CHIANG RAI (200 kilometers by road from Chiang Mai) is a good starting point for hill tribe treks to Akha villages and rafting trips on the Kok River between Fang to Chiang Rai. The raft trip takes about six hours. In a motorized long-tail boat it takes much less time. River trips on the Kok River pass thatch-roof-hut villages, fishermen, bathing elephants and water buffalo. Treks often include a river trip. In the area there are also places to spot exotic wildlife, and check out places associated with the Golden Triangle.

Chiang Rai itself is not all that interesting and quieter than Chiang Mai. It is near some interesting historical sites though. Located near the summit of Doi Tung, the Chiang Rai area's highest mountain is Wat Phra That Doi Tung, which offers spectacular views of Thailand, Burma and the Mekong River valley. The golden chedi of the wat enshrines sacred Buddhist relics, which attract large crowds during the pilgrimage season.

Chiang Rai has been inhabited since the 7th century and was the first capital of the Lanna kingdom, which was established there in 1262 by the first great Lanna monarch, King Mengrai. A few archeological sites have remains that date back to this era. The capital was later relocated to Chiang Mai and since that time Chiang Rai has lived in the shadow of its neighboring province,

For a long time Chiang Rai stayed off the tourist radar. Recently though tourism has boomed in Chiang Rai but as it has an effort has been made to generate community development projects that help rural villagers without adversely affecting their natural and cultural assets. Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “While Chiang Rai now has some of the malls and office towers common to large cities, it remains a far cry from crowded, noisy Bangkok or Chiang Mai, a larger city roughly 115 miles to the southwest. Old women still walked the streets of Chiang Rai, selling freshly cut fruit in front of 7-Eleven stores. Bicycle rickshaws moved around town, sharing the road with motor scooters and pickup trucks. Buddhist temples, like Wat Doi Thong on the outskirts of town, possess a humble elegance, decorated with simple hard-carved wood sculpture and painstakingly assembled mosaics.[Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

Despite increasing tourism and development around Chiang Rai, much of the surrounding area remains wild and untouched. Northern Thailand was once a kind of lawless frontier zone of Asia; its population includes not only Thais and members of hill tribes but also a large number of Burmese and Chinese. Many of the latter came as part of Chiang Kai-shek's army, and fled China after the Communist victory in 1949. The mix proved combustible. Until the past decade, in fact, opium trafficking was a major source of income in the region, and drug runners used to settle disputes gangland-style. In the 1980's, the feared Burmese-Thai warlord Khun Sa ruled the world's heroin trade from his jungle headquarters near Chiang Rai. Today the area is relatively placid and law-abiding - Khun Sa's old headquarters is now a museum - but its diversity remains.

Chiang Rai Tourism and Transportation

Tourist Information: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chiang Rai, 448/16 Singhaklai Road, Muang District, Chiang Rai 57000, Tel. +66 5371 7433, +66 5374 4674-5, Fax. +66 5371 7434, E-mail Address: . Accommodation: Chiang Rai town features a decent selection of accommodation, including backpacker lodging near the Mae Kok River, standard Thai-Chinese style hotels scattered throughout town, and more upmarket hotels and resorts located along the riverside and in secluded compounds in the Chiang Rai countryside. As most attractions are accessible via daytrip, the majority of lodging is found in the town, though there are some home stays and other culturally friendly resorts located in and around hill tribe villages and other rural communities. Wangcome Hotel (66-53) 711 800 is a mid-range establishment on Pemavibhat Road in the center of Chiang Rai. Rooms are basic, with satellite television. Rooms start at about $35 per night.

Dusit Island Resort (66-53) 715 777 or , is the most luxurious hotel in Chiang Rai. It is slightly more than a mile from the town center on Kraisorasit Road on a small island in the middle of the Kok River. Rooms are beautifully appointed, and the resort contains a large health club, a modern pool, tennis courts and many other amenities. Rooms range from $72 to $168, including breakfast.

Anantara Resort and Spa (66-32) 520 250 or recently opened in the heart of the Golden Triangle, about an hour north of Chiang Rai. The resort has extensive views into neighboring Laos, and offers a range of activities, including elephant treks, and many spa services. Rooms range from $128 to $320 through April, and $104 to $260 starting in May.

