Chiang Rai is a small town, offering a quieter version of Chiang Mai, with narrow streets and shops that close early. The air is cooler and no one seems to be rushed. Guesthouses are abundant so be sure to keep looking if you are not completely satisfied. It is easy to find a double room with a private bathroom for 300 Baht per night; however, both cheaper and more expensive options are also available. Chiang Rai is also the jumping off point for several trekking and motorbike trips in Northern Thailand, as well as the springboard to Burma/Myanmar and Laos. With two substantial bus stations, it is relatively easy to get to anywhere in the area.
There are several things to do in and around Chiang Rai. The golden ornate clock tower in the center of a roundabout is constantly being photographed…
…but especially when the clock strikes 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. The clock then transforms into a light show accompanied to music lasting about 7 minutes, which is a hit with foreign and Thai tourists alike.
Without a doubt the most popular place to visit in Chiang Rai is the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun in Thai), which is located about 15 kilometers outside the city to the south off of Highway 1. The best way to get out there is renting a motorbike and including a visit there while exploring other places in Northern Thailand. Failing this it will cost you about 300 Baht for two people to get there with a shared taxi (more for a tuk tuk). It is standard for the taxi driver to wait for one hour, which is more than enough time, before taking you back downtown.
A lesser known architectural study that sees more Thai tourists than foreign ones is the Black House (Baan Dam in Thai), located 8 kilometers north and 2 kilometers off of Highway 1. It cost us 300 baht to take a shared taxi there and back with a one hour wait in between. Again, this was plenty of time for the venue.
There are several temples (wat) around town all within walking distance. If you are not in the mood to temple hop no doubt having seen way too many in Chiang Mai, the one we recommend not missing is Wat Phra Kaew, which has a lovely flower garden, a canopy of trees and orange-clad monks eager to practice English. A special feature of this temple is the emerald Buddha statue that is reported to have been discovered when the rock encasing it was struck by lightning, cracking it open and revealing the statue inside. Although the original statue has been moved and it now housed in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, an exact replica is displayed on this hallowed ground. Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Kaew is located on Trairat Road, one block west and three blocks north of the Clock Tower.
Thinking about renting a motorbike? Motorbike rentals run approximately 250-300 baht per day, which should include two helmets. To avoid extra fees and a huge hassle be sure to double check whether a day means a full 24 hours or bringing it bake before closing time that day.
A popular motorbike loop is driving north to Chiang Saen (go north on Highway 1 and east on Highway 1016), where you can see Laos across the river, and continuing across to the Golden Triangle, where you can see both Burma/Myanmar separated by the Ruak river and Laos separated by the Mekong River. As you can imagine, this area is very touristy with dozens of T-shirt vendors, giant elephant statues whose bellies you can rub for good luck, gongs used in the same way and a large marble roller-like coin slide where you can send a coin into a Buddha’s belly below. If you stand on the Thai shore and look out across the rivers however, with all the kitsch at your back, you can almost forget it’s there.
The continuation of the loop will take you to or through Mae Sai, depending on how much you like shopping and crowds. This is also an opportunity to go to Tachileik, just across the Burmese border. You will not be able to venture further than this town into Burma and we recommend double checking the limitations of your Thai visa before leaving Thailand.
In November and December it might be worth a side trip to Doi Hua Mae Kham, which is a hill tribe village where you can see the Giant Mexican Sunflowers in full bloom. The surrounding hills and valleys are carpeted in a beautiful gold.
Stay tuned for more adventures,
Mindy and Ligeia :):)