Chiang Rai Travel Guide
Sawasdee Khap and thank you for visiting the Thailand Travel Hub, the travel hub where you can discover the magical city of Chiang Rai, located in the beautiful, far north region of Thailand. Take a look around and explore some of the top places to go in Chiang Rai, discover the top things to do and checkout some of the best accommodation options.
An Introduction To Chiang Rai
The countryside that surrounds the quaint little city of Chiang Rai and stretches far north to the Myanmar border is rural and stunning. Hilly landscapes and lush rainforest conceal remote hill tribe villages and vast stretches of rice fields. The Mekong is backed by the Laos Mountains on one side and in the very north you’ll find the famed Golden Triangle, which takes its name from the meeting of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. The city itself is quiet and a centre of eco-tourism with plenty to do despite its reputation as a slightly more sedate version of Chiang Mai, its northern neighbour.
Chiang Rai is idyllic and serene and a perfect gateway to the remote extremes of Northern Thailand and Myanmar.
Chiang Rai is the northernmost city in Thailand and can be traced back to its roots as a part of the Lanna Kingdom in 1262. It’s perched on a flat alluvial plane on a tributary of the Mekong (Mae Kok River) and is easily reachable by overnight bus from Bangkok or alternatively a train to Chiang Mai and onwards by bus.
Chiang Rai has just one major attraction that seems to pull the travellers in from the tourism trail – Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, known as such because it’s completely white. More than just white actually, the plaster has little pieces of glass in it that reflects the sun, meant to symbolise both the purity and wisdom of the Buddha. The architectural style is an intriguing mix of Hindu and Buddhist architecture and the complex has a series of water features that reflect the temples and various monuments. The most bizarre element of the temples though is inside the main building. Namely the striking modernist fresco, that as well as other things pictures a psychedelic 70’s vision of space, the Kung Foo Panda and Neo, otherwise known as The One, or Keanu Reeves, standing staring at a Transformer. Predator can also be seen bursting from a patch of grass in the temple grounds too. Charming. If you like this then don’t miss the Baan Dam or Black House, which is a short drive from central Chiang Rai.
This of course is completely at odds with the rest of Chiang Rai, which is a tangle of roads and boulevards lined with mostly low rise buildings, busy with tuk-tuks and songthaews, and framed by beautifully lush hills and mountains in the distance. Indeed, you’ll find that many of Chiang Rai’s attractions fit in a little better with the serene surrounds. For a more traditional temple try the ornate Wat Klang Wiang, which dates back to the 15th century, Wat Huai Pla Kung with it's Chedi style architecture or Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, which sits on a hilltop enjoying stunning vistas of Chiang Rai and the surrounding countryside. There are some more oddities down by the river though – such as the dragon ship with a gigantic golden Buddha sat on it.
Chiang Rai was once heavily involved in the opium industry – and the remnants of this can be found in a number of museums in the Golden Triangle – including the illuminating Hall of Opium, which traces the history of opium including the process of production and the effects of using it. To uncover a little more about the industry you could also pay a visit to the much smaller, independently run House of Opium museum, which displays a collection of opium paraphernalia. There are also boat rides on the Mekong that take you around the borders of the 3 countries and stop off on the tiny island of Don Sao in Laos for which you don’t need a visa to visit.
Food in Chiang Rai is excellent – and the restaurants are generally even cheaper than similar spots in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. You’ll note that dishes here are a little bit heavier and meatier than their southern counterparts, while many or less spicy and with a slightly sourer taste. Some of our favourites include Jeen Neung – a beef dish steamed with lemongrass and galangal, nam prik ong – a gorgeous chilli-based dip, and Kaeng Hang Lei – a curry dish that takes its influence from north of the border in Burma.