Eating and Shopping in Chiang Rai : Chiang Rai’s night market is filled with food stalls, fruit sellers and handicraft peddlers. There is often music by local bands. Located behind the bus terminal on Ratanaket Road, the night market opens at dusk and features vendors selling everything from freshly grilled fish to spicy Thai salads to freshly cut fruit. Most dishes cost less than $3. Seating is picnic style, on outdoor tables and plastic chairs. There is usually live music.

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “At night, I wandered over to Chiang Rai's famous evening market, a block-long bazaar of cooked food stalls, fresh fruit sellers, and handicraft peddlers. It was arranged in a half circle around a stage where bands played Thai country music, which combines wailing guitars with mournful melodies. Here, at the market, the hill tribes seemed well equipped to survive. Older Akha women, their teeth permanently stained red from chewing betel nut, gave no ground, haggling persistently with European tourists over tribal jewelry they were selling. Finally, the Europeans gave in.[Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

Rattanakosin (66-53) 740-012 is an more upscale restaurant overlooking the night market. It serves northern Thai specialties as well as standard Thai food. Reservations not required. Dinner with Thai beer costs about $10 a person. Open 4pm to midnight. There is an outlet of Cabbages and Condoms, with condoms and sex toys hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant is owned by a charity whose goal is to prevents AIDS by encouraging safe sex. There are a number of Cabbages and Condoms branches in Thailand. Located at (66-53) 740 784, at 620/25 Thanalai Road, Cabbages and Condoms Chiang Rai branch serves northern and central Thai food. Dinner costs $10 to $15 a person. Reservations are not required. Open 9am to midnight.

Many rural communities of Chiang Rai are engaged in either handicrafts production or agriculture. These goods are available both in the far-flung villages where they are produced or grown and in the city itself. While it’s much easier to purchase such goods in town, there is something satisfying in meeting the people who produced your souvenir, and Chiang Rai is an outstanding opportunity for such an experience.

Getting to Chiang Rai

Although a fairly remote province, Chiang Rai is fairly well connected to the rest of Thailand and can be reached via private car, public bus, or airplane. By Air: Thai Airways and AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. For more information, visit or . From Chiang Mai, both Thai Airways and Nok Air have service to Chiang Mai, though Nok offers flights only a few day each week. & .

By Car: From Chiang Mai it’s a three hour drive to Chiang Rai if you follow the fastest route and avoid stopping at attractions along the way. Otherwise there are several routes one can take between the two cities, the most straightforward of which are: 1.Take Highway No.107 north to Route No.109 and then Highway No.1 to Chiang Rai. 2.Travel South to Lampang on Highway No.11 and then follow Highway No.1 North to Chiang Rai. From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), to Highway No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong, and Singburi Provinces. Change over to Highway No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, driving through to Ngao District where a right turn back onto Highway No. 1 will lead through Phayao to Chiang Rai Province. The total distance is 785 km.

By Bus: From Bangkok, there are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take from 9 to 11 hours, though there are overnight sleeper buses available that may make the time seem to pass more quickly. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, air conditioned buses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal for the three hour, 182 kilometer ride. Some buses continue on to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen. By Train: There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. Visitors must take a train to Lampang (9 hrs. from Bangkok) or Chiang Mai (11 hrs.) and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. (2 hrs. from Lampang and 1.30 hrs. from Chiang Mai) For more details, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690 (hotline), 0 2223 7010, or 0 2223 7020.

Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River, linking Chiang Rai Province of Thailand and Ban Houayxay (Huay Xai) in Laos, opened in December 2013. About 480 meters long and about 14.70 meters wide, the bridge is about 10 kilometers from Amphoe Chiang Khong (Chiang Khong District) in Thailand and about 12 kilometers from Ban Houayxay of Laos. The Thais, Laotians, and Chinese have jointly invested about 1,900 million Baht in the budget for this construction project. The share will then be divided in half between the Thailand and China.

Getting Around in Chiang Rai can be done on foot and by tuk-tuk or songthaew, although there are a few taxis if you need some air-conditioning or it happens to be raining. To get into the countryside there are local buses and songtaews between rural towns, though exploring is likely more convenient in a rental car or motorbike. For around 200 to 300 baht per day you can also hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law.

There are car rental agencies such as Budget and Avis in Chiang Rai as well as some more reasonably priced local agencies, including Northern Wheels. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road. If you are concerned, hire a car with a driver for a reasonably priced extra fee.

