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Lying in the Golden Triangle where Thailand borders Myanmar and Laos, the province of Chiang Rai is relaxed and down-to-earth, but certainly not lacking in attractions. While the province’s namesake capital draws fewer tourists than its sister city of Chiang Mai, those in the know come to Chiang Rai for its awesome value, incredible cuisine, and proximity to vivid hillside villages and outdoor adventure. Guests can explore the city’s Lanna Kingdom heritage through its beautiful temples, local handicrafts, and mouthwatering food, while the far reaches of the province offer landscapes filled with misty mountains, verdant jungles, and winding rivers.
Chiang Rai City — Sitting in the center of Thailand’s northernmost province, the capital city of Chiang Rai is the hub of the region’s tourism, with easy access to more remote parts of the province. Though the city doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife and entertainment, but what it does have is mostly concentrated around the streets near the gilded Clock Tower. Here, find a range of shopping options from colorful markets to international brands, and restaurants serving up northern Thai dishes such as pork larb salad and coconut curry soup. The city has gradually been developing its tourist sector and now boasts a handful of music venues and clubs to the south of the city center. Of Chiang Rai’s attractions, the most important are its temples, and most notably the Wat Rong Khun. Located roughly 8 miles (13 km) to the south of the Clock Tower, this contemporary Buddhist structure draws thousands of visitors for its intricate all-white exterior designed by Thai artist Kositpipat.
Chiang Saen — A district in the northern part of the province, Chiang Saen was once the capital of the former Lanna Kingdom and is believed to be the oldest city in Thailand. Scattered throughout the district are the ruins of this ancient empire, including weathered temples, Buddhist stupas, and earthen ramparts. Near the banks of the Mekong River, visitors can also find modern shrines, inexpensive street eats, and Golden Triangle Park, an educational site at the intersection of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.
Doi Tung — Roughly an hour north of Chiang Rai City, Doi Tung mountain offers spectacular views of Thailand and Myanmar from 4,557 feet (1,389 m). A drive out of the city can take you up the side of the mountain, where you’ll pass through a hill-tribe village, an immaculate botanical garden, and the elegant Royal Villa, once home to Princess Mother Srinagarindra. The drive culminates at the top of the summit, where the 10 th -century Wat Phra That temple is said to contain Buddha’s left collarbone, making it one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Thailand.
Doi Mae Salong — To the southwest of Doi Tung, Doi Mae Salong mountain is another stunning site and home to the native Yao and Akha hill-tribe villagers. Journey out of Chiang Rai to observe these indigenous cultures, watching as the friendly people go about their daily lives, performing typical tasks and religious rites in elaborately beaded costumes. Later, gain insight into the country’s tea and coffee production with visits to 2 nearby plantations.
Bask in the most breathtaking sights in all of Chiang Rai on a full-day tour with a private guide. This adventure brings you to otherworldly temples, royal palaces, and mountain summits for panoramic views over the region. Along the way, stop to enjoy aspects of daily life, from open-air bazaars to aromatic tea shops. Admire the beautiful fabric and artisan crafts made by the villagers as you learn about centuries-old traditions like elongation of the neck. Take time to soak in the region’s most majestic natural landmarks including waterfalls and hot springs before returning to the city.
Delve into centuries of Chiang Rai culture on a tour that treats you to the best of the city in just a few hours. The past and present come together as a guide brings you to ancient temples, modern shrines, and bustling markets, offering insight into the history that spans roughly 1,400 years. For an even deeper dive into the city’s heritage, visits institutions like the Oub Kham Museum, the Hilltribe Education Center, and the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, which houses hundreds of artifacts from the Lanna Kingdom.
For those looking for outdoor adventure, there’s plenty of that as well. Starting in town at the C.R. Pier, you can charter a boat for a short ride down the river, or sail all the way into Chiang Mai for an overnight hiking excursion to villages and hot springs. On a 3-day bike tour through the country, cycle your way along dirt roads, rocky paths, and tree-lined lanes, stopping to visit rice mills, distilleries, fruit fields, and museums.
Back in the city, get a glimpse into local nightlife with dinner and a cabaret show. Feast on a hearty meal of tasty Thai favorites as performers treat you to a show of traditional song and dance. Following your meal, you can walk off your dinner with a stroll through the luminous night market. Browse the stalls selling handicrafts and antiques in search of the perfect souvenir to take home.
If you're vacationing with the youngsters, there's no shortage of things to do in Chiang Rai. These family friendly experiences will put big smiles on faces young and old: