses outside Chiang Rai. Santiburi is one of Thailands 5 best courses and you can find Santiburi 10 km east of town.
Waterford Valley is as good as Santiburi. You find Waterford Valley 35 km northeast of town. There is a hotel if you want to stay over. In town we have two 9-hole courses. The Army Course that you find close to Mae Fa Luang Bridge and The Old Airport course that you find, yes, at the old airport. The Old Airport course you can play without a caddie. At the other courses you must have one.
Wai Sa Phaya Mengrai or Phokhun Mengrai Maharat Festival ( ) is held during 23 January – 1 February. See the Buang Suang worshipping ceremony which commemorates Phokhun Mengrai Maharat. The Fair is organised by the Chiang Rai provincial office Tel: 0 5371 1612
Lichi Fair is held around the middle of May every year. There is a float competition, Lichi beauty contest and booths of many local products at the provincial stadium of Chiang Rai.
What to eat
Night Bazaar food court opening up at dusk
There is lots of good food to be found in Chiang Rai, but most tourists seem to end up eating at the Night Bazaar. There are actually two separate places to eat here: "Centrepoint", run by a single restaurant with a Western-Thai menu and comparatively high prices (dishes 100-200 baht), and then the "actual" night bazaar food court (dishes 30-100 baht). Both have free music and dance performances almost nightly. While there are over 50 food stalls to choose from, the fare on offer is mostly quite touristy, with food toned down for the farang palate. About half the stalls seem to be devoted to selling deep-fried stuff (fritters, French fries, attempts at tempura, etc) to accompany beer. There are also a few non-Thai stalls, offering Italian, Indian, German etc, plus the obligatory insect stall for creepy-crawly cravings.
A&P Bakery, 93/4 Thanon Sanambin (Old Airport Road), opposite 'Muse Bar'. Tel: +66-857231410 / 08-57231410. This is definitely the best bakery in town as it comes to whole grain bread, multi grain bread, white bread, baguette, rolls and cakes! There's even a picture book with at least 200 sorts of cakes which you can order. It is run by the very friendly Aom and Pascal (A&P).
Chiang Rai Beach during the day or the early evening is an excellent spot. There are around 20 eateries overlooking the 'Mae Kok River'. Bring your dictionary with you for there are no English menus to be found. A bit out of town. Go by tuktuk or motorbike.
Nakhon Pathom , Th Phahonyothin, near Th Banphaprakan intersection. The famous khao moo deng (rice with red sauteed pork, or as shown on the menu: 'rice with BBQ pork', 30 baht) tastes best at this big Chinese restaurant. No English sign, but looks for the red sign board with large yellow font Thai letters. It's opposite the Lebanese shop. Big cold coffee machines attract the locals to having lunch there. Delicious!
Phetburi, Th Banphaprakan. Local curry-and-rice restaurant, just pick your favorites from the display. Under 50 baht for a full meal. Ratburi, right next door, is very similar.
Khao soi at Po Sai
Po Sai, Thanon Jet Yot 1023/2 (opposite Wangcome Hotel). Famous for its khao sawy (Burmese style chicken curry with noodles, 25 baht) and other northern dishes like special Northern Thai sausage (25 baht) and naam phrik num (dip made of eggplant and peppers). No English sign or menu, but some English spoken. Open early but closes by 6 PM.
Tong Tung Restaurant (no English sign) serves you Northern Thai food. Try this semi-outdoor place on the western side of the road about 1 km south of Thanon Banphaprakan on 1/1 Thanon Sanambin (old airport road). Their 'Kaeng Hung Lay' curry is to be recommended.
Da Vinci is an other good place on the main road serving nice charcoal pizzas an pastas. Their lasagna is recommended.
Oasis is a very specialized and delicious vegetarian restaurant. Behind the new main stage at the 'Night Bazaar' you'll notice a high building situated behind the small eateries which still belong to the market. It's at the corner of a street which leads to the fruit market. A 'must' for vegetarian people! Open until 20.00.
Kad Khaw Nung is a restaurant in the North Hotel which specializes in home made northern style food. Here you can find Northern Thai sausage, Kaeng Hunglay (northern pork curry) and a variety of northern style dishes made by the mother of the owner. Their family recipes will give you a real taste of Northern cuisine. The North Hotel is situated next to Oasis, just in the middle of a small street between the Night Bazaar and fruit and flower market.
Nova Restaurant, Th Phaholyothin, 053 740 554. Lebanese restaurant serving Falafel, Tabouleh, Hummous and other Middle Eastern delicacies.
Siam Corner on Thanon Jet Yot. Very good Thai food, some Western dishes also.
What to Drink
Rusta Bar with rasta music at San Khok Chang Rd.
Cat Bar with jam sessions almost every day and a pool table on Yet Yod Rd.
Joe's on Yet Yod Rd.
Reggae Bar situated somewhere in Night Bazaar's little alley's behind the silver colored stage. Good variety of music and drinks. Open after 8pm. Later local farangs meet here.
Easy Bar on Thanon Jet Yot. Open all day. You can have a meal here, read Bangkok Post, watch Cable TV.
The Turntable Jazz Bar, the North Hotel is the only place you can find a wide range of Jazz records from the 40 year-old collection of the hotel’s Norwegian co-owner. Several jazz related books can also be found. The bar offers cheap beer and drinks and a friendly atmosphere. The turntable jazz bar is located between the Night Bazaar and Sirikorn (flower and fruit) Market, tel:+66 (0) 5371 9873, Fax: +66 (0) 5374 0156.
SiTSip Bar&Coffee House. Located at Ground Floor; Wangcome Hotel. 053-711-800. The place is decorated in modern style. Serving drinks, food&snack, and lots of cocktail menu.