Sights in Chiang Mai

In the Chiang Rai one can visit hill tribe villages, markets that sell hill tribe jewelry and stuff from Burma and Laos, jungle-topped limestone cliffs, and take jungle walks. Two high forested peaks Doi Mae Salong and Doi Tung lie just a few kilometers north of the town, providing easy access into the local hill country. Of the two Doi Mae Salong is wilder, Doi Tung has been the sight of development projects by the Thai Royal Family.

Wat Phra Kaew is the former home of The Emerald Buddha’s, which according to popular lore was found in 1434 near Chiang Rai. After it was discovered it was covered with gold leaf and plaster and placed inside Wat Phra Kaew. Later, when the Buddha was being moved after the chedi that housed it was damaged in a storm, the image was dropped and its plaster encasing cracked open. Later The Emerlad Buddha was moved to Lampang and then to Bangkok, where it ow rests in the capital’s Wat Phra Kaew. A replica of the Emerlad Buddha made from Canadian jade in 1990 how rest’s in Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Kaew.

Wat Rong Khun is also known as the White Temple. Whereas most temples visited by tourists have a history going back many centuries, this magnificent place of worship was built only recently. It is the realization of a dream for Thailand’s noted artist, Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and supervising the construction of this beautiful white temple and its many statues of figures based on religious beliefs. The construction started in 1998 was expected to be completed in 2008. In addition, there is a gallery nearby exhibiting his paintings. To get there from Chiang Rai, drive north along Asia Highway. Hours Open: 8:00am to 5:00pm.

Museums in Chiang Mai

Museums in Chiang Rai: Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: Chiang Rai has a fine concentration of cultural museums. In the mountains outside the city, near the town of Chiang Saen, a nonprofit group called the Mae Fah Luang Foundation has opened the Hall of Opium, presenting the local history of the poppy, including displays of the most ingenious hiding places for smuggled opium, such as stuffed animals, and exhibits documenting the 5,000-year history of writings about opium. In Chiang Rai city, an elderly antiques collector has opened a small museum dedicated to the Dai, a tribe from which many northern ethnic groups sprang. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

PDA Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center (Thanalai Road) offers an overview of the history and culture of hill tribes in northern Thailand. It has exhibits on traditional dwellings, agricultural tecnqiyes and guides provided exlantion of hill tribe animism. The display of traditional costume includes Lisu multicolored turbans, Hmong silver neck rings and Akha headdresses made of dog fur, bird feathers, beetle wings and silver coins. Location: on 620/25 Thanalai Road, (66-53) 740 088 or Hours Open: Open Monday to Friday 9:00am to 10:00pm; Saturday and Sunday 10:00am to 10:00pm

Kurlantzick wrote: Friends had urged me to see the Population and Development Association museum in Chiang Rai, suggesting that it was the best place to start learning about hill tribes. They were right.... Alberto de la Paz, one of its directors, told me that the group works with communities to preserve elements of the cultures of Akha, Karen, Lisu, Hmong, and other tribes; it collaborates with tribal leaders to ensure that minority languages are taught and festivals survive, and to create accurate presentations at the museum.

I strolled through exhibits on hill-tribe agricultural techniques, models of their simple thatched dwellings, and explanations of traditional animist beliefs. Finally, I came to displays of the striking costumes for which the hill tribes are famous: the Lisu's multicolored turbans, the Hmong's shiny silver neck rings, and the Akha's headdresses, traditionally made of a mélange of dog fur, bird feathers, beetle wings, and silver coins. Each exhibit contained comprehensible English text, a rarity in Southeast Asia. Mr. de la Paz himself specializes in development: the association helps hill tribes with economic projects like coffee plantations so that they can earn cash but do not have to leave their land.

Oub Kham Museum (near Den Ha market, one kilometer from the Chiang Rai town center) houses a collection that includes objects from the areas once belonging to or affiliated with the Lanna kingdoms encompassing northern Thailand and some parts of northeast Myanmar, southwest China and Vietnam. Apart from objects used in rituals the collection mainly consists of objects used at the royal courts including lacquer ware, silver jewelry and clothing. Most notable is a golden bowl, a masterpiece, used by royals. Admission 100 baht for adults. Hours Open: Open everyday from 9:00am to 6:00pm. Tel. 0 5371 3349.

Traveling in the Hill Tribe Areas in Chiang Rai

Although no permits are required to visit to visit most places in the hill tribe areas around Chiang Rai it is advised to get briefed at the Population Development Association’s Hill-tribe Education Center prior to organizing or setting out on a trek to visit hill tribe villages.

