Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand is about 785 kilometers north of Bangkok. Situated on the Kok River basin, Chiang Rai covers an area of approximately 11,678 square meters with an average elevation of 580 meters above sea level. The province, which is located within the renowned Golden Triangle area where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge, is also known as the gateway to Myanmar, Laos and Southern China.
Chiang Rai, which was founded in 1262 by King Meng Rai, was the first capital of the Lanna Thai Kingdom (Kingdom of a million rice fields), which was later conquered by Burma. It was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became a Thai territory and was proclaimed a province during the reign of King Rama VI in 1910.
Today, Chiang Rai is a traveler’s paradise endowed with abundant natural tourist attractions and antiquities; the province itself is evidence of past civilization. Attractions range from magnificent mountain scenery, ruins of ancient settlements, historic sites, Buddhist shrines and ethnic villages as the province is also home to several hill tribes who maintain fascinating lifestyles. For those interested in the natural side of Chiang Rai, jungle trekking is recommended along various trails.
Chiang Rai which tends to be a little more 'laid back' now competes with Chiang Mai as a tourist attraction and is fast becoming a popular escape for tourists wanting to get away from the troubles they left behind.
How To Get To Chiang Rai
There are a number of domestic airlines operating daily flights from Bangkok to Chiang Rai.
The coach ride from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is probably best made overnight since passengers can avail themselves of sleep prior to an early morning arrival. There are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mochit 2 Bus Terminal) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take approximately 9-11 hours.
Take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), turn to route No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong and Singburi Provinces and change to route No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, drive through to Ngao District and turn right onto Highway No. 1 which takes you to Phayao and Chiang Rai Provinces. The total distance is 785 km.
There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. You have to take a train to Lampang
(9 hrs. from Bangkok) or Chiang Mai (11 hrs.) and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. (2 hrs. from Lampang and 1.30 hrs. from Chiang Mai) For more details, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690 (hotline), or 0 2223 7010 or 0 2223 7020.
The capital may also be reached from Tha Thon in Chiang Mai province by a scenic 4-6 hour (depending on climatic conditions, such as rain, and other factors such as high waters and fast currents) long-tail boat ride along the Mae Kok River.
Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is 182 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. Air conditioned buses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal to Chiang Rai. Some buses continue to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen.
Airlines have numerous daily flights servicing the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route and the Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai route.
King Mengrai Festival
King Mengrai Festival This festival is held from January 26 - February 1 every year. The festival features parades, cultural performances and competitions celebrating the founder of Chiang Rai and the Lanna Thai Kingkom.
Lychee Fair This is held annually in May. Celebrating the province’s tastiest fruit, this fair features agricultural displays and exhibitions, local handicrafts, folk entertainment and beauty contests.
Songkran Festival Traditional Thai New year celebrations are best seen at Chiang Saen where 4 nations (Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar) compete in boat races on the Mekong River. Beauty contests and cultural shows are added attractions. The festival is annually held from April 16-18.
Chiang Rai is rich in handicrafted items such as hand-woven cotton materials, dresses and hilltribe silver ornaments, as well as wood-carving products. Certain food items are quite popular such as Naem and Mu Yo ( preserved and fermented pork sausages). Agricultural products include lichee (April-May), pineapples and tea, as well as other cool-climate produce from various royal projects.
The Population and Community Development Association (PDA) is a non-government organization responsible for some of the most effective tribal development projects in the region. The popular "Cabbages & Condoms" restaurants, with branches here and in Bangkok (and now a resort in Pattaya), carry their important message of safe sex and family planning. On the top floor of this office is a small Hilltribe Museum that's heavy on "shop" and light on "museum," but the admission goes to a good cause. Open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; admission fee is 50B ($1.20)/person. Address: 620/25 Thanalai Rd., east of Wisetwang Road (tel. 0 5371-9167)
Ho Watthanatham Nithat
Ho Watthanatham Nithat is a museum exhibiting ancient artifacts and written records on history, literature and indigenous knowledge as well as exhibits on royal activities by the late Princess Mother at Doi Tung. Located at the former town hall, it is open to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays from 8.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.
