Chiang Rai – “Gateway to the Golden Triangle”

By | October 10, 2013

Chiang Rai -

Just the mention of the words Chiang Rai evokes images of mountains, mist, hilltribes & the infamous “Golden Triangle” !.

Chiang Rai city is the capital of Thailand’s northernmost province, it’s location at the meeting point between Thailand, Laos & Myanmar creates the axis known the world over as the Golden Triangle made famous for it’s opium production & smuggling.

The city lies some 785 kms(470 miles) north of Bangkok and 580 meters(1,750 feet) above sea level. The province covers an area of 11,678 sq kms(7,000 sq miles), mainly covered by mountainous terrain & dense jungle which is actually the southernmost extent of the Himalayas mountain range. 
Statue of King Mengrai - Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai was once the capital of the old Mengrai Dynasty of the Lanna Thai Kingdom in the 13th century. However, Chiang Rai was replaced soon after by Chiang Mai city and Chiang Rai fell to Burmese rule.

It was not until the late 18th century that Chiang Rai was actually reclaimed from the Burmese,at which point it became a part of Chiang Mai and a century later both were absorbed by Siam(later renamed as Thailand). Chiang Rai was then made into a province with Chiang Rai city, again, as its capital.

The province of Chiang Rai is divided into 18 districts with over 124 sub-districts called “tambons”. While the eastern section of the province is basically flat lands, the western section is mostly mountainous and is part of the Hills of Northern Thailand.

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The cooler climate and dense mountainous regions of Chiang Rai province makes it a perfect place for trekking. The many trails used by the Hill Tribes are found in the mountains of Mae Salong, Mae Suai, and Doi Chaang and along the banks of the Mae Kok River.

The Hill Tribes are minority ethnic groups that have been living in Northern Thailand for up to 200 years having mainly escaped persecution in Burma(Myanmar) & China. The groups are composed of five main hill tribes – Hmong ,Akha ,Karen ,Lahu & Lisu – each with it’s own distinct culture and language.

As a travel destination, Chiang Rai has none of the frenetic and un-controlled pace of Bangkok or the beaches of Southern Thailand. Chiang Rai is more laid back and slower paced. The region, however, is rich in its cultural heritage and natural attractions.

The area around the city also offeres a good range of Places to Stay,ranging from “fan only” rooms right up to 5* luxury spa resorts, with prices to suit all pockets.

The area is also home to tea & coffee plantations as well as thriving
Fine Wine Vineyards – the cooler climate is just perfect for the production of these popular beverages.

Tea Plantation - Chiang Rai, Thailand

Some of the most popular places to visit in Chiang Rai are it’s temples, mountains, parks and lush jungles.

The most important temple in Chiang Rai is “Wat Phra Kaeo” which rumour has it is where the highly revered “Emerald Buddha” was discovered centuries ago following the pagoda where it was housed being struck by lightning. The image was then kept with the abbot who later removed all the stucco and found the Emerald Buddha statue underneath. The Emerald Buddha is now located in Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The “Wat Phra That Chedi Luang” is located in Chiang Saen was built by King Saen Phu during the Lanna Kingdom in the early 13th century.

Wat Rong Khun - Chiang Rai, Thailand

Possibly the most impressive (and most visited) temple in Chiang Rai is “Wat Rong Khun” which is a modern contemporary Buddhist temple completely bedecked in white with heavy use of white glass mirror mosaic work. The white color stands for Lord Buddha’s purity; the white glass stands for Lord Buddha’s wisdom that “shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe.” The construction of the temple started in 1998 & is still ongoing. The temple also houses a museum & giftshop where large murals of Lord Buddha in various poses are depicted.

If you are interested in the history of Chiang Rai a visit to the “Ho Watthanatham Nithat Museum” should be added to your itinery, located at the former town hall it showcases artifacts and ancient records of history for the area.

As the province is rich in natural wonders such as waterfalls, caves and hot springs, Trekking is a major activity when in the area. Mountain bike tours & elephant riding in Baa Ruamit are also available for the more athletic and adventurous travelers!.

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How to get to Chiang Rai ,you have a choice of options, by air from Chiang Mai or Bangkok, by bus/car from Chiang Mai ,or by bus from Bangkok, there is no train service available linking to Chiang Rai.

If you have been to Chiang Rai or spent time there before, and have really great memories of places to stay, visit, or just fun things that happened, please share your Chiang Rai Memories here.