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “The next morning, I hired a car and guide and drove north on a well-paved, if winding road. While arid plains and mangrove scrub dominate much of Thailand, the rugged northern landscape is richly varied. High peaks abut narrow limestone cliffs, and as we drove up into the hills along a narrow road, we looked down on farmers working their sodden rice fields with hand plows.

After a long day driving and walking twisty mountain roads in northern Thailand I arrived at Baan Kew Sa Tai, a village that is home to people from the Akha hill tribe, an ethnic minority group that inhabits the region. I had the scrubby town of thatched huts to myself: With no other visitors in sight, I was surrounded by Akha children dressed in traditional multihued leggings, and I struck up conversations about the village with older boys who spoke Thai. I didn't notice a familiar tinkling melody until the sound was very near. The Good Humor man had arrived. He had driven his tiny motorized cart up the winding roads. It was a wise business move: Akha youngsters quickly surrounded him, buying up his stock of Popsicles. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

I shouldn't have been surprised. In recent years, the region has been transformed from a relatively remote, thickly forested region with few paved roads and even fewer visitors, into a center for adventure tourism, primarily hiking trips...[On our trip] We stopped at village morning markets, sprawling, open-air bazaars, full of everything from hand-rolled Burmese cheroot "cigarettes" - the size of a cigar - to Chinese silks to Thai rice. Hill-tribe handicrafts such as Akha silver jewelry and Karen hand-woven sarongs, were on sale for far lower prices than I had seen at shops in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

The lawless era, which kept away tourists and prevented development, had another side benefit: it helped preserve native animals, since their habitat remained largely undisturbed. The guide and I stopped, and I went for a jungle stroll on my own, wandering off the road on a faintly marked footpath. Hordes of toads, whip snakes and geckos scurried alongside me. Directly above, stunning white-throated kingfishers issued sharp, staccato calls.

In the afternoon, I hiked past tiny hill-tribe hamlets. Some villages have remained animist, with altars in each home. Shamans go into trances on special occasions, furiously slapping their thighs while dancing and shaking a rattle, in order to fight off dangerous spirits. Other villages, like Baan Kew Sa Tai, have converted to Christianity, which is spreading in the North. At Baan Kew Sa Tai, adults traded early Christmas presents outside the new village church, and sang hymns.

I stopped for several hours at Baan Kew Sa Tai. The village had seen foreigners before - trekkers wander through, and a Taiwanese Christian group sent missionaries to teach the local people - but it is still remote enough that its people were curious when I showed up. After swarming the Good Humor man, Akha children returned, peering up at me in surprise. Older boys smiled and invited me to try some curry.

Hill Tribe Areas of Chiang Rai

Kok River is one of the most scenic attractions in Chiang Rai. It runs from Thathon in northern Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai City and then flows on to meet the Mekong River at Chiang Khong. From Baan Thathon boats, rafts and treks leave daily venturing into the surrounding mountains where the jungle dips into the river's cool waters. A long-tailed boat can be hired to ferry visitors up and down the river. Stops can be made at Akha or Iko, Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages. Alternatively stops can be made at the Buddha cave, a temple within a cavern; an elephant camp, for trekking; a hot spring; and a riverside Lahu village. Trips range from 300 bahts to 700 bahts ($7-$16), depending on the number of stops made. The ferry pier is beyond the bridge across from the Dusit Island Resort. Kok River Contact: Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Doi Mae Salong (70 kilometers from Chiang Rai) is the site of Santi Khiri village, a community settled by the former renegade Kuomintang 93rd Division who moved from Myanmar to reside on Thai territory in 1961. The village became well known for its enchanting scenery and tranquil atmosphere. Today it is a major tourist attraction with its small-town ambience, delicious native Chinese dishes, small hotels and guesthouses catering to visitors and tea, coffee and fruit tree plantations. Most of the residents are Yunnanese Chinese (know to loclas as “galloping Chinese” because the first arrived on horses. or members of hill tribes. The architecture in town clearly has a Chinese character. The scenery is especially picturesque in December and January when sakuras are in full bloom. Scattered with many hill tribe villages, Doi Mae Salong is ideal for trekking.

Hours, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 53717433. To reach Doi Mae Salong, take the Chiang Rai-Mae Chan route for 29 kilometers, then turn left and proceed for another 41 kilometers (passing a hot spring). The return trip can be taken on routes nos. 1234 and 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hill tribe villages. From Doi Mae Salong a road leads to Tha Thon, the starting point for the Kok River cruise, a distance of 45 kilometers. There are hotels and guesthouses to accommodate tourists and a paved road leading to the village.

