Known as one of the hidden gems of Thailand, Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of the country and home to a little over one million inhabitants. The city of Chiang Rai lies amongst the lush hills of the province, a few miles south of the so-called Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Burma converge. This fertile region, naturally rich in agricultural resources, has been settled by people all the way back to the 7th century. Because of its relatively isolated location, Chiang Rai has blossomed into a truly unique area over time, one with distinct forms of culture, cuisine, architecture, and, as we will discover in this post, a host of can’t-miss tourist destinations and activities.
Here are five reasons you should visit Chiang Rai on your next trip to Thailand…
1. Wat Rong Khun
Also known as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is a one-of-a-kind Buddhist temple that opened to the public in 1997. Owned, designed, and built by noted Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, Wat Rong Khun is the ultimate tribute to the teachings of Buddhism. The pristine white stone of the temple has thousands of minuscule fragments of mirrored glass embedded within it, giving the building the appearance of sparkling in the sunlight. Adorned with hundreds of statues and figurines, the entire temple complex remains under indefinite construction as Kositpipat continues to add to his extraordinary creation. Located about 15 miles south of the Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun is an absolutely essential stop on any vacation to the northern provinces.
2. Phu Chi Fa
About a two drive away from Chiang Mai lies the most spectacular panoramic view in all of Thailand. Although “Phu Chi Fa” refers to the mountainous region in this area, the name has become synonymous with a massive, 1628 meter-tall cliff that overlooks the surrounding mountains and hills. Possibly the most famous of all tourist attractions within the Thai highlands, Phu Chi Fa is visited by thousands of tourists throughout the year who hope to experience the breathtaking cliff-top vista. The view is perhaps most famous for its stunning sunrises, in which the peaks of nearby mountains and hills pierce through the blanket of low-lying fog as the sun rises over Laos in the east.
3. Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar
The lesser-known counterpart to the Chiang Mai night market, Chiang Rai’s night bazaar is still definitely worth a visit. Unlike the Chiang Mai version, Chiang Rai’s night market has maintained a sense of authenticity with more local handicrafts. The market is closely tied to the culture of the province, as many of the products on display are produced by the hill-tribes that live in the region. The attraction also hosts dozens of food stalls, most of them offering traditional Thai food to consumers- albeit cooked a little less spicy to cater to tourists’ taste. What’s more, the surrounding downtown area provides further entertainment in the form of ice cream shops, bars, and movie theaters.
4. The Golden Triangle
Once the opium-production capital of the world, the Golden Triangle refers to an area of about 195,000 kilometers that extends into the countries of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Thailand, the Golden Triangle is renowned for it’s natural beauty and phenomenal scenery. The mighty Ruak and Mekong Rivers converge in this region, and the riverbanks are lined with golden Buddha statues, shrines to the royal family, and massive sculptures. Perhaps the highlight of the Golden Triangle is the Hall of Opium, one of the most well-run and interesting museums in the country. The Hall of Opium exhibits the history of the opium around the world, the production process, and even a mini opium plantation.
5. Doi Tung
Located within the Golden Triangle, the mountain of Doi Tung stands only a few miles away from the Thailand-Myanmar border. The mountain boasts peaks about 1400 meters into the air and offers spectacular views of both Burma and Thailand from its peak. Much of the draw to this tourist attraction is the magnificent Wat Phra That Doi Tung temple found atop the hill, an important Buddhist place of worship that dates all the way back to the year 911. Doi Tung is also home to the ornate Doi Tung Royal Villa, the former residence of the Princess Mother Somdej Phra Srinagarindra. On the slopes below the villa lie the Mae Fah Luang Garden, a stunningly beautiful botanical park that draws many thousands of tourists each year.