Placed in the heart of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand’s northernmost border meets with Laos and Myanmar (Burma), Chiang Rai is a popular starting point for excursions to hill tribe villages, rafting tours and trekking trips through the jungle.

A quieter option to bustling Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Men Rai and became the very first capital of the Lanna ‘Kingdom of a Million Rice Paddies’. It was later controlled by the Burmese and reintegrated into Thailand not before 1786. The town presents a wealth of history and culture, along with fascinating surroundings, thus being a captivating destination to visit.

Dating back to 1345, Wat Phra Sing houses the holy image of Phra Phutta Sing, which is presumed to date from 157AD and takes center stage during the Thai New Year celebrations each April. Originally hidden in the temple of Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Emerald Buddha now resides in Bangkok, but there is a replica here for devotees to pay respect.

Another popular attraction in Chiang Rai is the Night Bazaar set in the center of town. Flanking the narrow streets, the stalls sell wonderful silks, cotton clothing, cheap jewelry and all kinds of food, including fried insects. There are also numerous booths owned by the tribal people who offer old coins, lovely jackets, shawls and bags they have made themselves. The outstanding Hilltribe Museum and Education Center provides a further insight into the culture of the six main tribes.

A major draw in the area, Wat Phra That Doi is a 10th century shrine that sits on top of the mountain and is believed to contain a collarbone of the Lord Buddha. Phra Tamnak Do Tung, a stylish royal winter retreat, was created for the Princess Mother near the Pa Kluay Reservoir and offers spectacular panoramas of the hills, forests and the botanical gardens.

Treks are a well-liked activity and generally comprise bamboo rafting, elephant riding, and visits to the hill tribe villages of the Akha, Karen, Lisu and Lahu, each demonstrating their unique cultures and costumes. Trips to the Mekong River and the Golden Triangle are also an option, with Tachilek, the Burmese border town, being just an hour’s drive away.

Getting There & Away

You can get a train from Bangkok to Lampang (11 hours) or Chiang Mai (13 hours) and from there a bus straight to Chiang Rai (3 hours, 30 minutes). Buses depart hourly from Bangkok’s Mor Chit station to Chiang Rai, the 800-kilometer journey taking 9 to 11 hours. Chiang Rai Airport is a 1 hour, 30 minute flight from Bangkok.

Things to Do

Chiang Rai Attractions

Wat Phra Sing

Houses the sacred image of a monk.

Wat Phra Kaew

Contains a replica of the emerald buddha.

Night Market

Offering good bargains as well as hill tribe handicrafts.

Wat Phra That Doi

A famous 10th century shrine.

Phra Tamnak Doi Tung

Stylish winter retreat for the princess mother.