Doi Hua Mae Kham (about three hours by road along the Mae Chan-Ban Thoet Thai-Ban Huai In route) is the domicile of the hill tribes near the Thai-Burmese border The road to get there winds along the steep mountain edges. The inhabitants are predominantly Lisu, with a smattering of the Akha, Hmong and Muser tribes. Doi Hua Mae Kham is most spectacular in November when the yellow wild sunflowers are in full bloom. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Doi Tung

Doi Tung (60 kilometers from Chiang Rai, halfway between Mae Chun and Mae Sai) contains a summer palace and garden used by the dowager queen, Princess Sri Nakarindra Borom, who died in July 1995. The Hill Tribes Welfare Development Center in Doi Tung has royal gardens. It was founded by King Bhumibol.

Doi Tung is reached by road that winds through beautiful scenery with many interesting sites including the Doi Tung Palace (Pra Tamnak Doi tung), the Mae Fa Luang Garden and Akha and Muser tribal villages. In addition to scenic lookouts, the most notable attraction is the Phra That Doi Tung Holy Relic, an old religious site atop the mountain. Also located on Doi Tung Mountain is a beautiful royal residence known as Phra Tamnak Doi Tung. The royal villa, situated on the slopes of the adjacent Pa Kluay Reservoir, was to serve as a royal winter retreat for the Princess Mother, who passed away in 1995 and was originally built on the theory that the local hill tribes would be honored by the royal presence and thereby cease their opium cultivation.

The main attraction for visitors to Phra Tamnak Doi Tung is 'Suan Mae Fa Luang', the beautiful landscaped gardens filled with hundreds of different kinds of plants and flowers, named in honor of the Princess Mother and the Doi Tung Development Project established by the late Princess Mother in 1987.
Location and Contact: Mu 7 Tambon Mae Fa Luang, Amphoe Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5376 7015-7. Hours Open: Open everyday from 7.00am to 5:30pm. Getting There: Doi Tung is located in Mae Fa Luang District. It can be reached by taking Highway No.110 for about 48 kilometers and turning left onto Highway No. 1149, an asphalt road leading directly to Doi Tung.

Phu Chi Fa (25 kilometers to the south of Doi Pha Tang in Thoeng District) has a cool climate, producing colorful flowering shrubs and the large meadow on the top provides breathtaking views of Laos. In addition, spectacular scenery can be seen from the sheer cliff of Phu Chi Fa, especially the sea of mist at sunrise. Accommodation: Visitors can stay overnight at Ban Rom Fa Thong and Ban Rom Fa Thai. Hours Open: Open everyday from 05.00 - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Thoeng, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Mae Sai

Mae Sai (near Chiang Rai, along the Myanmar border) is located in the Golden Triangle at the northernmost point of Thailand. Situated across the Sai river from Myanmar, it is a bustling town with crowded shops, lots of banks, flower gardens, and a casino on the banks of the Mekong. From Mae Sai you can cross into Tachileik, Myanmar by paying around $5 and surrendering your passport to immigration officials at the bridge.

Mai Sai does a roaring business in real and fake gems, amphetamines and cheaps goods form China. A Friendship Bridge across the the Sai Riiver leads to Tachileik, a major drug town. The town is filled with dealers and addicts. For a while (and maybe it still is) it was possible to take small jungle paths into places Myanmar where you could buy heroin for $5 a vial and amphetamines for 50 cents a pill.

This area is good place to shop for Burmese jade and rubies and cheap stuff brought in from China and Laos. Hill tribes that live in the area include Akha, Karen, and Lisu. Trekking is a little dangerous however. Opium cultivation was concentrated around here and land mines were laid in some the mountains when the government was battling insurgents in the area.

Tachileik is being upgraded as a tourism gateway to the heart of the Golden Triangle and cross-border trade center for Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and China.. The Friendship Bridge across the small Mae Sai stream links Tachileik with the northern Thai border town of Mae Sai. One can fly direct from Yangon to Tachileik in an hour. There is a ferry-landing site at Wanpon port on the Mekong River at the Myanmar - Laos border, 29 kilometers from Tachileik. The port also handles goods shipments to and from Thailand and China. A one-and-half hour drive away from Tachileik is Mai Pong, where one can enjoy a boat tour of Mekong River.

