THE NORTH OF Thailand is renowned for its beautiful mountains and accompanying scenery. But few people may have heard of Chiang Saen, a small town located just the northeast of Chiangrai, one of Thailand's oldest towns, and once a powerful fortified city where the Golden Triangle is located and much of northern history remains intact.
This "laid-back" town quietly nestling on the banks of the Mae Khong has, in fact, had a very stormy history. Founded by a grandson of King Mengrai in 1327 BE on the former site of a more ancient town, Chiang Saen was seized by the Burmese in 1558. They kept control of the town and much of the region until 1804, when King Rama I of Siam captured it and had it burned to the ground. The familiar phrase from later day, "We had to destroy it to save it" may well have been uttered by the victorious king. For seventy years the town was left abandoned, save for a few hardy families, until Chao Inta, a son of the Prince of Lumpoon, brought back the descendants of Chiang Saen's former population and the rebuilt the town.
There are many interesting temples and ruins in town, the oldest being Wat Pa Sak "The Teak forest Temple" built in 1295. Wat Chedi Luang (next to the town's present and excellent National Museum) was built in 1331 and extended in 1515. It is famous for its fifty-eight meter high octagonal Chedi. Wat Phra Thart Jom Kitti is situated on a small hill just outside the northwest corner of the city walls. The 383 rough laterite steps lead up to this interesting temple while its site offers superb views over the Mae Khong River to Laos.
The Mae Khong River is one one of the town's attractions and occasionally long, blue-painted, Laotian boats can be seen plying the seemingly gentle water. In reality the waters are far from gentle, and swimming is not recommended.
Touring in Chiang Saen can start with a boat trip from the Golden Triangle downstream to Chiang Saen. Continue by minibus to see Ancient Buddha images and antiques. Visit nearby Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra Thart Jom Kitti by climbing up 383 steps to the Hilltop Pagoda.
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