Things to Do in Chiang Rai
With brilliant white spires, eaves, and bridges that all glitter in the sunshine and reflect in surrounding pools, the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is Chiang Rai’s signature sight. The building’s surroundings and interior are filled with art inspired by everything fromThe Matrix, to Hello Kitty andKung Fu Panda.
Set at the intersection of Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar) known as the “Golden Triangle,” the Hall of Opium Museum seeks to inform its visitors about the history and effects of the opium seed.
The Golden Triangle area is historically well-known for its role in the growth and distribution of opium. Tracing from its first use over 5,000 years ago to current abuse and addiction issues, learn about the opium trade’s past and present both in this area and worldwide. There are several educational multimedia exhibitions throughout, including ones on the process of production and the dangers of consumption. Walk through a dark tunnel to a flowerbed of poppies, the plant from which opium is derived, to enter.
Perched in the highlands near Chiang Rai some 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level, the Choui Fong Tea Plantation has been producing some of Thailand’s highest quality teas for nearly half a century. Benefitting from the rich soil and climate of the region, the plantation grows Assum, Oolong, green and black teas, which are handpicked and then blended by tea specialists from Taiwan.
Visitors to the Choui Fong Tea Plantation can see firsthand how tea is grown. Neat rows of tea trees cascade down a hillside, where workers can be seen carefully picking the leaves by hand. Next door to the plantation building is a cafe and shop, where you can sample teas and treats with stunning views overlooking the plantation or purchase teas or tea-themed souvenirs to take home.
The northernmost town in Thailand, and one of the few official crossings to Myanmar, Mae Sai (Maesai) is an ideal starting point for tours of the Golden Triangle.
The Mae Sai valley is in Chiang Rai province, and the busy border town at its heart is in a hilly location on cliffs bordering the Mae Nam Sai river.
Take a walk around the hilly town to visit Wat Phra That Doi Wao for views into Myanmar from the temple.
Being a busy border town, Mae Sai has plenty of accommodation, food stalls and restaurants. Shops here sell Burmese lacquerware, gems and jade.
Chiang Saen is a town in northern Thailand on the bank of the Mekong River that is known for its historic ruins. Though Chiang Saen is a small, sleepy town by modern standards, until the 14th century it was home to a powerful independent kingdom. Ruins of the ancient kingdom of Chiang Saen can still be seen, including temples, Buddha images, and the old city walls, and there is an excellent history museum.
Chiang Saen is also near the "Golden Triangle" where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. The town offers hotels and guesthouses as well as restaurants, banks, and an immigration office.
Amid the rolling peaks of the Daen Lao Rang mountains, Doi Mae Salong is the gateway to some of Northern Thailand’s most scenic landscapes. The village of Mae Salong is known for its rich Chinese heritage, while the surrounding highlands abound with jungle-clad slopes, hillside tea plantations, and ethnic minority villages.
Make the trek to hilltop Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong to enjoy its peaceful grounds and sweeping views of Chiang Rai. The temple’s architecture is of the traditional Lanna style and its golden stupa dates to the 14th century, though local lore indicates this site has been a holy place since the 10th century. It is fabled that the founder of Chiang Rai, King Mengrai, surveyed the location of the city from this hilltop.
The Lanna Kingdom, an area in Northern Thailand culturally distinct from any other region, was founded in the 1400s and became a vassal state in the late 1700s. The Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, located just west of central Chiang Rai, houses the finest collection of Lanna art and artifacts in Thailand, including many teak pieces from across Northern Thailand.
Apart from the museum, the cultural park features several other points of interest dotted throughout its meticulously manicured grounds. Rising from the center is the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kham), a temple-like royal residence built in 1984 from the materials of 32 Thai wooden houses and presented to the Princess Mother on her 84th birthday.
This private museum has an impressive collection of artifacts from the ancient Lanna kingdom of northern Thailand. The collection includes carved thrones, embroidered costumes, Buddha images, antique jewelry, and priceless items used by royalty like the oub kham – the golden bowl that the museum is named for. There are minimal signs, but the English-speaking tour guide will ensure you know the story behind each item.
Don’t forget to take a walk around the museum grounds which are resplendent with traditional Lanna architecture, statues, and fountains.
The Mae Kok river is a 177 mile (285 km) tributary of the Mekong that flows through northern Thailand. The city of Chiang Rai is located on the bank of the Mae Kok (Kok River) and the river serves an important role in transportation and tourism.
Traditional long-tail boats make daily trips along the Mae Kok river between Chiang Rai and Thathon, a small town near the border with Myanmar. The ride is more about the journey than the destination – the spectacular mountain scenery and opportunity to visit hill-tribe villages along the way make this one of the most enjoyable river trips in Thailand.
For those who don't want to go all the way to Thathon, long-tail boats can be chartered for short sight-seeing trips along the river. Chiang Rai hotels and travel agencies also organize day trips along the river that include visits to villages, temples, and elephant riding.
More Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Learn all about the unique hill tribe people of northern Thailand at the Hilltribe Museum and Education Center in Chiang Rai. A short video gives an excellent overview of the different groups and the exhibits show traditional costumes, dwellings, and tools. All of the main hill tribe cultures are represented including the Karen, Ahka, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, and Lawa. Don’t miss the exhibit on the history of opium in north Thailand its effects on the hill tribe people.
The Hill Tribe Museum and Education Centre staff are very passionate about their work and offer useful advice about visiting hill tribe villages.
The Ahka Hill House is a guesthouse located in an Akha hilltribe village in the mountains outside Chiang Rai. Though the bungalows are made from natural materials like bamboo and mud they offer all the creature comforts including a hot shower, fan, and even wireless internet. The Akha Hill House is surrounded by nature and guests can trek to nearby waterfalls, hot springs, and tea plantations. Multi-day treks and elephant riding can also be arranged.
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