The 700-year-old city of Chiang Rai is surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape. The picturesque region with its national parks, waterfalls and caves are ideal for hiking. Apart from the numerous viewpoints which give a beautiful view over the valleys, a shopping spree in the border town of Mae Sai is a must.
Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Mengrai (who also built Chiang Mai in 1296), and was the first capital of the Lanna Thai Kingdom. Chiang Rai was occupied by the Burmese from 1558 until 1774 when it became part of Siam once again. Because of its fertile soil, plentiful water supplies and favorable climate, it has a surplus of rice and also produces large quantities of maize, beans, tobacco, longan, lynchee and strawberries. Chiang Rai is among the oldest towns of Thailand. Mostly consisting of mountains and forests, its main tourist attractions lie in scenic places, such as national parks, botanical gardens, caves and waterfalls. Chiang Rai's attractions are divided according to the counties they belong to.
From Bangkok, the quickest way to get to Chiang Rai is on a short flight from either one of the two major airports, but be prepared to shell out at least 4000 baht for a round trip. If you want to save a little cash, you can catch an overnight van or bus and arrive 14 hours later well rested. From Chiang Mai, you can take a three hour ride on the “Green Bus,” which runs out of the Arcade Bus Station.
Getting around town is nice and easy once you get there. Near the bus terminal are tuk-tuks and songthaews at your convenience to drive you to and from destinations, or you can have the freedom to explore by renting a moped or motorcycle from nearby shops.
The Gate of Siam is the point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Visitors can look over the Mekong into the bordering countries. There are also great river journeys where visitors can explore a small village in Laos.
The small border town, where visitors can enter for a few hours Tachileik in Myanmar, is Thailand's northernmost point.
Mae Sai offers a variety of shopping opportunities. There are beautiful souvenirs, partly also from Burma, as well as jewelry, clothing, electronic equipment from China and dried fruits.
The small town was once the capital of the Lanna kingdom, before King Mengrai moved his residence to Chiang Rai in 1262. It is placed on the Mekong River, just opposite Laos. There are beautiful temples, a lively market and an interesting museum, featuring items used by the surrounding hill tribes such as ornaments, musical instruments, weaving and opium-smoking accessories, etc.
Doi Tung Royal Villa is the final residence of the mother of the King of Thailand, known as the Princess Mother. It is located at kilometre 12 on highway 1149, to the west of highway 1. This magnificent villa was built on the mountain overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys in a unique mix of Swiss and Lanna architectural styles. Adjacent to the villa is a large flower-filled garden, and a memorial hall commemorating the Princess Mother.
Doi Mae Salong
The small village is built atop the mountain and was an important opium trade post of the Golden Triangle. In the late 1940s the Chinese Nationalists Kuomintang inhabited the area after they refused to surrender to the Chinese communists.
Visitors have a great view over the valley. There is a lively market, selling souveniers from the Akha hill tibe and local products such as excellent green tea, dried fruits, mushrooms and herbs.
Hot springs & waterfalls
Within a radius of 25 kilometers around Chiang Rai are several hot springs located such as Pong Phra Bat, Pha Soet and Huai Hin Fon. To reach them, visitors have to walk a short distance from the parking lots.
Namtok Khun Kon Forest Park is located about 30
kilometers from Chiang Rai. The parks highlight is the 70 meter high Khun Kon
waterfall. It can be reached easy by a 30 minutes’ walk from the parking lot.
A visit to the Phu Chi Fa and Buffalo Horn Hill viewpoints is worthwhile. They are not too far outside the city. Especially at sunset they offer a romantic view of the surrounding area.
Wat Rong Kuhn
The Wat Rong Kuhn (the White Temple) is one of the most beautiful and most visited Thai temples nowadays. Unfortunately the temple got damaged during an earthquake in early 2014. Till some parts are rebuilt, visitors can only admire this outstanding monument from outside but it is for safety reasons not permitted to enter.
The Chiang Rai night market offers many handicraft items, old coins from the area and food stalls with delightful dishes.
Chiang Rai is hottest and driest in April, but cools slightly as the rainy season picks up starting in late May and lasting until October. The cool season breezes in during the months of December and January, bringing in comfortably mild temperatures with it.