King Mengrai Stupa
The King Mengrai Stupa in front of Wat Ngam Muang atop Doi Ngam Muang in Muang District was built by King Chaisongkram to contain the remains of his father (King Mengrai).
King Mengrai the Great Memorial
The King Mengrai the Great Memorial is located in Muang District at the intersection leading to Mae Chan. King Mengrai was the ruler of Nakhon Hiran Ngoen Yang (now commonly known as Chiang Saen) before Chiang Rai was established as the administrative centre in 1262. He consolidated his power by merging the different city-states in the North and founded the Lanna Thai Kingdom in 1296 with Chiang Mai as the capital.
where thai-burma-loas met;
Chiangsaen Ancient City
long tail boat
to see the scenic views of the Kong River
Mae sai is a well known shopping market for both Thai and Burma
Mae Sai which is about 62 kilometers from the provincial seat on Highway No. 110 is Thailand's northern-most district. Mae Sai borders on Myanmar's Tha Khi Lek marked by the Mae Sai River with a bridge spanning both sides. Foreign visitors are allowed to cross over to Tha Khi Lek market by presenting their passports and paying a fee at the Mae Sai immigration checkpoint. In addition, there are tour services to Chiang Tung in Myanmar, which is approximately 160 kilometers north by road.
Long Neck Hill tribe
The Kok River is one of the most scenic attractions in Chiang Rai. It runs from Thathon in northern Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai City and then flows on to meet the Maekhong River at Chiang Khong. From Baan Thathon boats, rafts and treks leave daily venturing into the surrounding mountains where the jungle dips into the river's cool waters. A long-tailed boat can be hired to ferry visitors up and down the river. Stops can be made at Akha or Iko, Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages. Alternatively stops can be made at the Buddha cave, a temple within a cavern; an elephant camp, for trekking; a hot spring; and a riverside Lahu village. Trips range from 300 bahts to 700 bahts ($7-$16), depending on the number of stops made. The ferry pier is beyond the bridge across from the Dusit Island Resort
Ku Phra Chao Mengrai
Ku Phra Chao Mengrai This stupa is situated in Wat Ngam Muang on Doi Ngam Muang in the Chiang Rai township area. It is the place where the ashes and relics of King Mengrai are housed.
Nam Tok Khun Kon Forest Park
Nam Tok Khun Kon Forest Park can be reached by taking Highway No.1211 from Chiangrai’s town. After traveling 18 kilometers turn right and proceed for another 12 kilometers. Alternatively, you can drive along Highway No. 1 (Chiang Rai-Phayao) for about 15 kilometers, turn right and proceed for another 17 kilometers, then take a 30-minute walk to the waterfall. The 70-metre high Khun Kon or Tat Mok Waterfall is the highest and most beautiful in the province. Surrounded with dense woods, the area is also good for hiking.
Oub Kham Museum
is located near Den Ha market, one kilometer from the town center. The collection includes objects from the areas once belonging to or affiliated with the Lanna kingdoms encompassing northern Thailand and some parts of northeast Myanmar, southwest China and Vietnam. Apart from objects used in rituals the collection mainly consists of objects used at the royal courts including lacquer ware, silver jewelry and clothing. Most notable is a golden bowl, a masterpiece, used by royals. It is open daily from 9 am. to 6 pm. Admission fee is 100 bahts per person. For more information call 0-5371-3349.
Rai Mae Fah Luang
Rai Mae Fah Luang is a cultural centre and centre of Lanna Studies dedicated to the conservation and promotion of Lanna heritage.There are 5 exhibit areas namely
a. The Botanical Gardens
b. The Haw Khumm(Golden Pavilion)
c. The Haw Khum Noi (Small Golden Pavilion)
d. Sala Kaew-A ceremonial space for riturals
e. Haw Kaew-Gallery of Lanna Cultureal Arts.
Rai Mae Fah Luang opens daily from 10.00-18.00 hrs. except Monday.
