Chiang Rai Overview
If you thought the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai was just a watering hole on the way to the hill tribe villages or the Golden Triangle, you're in for a treat.
Home to a rich culture and an enticing assortment of things to see and do, this gem of a town with its lovely temples, museums, galleries and cafés is well worth several days of your time.
Established as part of the Lanna kingdom in 1262, the area was long separated from the rest of Thailand and even now remains something of a backwater. As such, it offers a far more authentic Thai experience than its better known southern neighbour Chiang Mai.
It's a compact, laid-back town that's a breeze to navigate and explore on foot. It's also the perfect gateway to the many pleasures of the province.
You can delve into Lanna history at the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park, enjoy some lively browsing in the Night Bazaar and Saturday Walking Street and head out to explore misty mountains, national parks, hot springs, waterfalls, caves, tea plantations and unique hill tribe villages.
Always enchanting, the town really comes alive at festival time, with unique events such as the annual lychee festival bringing a vibrant sense of fun to the city.
Things to Do
In Chiang Rai you will find temples, mountains, scenery... and amazing energy.
Chiang Rai is home to some distinguished temples, the most revered being Wat Phra Kaeo. This was once home to the country's most sacred image the Emerald Buddha that is now housed in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Another local gem is Wat Rong Khun, called the White Temple owing to its striking colour.
The Mae Kok River provides a scenic spot for walks and picnics. It's also the launching point for trips on long-tail boats to explore the surrounding countryside and visit elephants. Overnight raft trips are also available.
The Golden Triangle
Visit this atmospheric spot on the Mekhong River, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar can be seen as part of a tour. You can visit the hot springs as well as the Akha and Yao hill tribe communities before continuing on to the Golden Triangle.
Calendar of Events
Chiang Rai celebrates all the regular Thai festivals such as Songkran along with a few which are uniquely its own.
King Mengrai Festival. Dedicated to the founder of the city and the Lanna kingdom, this festival takes place between 26th January and 4th February each year. Together with parades and cultural performances, the event involves feasting on local products.
Lychee Fair. Chiang Rai province is a major grower of the lychee and each May sees a fair dedicated to the succulent fruit. Enjoy floats, parades and beauty contests along with lychee tastings throughout the city.
Loy Krathong. In this lovely festival, held to mark the end of the rainy season, celebrants launch illuminated floats known as krathongs onto the waterways where they flicker magically in the night. In Chiang Rai, the action is centred around the Mae Fah Luang Bridge and the park to its north.