Gateway to the "Golden Triangle" and the surrounding areas of Doi Tung and Doi Mae Salong, the city of Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Mengrai. This was approximately thirty-four years before King Mengrai began to build Chiangmai (New City) after he had conquered the Hariphunchai Kingdom (Lamphun) in 1281.
Today, Chiang Rai is a small, modern Thai city that is very easy to explore and it makes an interesting stopover as well as jumping-off point to other northern areas. Travel by car, or bus, takes about three hours from Chiangmai Accommodation ranges from deluxe resorts to high-class, city center hotels and comfortable guest houses.
A walking tour of Chiang Rai might include the Mae Kok River towards the Dusit Island Resort and a climb up the hill to Wat Doi Thong for an overview of the river and refreshing airs. The local TAT office is down beside the river (Old Channel) and it is worth visiting - friendly staff and a good city map. The most revered temple in Chiang Rai is Wat Phra Kaew (Trairatt Road near the Overbrooke Hospital) which once housed the much-traveled Emerald Buddha (now at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok). At nighttime, the city center area on Phaholyothin Road is busy and bright, with plenty of eateries, and the Night Bazaar adjacent to the bus station. The Night Bazaar, though not large, features many local handicraft wares plus evening displays of Thai cultural dancing and music. Small bars and restaurants, within the complex, provide the chance for a cool drink while watching the market activity. Look on our map for the location of Oub Come Textile Museum a private museum filled with many beautiful costumes of the past. Well worth the small entrance fee.
Using Chiang Rai as a base, excursions can be made to the Golden Triangle (where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand come together) and the historic Chiang Saen town on the Mekhong River. Highly recommended is a visit to the Princess Mother's villa at Doi Tung and also to the KMT (Chinese Nationalist) settlement on Doi Mae Salong. The late Princess Mother (HM King Bhumibol's mother) created a beautiful villa (Swiss chalet style) with a view to extensive, formal gardens at the summit of Doi Tung which are enchanting. The KMT, after fleeing before the Chinese Communists took over China, settled the high, mountain ridges of Doi Mae Salong where the KMT descendants now grow excellent Oolong tea. Several resorts and a temple dominate the heights above the village while the main street of the "Chinese" settlement is lined with tea shops plus some guest houses and general stores. Also, the locally grown Arabica coffee can deliver a powerful caffeine punch! A fascinating "Founding Fathers Museum" focusing on the history of the pioneers of this area is open to the public at Baht 30 entrance fee.
Chiang Rai is also a perfect base for visitors wishing to visit the border town of Mae Sai. The Thai/Myanmar (Burma) border is only 45 minutes north of Chiang Rai on a very good road. Mae Sai has a "frontier" feel to it with lots of Chinese, Burmese and Thai products for sale -- electronic goods, cheap CD's, pickled fruits, dried mushrooms, figs and so on. Hilltribe peoples, Thais and powder-faced Burmese sell their wares in colorful and noisy displays -- a bargain hunter's (and photographer's) paradise! It is also possible to exit Thailand (Thai Immigration Office is about one kilometer before the border on the main street) and walk across the border to the Myanmar town of Tachilek (one day visa only permitted, cost 250 Baht, apply at Myanmar border crossing post) but visitors must carry a passport and re-enter Thailand at the Thai Passport Control booth on the border.
Chiang Rai -- both as a city and province -- lots to do, lots to see -- and covers some of the most wonderful scenery in this Northern Kingdom of Lanna-Thai!
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