Entrance fee: Baht 200
Wat Doi Thong
Wat Doi Thong (Phra That Chomthong) sits atop a hill above the northwest side of town, up a steep staircase off Kaisornrasit Road. This location where King Mengrai is believed to have chosen the site for his new Lanna Capital offers an overview of the town and a panorama of the Mae Kok Valley. The chedi of Wat Doi Tong containing what is believed to be the oldest Holy Relic was probably renovated at the same time that the town as being built. The circle of columns at the top of the hill surrounds the city's new lak muang (city pillar), built to commemorate the 725th anniversary of the city and King Bhumibhol's 60th birthday.
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong is located within the city walls. This temple was built by Prince Thong Ngua, a son of King Tilokkarat, the 12th Lanna ruler in 1489. A 1,200-kilogram Buddha statue with a lap width of 2 meters and height of over three meters was cast and named Phra Chao Lan Thong. Another statue called Phra Chao Thong Thip which is made of brass in the Sukhothai style was also cast.
Wat Phra Kaeo
Wat Phra Kaeo, which is located on Trairat Road on the northwest side of town, is the best known of the northern temples. It once housed the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most important Buddha statue which was discovered in 1444. The statue had been moved by various state rulers to be placed in their capitals including Lampang, Chiang Rai and Vientiane before finally being enshrined in Bangkok's royal Wat Phra Kaeo. There is now a green jade replica of the image on display. The temple also houses a 700-year bronze statue of Phra Chao Lan Thong, which is housed in the Chiang Saen style ubosot.
Wat Phra Sing
Wat Phra Sing is 2 blocks east of Wat Phra Kaeo, situated on Singha Klai Road. The restored temple is thought to date from the 15th century. Inside is a replica of the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly revered Theravada Buddhist image, as the original was removed to Chiang Mai's Wat Phra Singh. The original buildings are fine examples of classic religious Lanna architecture, with their low sweeping roofs.
Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun is also known as the “White Temple”. Whereas most temples visited by tourists have a history going back many centuries, this magnificent place of worship was built only recently. It is the realization of a dream for Thailand’s noted artist, Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and is supervising the construction of this beautiful white temple and it’s many statues of figures based on religious beliefs. The construction started in 1998 and is expected to be completed in 2008. In addition, there is a gallery nearby exhibiting his paintings. To get there from the city of Chiang Rai, drive north along Asia Highway.
Doi Mae Salong
Doi Mae Salong is the site of Santi Khiri village, a community settled by the former Chinese 93rd Division who moved from Myanmar to reside on Thai territory in 1961. The village became well known for its enchanting scenery and tranquil atmosphere. Today it is a major tourist attraction with its small-town ambience, delicious native Chinese dishes, small hotels and guesthouses catering to visitors and tea, coffee and fruit tree plantations. The scenery is especially picturesque in December and January when sakuras are in full bloom. Scattered with many hill tribe villages, Doi Mae Salong is ideal for trekking.
To reach Doi Mae Salong, take the Chiang Rai-Mae Chan route for 29 kilometers, then turn left and proceed for another 41 kilometers (passing a hot spring). The return trip can be taken on routes nos. 1234 and 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hill tribe villages. From Doi Mae Salong a road leads to Tha Thon, the starting point for the Kok River cruise, a distance of 45 kilometers. There are hotels and guesthouses to accommodate tourists and a paved road leading to the village.
Hall of Opium, Golden Triangle Park
The Hall of Opium at the Golden Triangle Park houses several sections to be explored and various exhibitions to be contemplated. For example, the 5,600 square-meter Hall of Opium presents An Invitation to the Mysterious World of Opium from Darkness to Light, the history of opium as of 5,000 years ago from its natural properties to its uses. It traces opium's global journey through trade routes in the age of imperialism, culminating in the Opium Wars-an event that disgraced both winners and losers that led to the fall of the Manchu Dynasty. It also features Siamese wisdom in confronting the West and the eventual control of opium problems.
Other exhibits are presented in a manner that encourages visitors learn how drugs become a part of everyday life and understand the impact of opium on society in terms of crime, conflict and illegal drugs. Additionally, the Hall of Opium presents efforts to curb drugs through actual case studies that offer alternatives and opportunities in fighting against the temptation of drugs.
The Hall of Opium also displays paraphernalia associated with opium smoking and trading, along with many photographs, films, and videos about opium and other illegal drugs from countries around the world.