A SCENIC HOME OF HILLTRIBES" The Province of Chiang Rai, covering some 11,600 square kilometres at an average elevation of 580 metres above sea level, lies in the heart of the fabled Golden Triangle "
The province of Chiang Rai, lies in the heart of the fabled Golden Triangle, the area wherethe borders of Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos converge.
Chiang Rai is a traveler's paradise, offering a broad range of activities among stunning mountain scenery where exotic hilltribes, historic Buddhist shrines, riverine adventures and elephant treks number among the major attractions.
The Provincial Capital
The riverine provincial capital, founded in 1262, is some 785 kilometres north of Bangkok. The most convenient way of reaching the capital is by daily Thai International from Bangkok, or from the neighboring provincial capital of Chiang Mai.
The ten-hour coach ride from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is probably best made overnight since passengers can avail themselves of sleep before early morning arrival.
The capital may also be reached from Tha Thon in Chiang Mai province by a scenic 4-6 hour (depending on climatic conditions, such as rain, and other factors such as high waters and fast currents) longtail boat ride along the Mae Kok River.
The provincial capital contains several deluxe hotels and resort complexes, guest-houses and inns, indeed accommodation to suit every pocket. Besides being a major dining, shopping and entertainment centre, the provincial capital is probably the most convenient spot from where to make excursions into the surrounding countryside, since most attractions can be reached within a convenient one day return.
City attractions include monuments dedicated to King Mengrai The Great, the thirteenth-century founder of Chiang Rai (and Chiang Mai in 1296); and Buddhist temples such as Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phra Kaeo, the latter believed to have been the original home of Thailand's most revered Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha, now enshrined in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo.
Chiang Rai is the home of the several different hilltribes, the most numerous of which are the colourful Akha, have their own customs, their own language, their own culture and decorative art forms .
Silver is their preferred symbol of wealth. Indeed, Akha women wear, besides equally distinctive miniskirts and leggings, unusual headdresses made from plumes and vintage silver coins largely of French Indochinese or British Indian origin.
Many such women are accomplished weavers of cloth which they decorate with their own distinctive, predominantly geometric embroidery. Such items number among the more popular souvenirs, and come in the form of purses. bags, jerkins, waistcoats and similar apparel .
Akha silver ware is also a popular purchase, and comprises mainly bracelets, necklaces, belts and pendants.
Most provincial attractions lie north of the provincial capital. Road travelers can visit major destinations within the space of one day. At Mae Chan some 29 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Highway 110 continues northwards to Mae Sai, the northernmost point of Thailand ( 63 kilometres north of the provincial capital ); Route 1010 veers eastwards towards Chiang Saen (60 kilometres from the provincial capital) which occupies the Mekong riverbank facing Laos, and here resort hotels and complexes, quest houses and inns offer comfortable accommodation.
Chiang Saen was an ancient capital of Lan Na Thai (Kingdom of One Million Rice fields) which dominated northern Thailand from the late 1200s. Chiang Saen was founded by King Mengrai before Chiang Rai and is historically important, because a distinctive style of Buddhist sculpture evolved there during the late thirteenth century.
Several noteworthy religious monuments include the hilltop Wat Phra That Chom Kitti, the ancient Chedi Wat Pa Sak, and Chedi Luang, a 58-metres high structure with a 25-metres circumference base which was constructed in 1290 as LAN NA Thai's largest religious monument .
Adjacent to, and almost dwarfed by the chedi, a branch of the National Museum contains bronze Buddha images and artifacts excavated locally.
12 kilometres north of Chiang Saen, a riverside area has been officially designated The Golden Triangle.The spot, known locally as Sop Ruak, precisely marks the convergence of the Mae Sai and Mekong rivers which form the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
A commanding panoramic view of the area may be enjoyed from the riverine Wat Phra That Phukhao's hilltop pavilion.
Into The Mountains
Two major routes from Highway 110 permit convenient exploration of the Golden Triangle's major mountain mass Route 1130, 3 kilometres north of Mae Chan, negotiate steep mountains and ascends in spectacular hairpin bends to Doi Salong, passing several Akha (and other) hilltribe or shopping and photographic opportunities.
The road penetrates the mountains for some 35 kilometres to end at Santi Kiri, a mountain top settlement where descendants of the defeated Nationalist Chinese soldiers tend tea and coffee plantations, orchards and flower and vegetable gardens. A resort complex permits an overnight stay. The Santi Kiri, contains several apothecaries, spice shops, teahouses and restaurants and constitutes a 'high-altitude Chinatown'.
14 kilometres north of Mae Chan, Route 1 149 leads to the mountain top Wat Phra That Doi Thing, a temple over 2,000 metres above sea level and which offers one of the Golden Triangle's most spectacular views.
The 17 kilometer winding route can be negotiated in a uncomfortable one-hour drive, and passes several hilltribe hamlets, some roadside, some more secluded some down side tracks, a permanent Akha bazaar (Maephaluang Garden), scenic reservoirs and botanical gardens, and the palace of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother.
The Furthest North
Highway 110 passes Khun-nam Nang-non (Lagoon of the Sleeping Lady),
some 12 kilometres before reaching Mae Sai, and three popular caves (Thampun-Thampla,Tham Pha Chom and Tham Phyanak), the thriving Mae Sai trading post which face Myanmar across the Mae Sai River. Mae Sai is a popular shopping area for local goods, including clothing, leatherware, hilltribe products, principally clothing, trinkets and jewellery, of Burmese origin.
The hilltop Wat Phra That Doi Waow offers an exhilarating view of the hills and revering valley separating Thailand and Burma. Riverside accommodation is available on the Thai side.
