Where do we go for the weekend? A question everyone asks occasionally, and in northern Thailand there are many places to go. Why not Chiangrai? It's close, only 3 hours away by car. It's inexpensive, especially at this time of the year.There's a lot to do, both in the city and outside of it. And, it's fun.
From July to September, Chiangrai is one of the most inexpensive cities in the country. Recent quotes from the major first class hotels in Chiangrai have rooms at below 1,000 Baht per night, and some even offer free use of their gymnasiums, saunas, jacuzzi's and sports facilities. Both hotels and tour agencies also offer day trips to the outer areas of Chiangrai Province and into Myanmar (Burma) at reasonable rates. The cost, of course, is always a consideration, but the other is what can we do there on a weekend.
Chiangrai City might just be the perfect balance between city fun and countryside scenery. In addition to hotel facilities, Chiangrai has a wide variety of excellent dining. German, Italian, French, and of course Thai foods are available at specialty restaurants, and even a few "American-style" fast food restaurants are beginning to crop up. Add to the dining, the nightly entertainment at beer pubs, hotel lounges and a few choice clubs, and you'll find that Chiangrai has plenty for you to do on a weekend away from home.
Daytime in Chiangrai provides you with a whole range of other activities. There is the temple walk ; the various spots along the Kok River , which flows through the city; the King Mengrai Monument on the eastern edge of Chiangrai; and the City Navel Pillar on the west. For sports enthusiasts there are also the hotel gyms, tennis facilities, golfing, and bicycling. Chiangrai is the perfect setting for those who like to pedal.
The City Navel Pillar deserves some extra explanation. Chiangrai is the only city in Thailand that has resurrected the ancient ritual town center once common to all Thai towns and cities of a city pillar representing the seat of the community. The origin of this practice is cloudy, with virtually no records attesting to the significance of the pillar concept; but it is known that the ancient kingdoms in Tai Nanzhao in southern China built city pillars in the centers of their towns as long ago as the 9th century A.D. The importance of the Navel Pillar in Chiangrai might indeed be directly connected with Tai Nanzhao of that period, for it was in the same century that the forebears of Chiangrai's founder, King Mengrai, made their first settlement at Chiang Saen, northeast of Chiangrai City.
The Chiangrai Navel Pillar today is a recent reconstruction in stone of the principles associated with Buddhist mythology and cosmology. Built upon the concept of Meru, the ancient Hindu seat of heavenly wisdom, this pillar is set on a platform surrounded by the symbolic corners of the universe and the rivers that run to the Buddhist heavens. It's a magnificent representation of ancient Buddhist concepts that are still appropriate to the more cosmological nature of the Hindu-Buddhist heritage from which the Thai culture was derived. The Chiangrai City Navel Pillar is located on a hill overlooking the Kok River as it winds through Chiangrai City, and in addition to being worth a visit for the architecture and symbolism of an ancient age, it is also the perfect spot from which to view the entire city of Chiangrai and the valleys that spread out to the east beyond.
For a weekend trip, it isn't necessary to spend your entire days in the city though. Whether you have your own car or plan to use the transport services of your hotel or a local travel agent, there are plenty of destinations to choose from that are within easy distance for a Saturday or Sunday outing.
From Chiangrai City, you can reach any of the following frontier spots within one or two hours. Chiang Khong is due east of Chiangrai. A small fishing and farming town on the Mae Khong River border with Laos, in addition to the very quaint Southeast Asian flavor you get in this town, you'll get a clear view of the town's sister village across the river. Chiang Khong carries on a brisk trade with its counterpart in Laos. Unfortunately, non-Thais can't cross into Laos at this point, but you can go for a riverboat ride and get pretty close.
North of Chiang Khong and also on the Mae Khong is the ancient Thai town of Chiang Saen. This town was the first northern Thai capital. It was founded in the mid-9th century by a Tai king from Nanzhao in southern China and it has been of key strategic importance to all holders of northern Thai territory ever since. The ruins of Chiang Saen, as well as the National Museum, are a pleasant and interesting way to spend a morning or an afternoon.
From Chiang Saen, the famed Golden Triangle isn't too far away. Just a 20-minute drive to the north, or a short ride on a long-tailed boat that leaves from the Chiang Saen Wharf, the Golden Triangle is a beautiful site for picnics and of course you can see where the countries of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet.
A fourth option for your day trip is a drive up Highway 107 from Chiangrai to the border town of Mae Sai. It is now possible to cross into Burma at this point, and you can do so for USD$10 to pay for your Burma border pass for one day in Tachilek, the Burmese counterpart to Thailand's Mae Sai.
For those who prefer the mountains, a day trip to Doi Mae Salong is probably your best bet. This beautiful mountain village is rich in history of the early 20th century war between China and Japan. Today, you can drive to this predominantly Chinese village, from Chiangrai, in approximately 1 1/2 hours. Enjoy the pleasant mountain air, have some good Chinese food, visit some of the healthy mountain farming areas on paths that lead out of the village, and be back in Chiangrai by the time the sun goes down.
There is much more that is available in this unique city of Thailand's upper North, but for the weekend traveller we've tried to highlight here a proper combination that will make your weekend in Chiangrai a trip of fun, pleasure and good memories. See the full color Chiangrai city map for a more detailed guide to the city, and read the remaining Chiangrai articles to learn what you can expect throughout Chiangrai Province.
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