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The Lasting Legacy of Northernmost Chiangrai

IF YOU ARE running short of time in your visit to Chiang Rai and have yet to visit the province's attractions to the North of Chiang Rai city, why not take this suggested circle tour that will allow you to visit Mae Sai, the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen, and Chiang Khong, all in one day? The order of places to visit described here will start with Mae Sai, but visitors could just as well start with Chiang Khong and visit the attractions listed in reverse order. Fly to Chiang Rai on Phuket Air to have more time for sightseeings. Also either hire a chauffeur to drive you, or drive yourself with "Welcome to Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai" Magazine's detailed maps to guide you. A visit to Chiang Rai province is incomplete without taking in the unspoiled rural scenery of northern Chiang Rai and the town of Chiang Saen especially. Visitors should not return home without having themselves photographed at the sign indicating the infamous Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. An early start is recommended as while it is possible to take in all of these interesting spots in one day, there are substantial distances to be covered. All roads are fully paved and in good condition.

Chiang Rai to Mae Sai

Mae Sai looking into Tachilek at the bridge over the borderTake Highway 1 north out of Chiang Rai city. After passing the town of Mae Chan (Jaan), the highway changes to number 110. Once past Mae Chan (Jaan) it is possible to see what the developed areas around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai city once looked like; with rural villages and broad expanses of rice paddies. If a rice paddy looks to be choked with tall-stemmed weeds instead of full of growing rice, this doesn't indicate that the farmer is lazy. These weeds are a kind of sedge which the villagers cultivate, harvest, dry and weave into comfortable, spongy mats that are sold all over the North.

Approaching Mae Sai, make sure to take note of the of large hill and rock formations to the left of the highway. The hill and series of rock formations will take on the form of a reclining woman, and indeed this is Doi Naang Norn, or ‘sleeping woman mountain'.

The town of Mae Sai itself is relatively undistinguished, but it is the gateway to other attractions of interest. The last extent of the town's main road as it approaches the border crossing to Myanmar features shops selling jade and other gems that are actively traded between Myanmar and Thailand. There are stands offering local and hilltribe handicrafts of all sorts for sale. If it's lunch time, sample the local version of the curry and egg noodle soup, "khao soi", as the Mae Sai style has a pungent, sharp flavor different than that offered further south.

Another possibility while in Mae Sai it to pay a short visit to the town of Tha Khi Lek, located across the border in Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities allow tourists a one day visit for a border crossing fee. They also accept Thai Baht if the visitor does not have American currency. The town features some interesting
Burmese-style Buddhist temples and large amounts of forest produce and crafts of every sort for sale. Merchants will accept payment for goods in US dollars or Thai Baht, obviating the need to exchange currency.

Mae Sai to the Golden Triangle

Mae Khong River at the Golden TriangleUpon completing the Mae Sai visit, find the left turning off of Mae Sai's main street which leads to the town of Chiang Saen. Approximately three-quarters of the way to the town of Chiang Saen you will come to the village of Sob Ruag, which is the location of the Golden Triangle. Not only is this spot the place where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, but it also located at the confluence of
the Ruag and Mae Khong rivers. There are many interesting spots here to visit.
The centerpiece of the Golden Triangle is the large sign with white lettering, indicating where the visitor is and almost no visitor goes home without being photographed in front of this.

Depending upon time available, another close-by spot that is worth a visit is the Anantara Resort at the Golden Triangle, located at a spot on the left land side of the road just before reaching the village of Sob Ruag. The complex is spectacularly decorated in northern Thai motifs, using local handicraft materials, and the windows overlooking the river offer another magnificent view of the Golden Triangle.

The Golden Triangle was, of course, notorious for being the center of a large share of the world's opium production. A worth while spot to visit, therefore, is the Hall of Opium, a museum which has exhibits concerning the history of opium production in the region, its cultivation, and items involved in the sale, storage, and consumption of this narcotic. Visitors can see knives used to score the pod of the poppy to obtain the raw sap, pipes and storage boxes, and scales and weights to trade the raw product. All exhibits feature English explanation plus view video to know all details.

Development of stalls selling tourist items along the road have somewhat obscured the view of the Golden Triangle from the road level. Look for a Buddhist temple on a hill above the road. From here visitors can get an unobstructed, dramatic view of the Golden Triangle, the rivers and busy boat and barge traffic, and the forests and villages in Myanmar and Laos. A similarly good view can be
obtained from the upper terrace Borderview Restaurant of the
Imperial Golden Triangle Hotel.

The Golden Triangle to Chiang Saen

Chiang SaenContinue on from the Golden Triangle and road reaches the town of Chiang Saen. This town has a very ancient and stormy history. It was founded in 1327 by a grandson of King Mengrai, founder of Chiang Mai, on the site of a much more ancient city. The Burmese seized the town in 1558 and kept control of it and much of the surrounding area until King Rama I of Siam recaptured it in 1804, and
had it razed. The town was abandoned for seventy years until Chao Inta, a son of the Prince of Lamphun, brought back descendants of the town's original population to resettle the site and rebuild Chiang Saen.

Get information and book Mae Khong river cruise at Chiang Saen River Hill Hotel. Worthy of a visit is Wat Pa Sak, or the ‘teak forest temple', built in 1295. Another interesting temple is Wat Chedi Luang, which was built in 1331 and enlarged in 1515. It is famous for its fifty-eight meter high octagonal Chedi, and the name Chedi Luang refers to the spectacular size of this feature of the temple. Located next to the temple is the small but excellent National Museum whose exhibits can give the visitor an overview of Chiang Saen history and culture. Exhibits include household items, such as lacquer ware and ceramics, artillery, aspects of Buddha images, of which Chiang Saen had a unique style, down to practical items such as a stone toilet seat.

If time permits, a visit to Wat Phra Thart Jom Kitti, located on a hill outside of the northwest corner of the city is worthwhile, although a bit of energy is needed to ascend the 383 laterite steps which lead to the temple. The site offers yet another panoramic view of the Mae Khong River.

The town of Chiang Saen itself is shaded and attractive and fronts on the Mae Khong river. Visitors may get a view of the long, blue-painted Laotian boats which ply the river.

Chiang Saen to Chiang Khong

Chiang KhongUpon leaving Chiang Saen, continue on Highway 1129 to the town of Chiang Khong. This sleepy town offers visitors an idea of what old-time Chiang Rai province was like before modern times and urban development changed the landscape. Two adjacent guest houses in the town have riverside restaurant where visitors can enjoy refreshments and a relaxing view of the Mae Khong river flowing by, looking towards Laos. For the return leg to Chiang Rai, continue on Highway 1129 and then turn right at the junction with Highway 1020, which leads to Paya Meng Rai. Continue on this road and turn right at the Junction with Highway 1152. This highway leads to Chiang Rai and the conclusion of the circle tour. A bit of time, distance, and driving but so many interesting places to see and visit along the Mae Khong River in northern Chiang Rai.o

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