Of Riverine Adventures & Elephant Treks
The Mekong and Mae Kok rivers offer numerous opportunities of rafting, boating and elephant trek adventures. The Mekong, one of Asia's mightiest rivers, rises in Tibet and flows into the South China Sea, some 4, 500 kilometres to the southeast. The Mekong can be explored from Chiang Saen by in exhilarating 3-hour boat trip downstream to Chiang Khong, or, far more sedately, from Sop Ruak around the immediate environs.
Rafting trips along the Mae Kok River, eastwards from Chiang Mai's Tha Thon towards the provincial capital, are popular, and are often combined with ''inland" excursions, frequently on elephant ride to hilltribe hamlets occupying nearby hillsides and mountains.
Popular trekking areas include hilltribe villages and elephant camps. Such treks customarily involve majestic mountain terrain, pristine jungle and rivers, photogenic waterfalls and unusual caves. Visitors can journey to such places by foot or on elephant back. Similar travel by longtail boats, motorcycles and jeeps is becoming increasingly popular.
SAVORING THE MYSTIQUE
With its excellent choice of accommodation, ease of road and riverine communication its manifold historic and contemporary attractions, Chiang Rai offers the discerning traveler many opportunities for exploration, relaxation and pampered leisure. Moreover, Chiang Rai is the ideal spot from where to explore neighboring provinces,and to fully savor the mystique of northern Thailand in general and the fabled Golden Triangle in particular.
By road, 785 km. from Bangkok, 182 km. from Chiang Mai; by air, 1.25 hr. from Bangkok.
Thai International flies daily to Chiang Rai from Bangkok. You may also take an overnight or day coaches from the northern Buses Terminal at Mor Chit in Bangkok. The journey takes about 12 hours. Chiang Rai can also be reached from Chiang Mai by road, the journey takes about 3 hours.
King Mangrai Statue and Temples:
A bronze statue of the founder of Lanna Kingdom is situated at the starting point of Highway 110, which leads to Mae Chan Chiang Saen and Mae Sai. Many tourists visit this monument to pay their respects to the ancient king and to have photos taken as souvenirs.
There are several Buddhist temples in town, notably Wat Phra Sing, where Phra Phutta Sihing, an important Theravada image, was originally housed, and Wat PhraKaeo, where the Emerald Buddha, now enshrined in the Royal Temple of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, was first found.
Phra That Doi Tung:
A temple containing the left collar bone of the Buddha on top of the 1364-m. Doi Tung (highest in Chiang Rai), is a most important place of worship for Buddhist in the North. There, on a clear day, one can have a breathtaking panorama of the border areas.
About 7 km from the temple is a beautiful royal residence built for the Princess Mother in celebration of her 90th birthday in 1990. Because of its scenic beauty, the palace, named Phra Tamnak Doi Tung, draws tourists like Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai. The road leading up to the hillside palace is wide and smooth.
Chiang Saen Museum:
The museum in the bordertown of Chiang Saen, 59 km from the provincial town, is famous for its invaluable Buddha images and antiques of the Chiang Saen Kingdom which flourished in the 11 th and 12 th centuries. It is open to the public every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. The town is also known for its charming old temples such as Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Chom Kitti.
Located 9 km to the north of Chiang Saen is the world-famous place where the borders of Thailand,Burma and Laos meet. You can stand at the very point where the Rauk River from Burma flows into the Mekong, to take a fine view of the rice fields and the distant mountains. To get a wider view , you can climb up Doi Chiang Miang on teh riverside. But don't expect to see any such things as poppy fields, heroin factories or drug addicts or traffickers here. Just enjoy the natural beauty and be proud that you have been to a widely-known locality. Both hotel rooms and huts are available, and so are trekking boatside arrangements.
Several hilltribes live in the mountainous areas around Chiang Rai, Mae Chan, Mae Sai and along the Kok River.Each group has its own language, costume, customs, and religious beliefs. The largest center is located on the way to Mae Salong.
Doi Mae Salong:
After the Communists took over the mainland of China in 1949 a division of the Nationalist Chinese army fled to the Thai-Burmese border areas. Some of were allowed to settle down on a border mountain called Mae Salong in 1961. The village they founded there soon become well known for its enchanting scenery and tranquil atmosphere. There are guest houses to accommodate tourists and a paved road leading to the village which is about 60 km from Chiang Rai.
Pu Kaeng and Other waterfalls:
Among the numerous waterfalls in Chiang Rai, Pu Kaeng is the largest with a powerful current cascading down the cliff all the year round. It is in Doi Luang National Park about 58 km from Chiang Rai and has a total of 17 leaps. Another beautiful waterfall is called Mae Kon, teh lowest level of which 70 m. high. The road leading to the waterfall is densely wooded. It is only 30 km from the provincial town. The one nearest the main highway No. 1 (only 240m away) is Sai Khao Waterfall. There are hot springs nearby
Mae Sai on Burmese Border:
Mae Sai is the northernmost town of Thailand separated from the Burmese border town of Thachilek by a small river also called Mae Sai. It is frequented by both Thai and foreign tourists, who come to see the sights and to buy jade and other precious stones produced in Burma. Mae Sai is now an important jewellery center, especially jade ornaments.
Rafting Down the Mae Kok:
The 130-km-long Mae Kok is reputed as among scenic and unspoiled rivers still existing in the world today. The stream flows gently most of the way except a series of rapids near the lower reaches of the river, making the trip more exciting. It takes 3 days and 2 nights to cover the 80-km distance by raft from Tha Ton of chiang Mai to Chiang Rai town.