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Destination Insight

Chiang Rai

Charming northernmost city of Thailand

Chiang Rai offers what drew people to Chiang Mai in the past – the serene natural beauty and the slower pace of life, before the influx of visitors and gentrification transformed the landscapes.  The city has remained quite immune to modern changes, save for a few resorts and hotels here and there. 

The northernmost province of Thailand, Chiang Rai is a land of outstanding natural beauty. Majestically mountainous and covered in large parts with lush tropical rainforests, the scenery is among the most beautiful in Thailand. Here, visitors looking to avoid the hordes can visit remote hill tribes and spot exotic wildlife.

As the former capital of the great Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Rai is a fascinating region filled with cultural and natural wonders, including the Golden Triangle, which is the meeting point of three countries – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. This area was previously the hub of opium production, a trade that had much influence on the locals’ cultural practices and lifestyles. 

Chiang Rai is also a melting pot of hill tribes with their own unique cultures, so a lot of visitors have come to explore not just the pristine natural beauty of the countryside, but also to immerse themselves in the longstanding indigenous culture; some tribes still live together in bamboo houses and wear traditional costumes. 

Not-to-be-missed Sights and Activities

Religious sites

Chiang Rai is home to many religious sites, a large number of which are perched on the mountains. This means as well as getting blown away by meticulous architecture, you will also be treated to a bird’s eye view of the province. Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is a good place to start. This ancient hilltop pagoda overlooks the Mae Kok River and predates the founding of Chiang Rai as the capital of Lanna Thai. In 1990, Buddhist clerics and laity agreed to build the Jade Buddha (commonly called Phra Yok Chiang Rai) to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Princess Mother's birthday.  Another famed pagoda is Wat Phra That Chedi Luang, the tallest religious monument in Chiang Rai. It was built in 1291 and reconstructed in the 1990s, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government.  

Exploring nature

Chiang Rai is a traveller's paradise, abundant in natural attractions, from virgin jungles to cascading waterfalls. Kok River, which runs through the heart of Chiang Rai, is reputed as among the most scenic and unspoiled rivers in Thailand. Along the banks there is lush greenery, steep cliffs and hill tribe villages. River trips on long-tail boats are a good way to get a glimpse of Chiang Rai’s natural beauty, while the gentle stream allows for a relaxing journey.

Phu Chi Fah

Phu Chi Fah, the highest tip of DoiPahMhon mountain range which shares the border with Laos. In the morning, you will experience the sea of mist with the kiss of sun rise that shines upon the cascaded mountain ranges.  Not far from Phu Chi Fah is thePha Tang viewpoint, one of Chiang Rai’s finest panoramic viewing spot which overlooks the lower planes of the North. The highlight includes Pha Bong Siam Gate, a natural door between two huge rocks offering a charming view of the lush green mountains on the other side of the Laos border.

Phu Chi Dao

For travelers who wish experience nature’s beauty up close and personal, Phu Chi Dao, which showcase a breathtaking, serene stretch of nature allure is your must-see destination. Visitors will be embraced by the scenic mountain views and the morning sea mist – a real beautiful sight to behold! Additionally, at the peak of Phu Chi Dao, travelers can get a clear view of Phu Chi Fah due to its high terrain.

Doi Chang

For coffee-lovers, Doi Chang Coffee Village is your best answer to a fragrant, warm cup of coffee to beat the cool climate. Located 1,000 meters above sea level, the year-round cool weather offers a perfect condition for Arabica coffee to flourish. Visitors are free to wander around the coffee plantation and admire the healthy plots of coffee-plants genuinely cared for by individual farmers’ families as well as other beautiful produce such as macadamia, persimmon, plum and chestnut. If your visit is between December to early January, blooming cherries blossom await to welcome you with a unique photo opportunity. After the plantation visit, do drop by the coffee house to sample a cup of coffee from Doi Chang famous Arabica beans.

Ancient ruins

Chiang Saen is one of the oldest settlements in the Kingdom of Thailand, believed to date back to as early as the seventh century. Despite its former days of power and glory, it now exudes peaceful serenity and calm. There are a number of historical and architectural sites in the town, mostly Buddhist temples. Although the ancient walls are largely ruined, the old city plan remains the same today as it was before. 

Golden Triangle

This little region is where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar are adjoined. The area was one of the most extensive opium-producing spots in the world, but since local authorities enforced an opium ban, it is now more well-known for its picture-perfect scenery of mountains, clouds and waterfalls. The simple, self-sufficient lifestyle of its people is equally charming and can be witnessed at the local markets, where the citizens come along with their donkeys to sell fresh products from their farms.

Shopping opportunities
Mae Sai is a renowned shopping venue for both Thais and foreigners, offering a plethora of goods, ranging from clothes to electronic gadgets – most at a very affordable price. At Mae Sai Market, which serves as the border of Thailand and Myanmar, precious stones are great and plenty; numerous gems from Myanmar, such as rubies, emeralds, and jade, are for sale at tempting prices.

Delicious dishes

Chiang Rai does get rather quiet when the sun goes down, but in busier areas, such as at tourist attractions and local markets, sunset is when many local food stalls are set up, especially along the bank of Mekhong River. While both Thai and international fare is readily available, it is the distinctive northern Thai cuisine that Chiang Rai is best known for.

Khao soi (curry with crispy egg noodles) is easily the most popular northern Thai dish with travellers, and is often on the to-do list when visiting Chiang Rai. Unlike others in Thailand, the curry which comes with khao soi is milder, while its coconut base lends a perfectly delectable flavour. 

Northern Thai sausage, locally named sai ua, offers a delightful mix of flavours. The sourness of lime leaves, the heat of chillies and a powerful kick from galangal blend together wonderfully, creating a complex and rich herbal aroma.

Chilli pastes are also a good option if you are a fan of spicy food. There are dozens of choices, each with its own distinctive taste. Most of them are served with nibbles of kap moo (deep fried pork skins), sticky rice and a selection of vegetables.

Continuing your journey

Lampang, another charm of northern Thailand, is only a few miles away from Chiang Rai. Hit the road to explore more of the region's culture and nature. If you can’t get enough of the charming hills, follow the Mae Sai Bridge to Myanmar, or, for a more urban feel, Chiang Mai is only a hop and a skip away. Bangkok Airways plans to launch services to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand at the end of March 2014, with twice-daily flights planned in the initial phase, and an aim to increase to three daily flights within six months.

Route One Way (All Inclusive)
Bangkok - Chiang Rai 1,300 THB*
Chiang Rai - Bangkok 1,300 THB*

* 7 days advance purchase required.

Quick Facts


  • Currency

    Thai Baht (THB)
  • Electricity/Socket Adaptor

    220V 50Hz
  • Language

    Thai, English
  • Time zone

    UTC +7
  • Tel code

    +66 2
  • Religion

    Buddhism

Weather


  • JUN - NOV

    Rainy season - wet and humid
    30°C - 35°C
    Prepare for rainy days
  • DEC - FEB

    Cool season - breezy evenings and comfortable weather
    26°C - 30°C
    Great time for sightseeing
  • MAR - MAY

    Hot season - sunny and blazing hot
    30°C - 40°C
    Bring plenty of water when out and about
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