Chiang Saen

Chiang Saen (60 kilometers from Chiang Rai on the Mekong River across the border from Laos) was once the capital of the Lanna Culture. Overlooking the Mekong River is a historical park with 66 ruined chedi, including a number of impressive structures from the 13th century. The small Chiang Saen National Museum contains Buddha images, stucco work and other objects that show the characteristic Chiang Saen style.

The ancient city was established in 1288 by Prince Saen Ph, the nephew of King Menrai. It is laid out in a rectangle with three walls—facing the north, south and west. The east side faces the Mekong River and has no wall. Wat Chedi Luang was originally built in 1219 and houses the biggest chedi in Chiang Saen, It is bell-shaped with an octagonal base. The main hall and other buildings are in ruins. Wat Pa Sak was built in 1295. The main bell-shaped chedi has five tapered spires and is remarkably well preserved. Three hundred teak trees are planted in the temple compound.

The mountaintop temple, Wat Phra That Doi Tung, commands a wonderful view of the Mekong River and Laos. Several Akha villages are nearby. Six miles north of Chiang Saen is where Burma, Thailand and Laos all come together at the confluence of the Mekong and Sop Ruak rivers. It is regarded as the center of the Golden Triangle and now is something of a tourist trap.

Chiang Saen National Museum (in Chiang Saen) features exhibits and locally-excavated artifacts including a well-known Chiang Saen-style bronze Buddha image and Lanna Thai artifacts. Inscription stones from Phayao and Chiang Saen can be found in the museum. In addition, there are exhibitions of indigenous art objects of the Thai Yai, Thai Lu and other hill tribes. These items include musical instruments, ornaments and opium-smoking accessories. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. On other days it is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5377 7102.

Hall of Opium

Hall of Opium (in Sop Ruak near Chiang Saen, about an hour's drive from Chiang Rai) is a $10 million, three-floor, 5,600-square meter, steel-and-concrete drug museum. Opened in 2003, it features multimedia tableaus, interactive displays and exhibits related to opium, heroin and other drugs. There are sensuround scenes form the Opium Wars and objects such as condoms and teddy bears that have been used to smuggle drugs. In the historical exhibits are details of drug use by the Egyptians, Sumerians and Romans.

Visitors enter through 137-meter-long tunnel with dim lighting, creepy music and images that show the pain and suffering of opium use. There are displays on how the hill tribes grow opium. One tableaux features a mannequin laying on its side with an opium pipe and variety of drug paraphernalia. In the Gallery Victims are photographs of Elvis Presley, Lenny Bruce and Diego Maradona. The final gallery features video testimonies by the families of drug users over the hardships they suffered. Princess Srinagarindra is credited with inspiring the museu Location: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand, Tel: +66 53 784 444 Hours Open: Closed on Mondays and open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00am to 3:30pm. Admission: 200 baht

Pha Yao

Phayao(90 kilometers southeast of Chiang Rai, 140 kilometers northeast of Chiang Mai and 137 kilometers northwest of Nan) is the home of Wat Si Khom Kham, a temple with beautifully carved and gilded wooden facade. Located on Phayao Lake, it houses a monumental 55-foot-high seated Buddha covered with gold leaf. Phayao was surrounded by teak forests. Many of the finest homes in the area are built from teak and furnished with teak furniture. Ban Prathup Jai is the world’s largest teak house. The Thai Lue people that are found here are known for silk- and cotton-weaving.

Phayao province retains its greatly unspoiled natural beauty, featuring both rice growing lowlands and substantial mountains where many hill tribe villages continue to live traditional lifestyles. Phayao town, which is situated beside picturesque Lake Phayao, features ornate gardens and parks. The small city exudes a relaxing vibe, although Chai Kwan Road, which runs along the lakeside, features a respectable variety of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. A reasonable selection of accommodation is also available as the region is popular with Thai visitors from other provinces. Aside from the large lake and a number of charming temples however, there is little to do in Phayao except relax and plan for explorations of the countryside and neighboring provinces.

Thailand’s Second Largest Teak House: Ban Pratubjai (Ban Prathabjai) House in Phrae Province is reputed to be Thailand's second largest teak house. Phrae is particularly well known for its teak forests and the house was built in 1972-1977 by Kitja Chaivannakoopt using teak recycled from nine existing teak houses in Phrae. It includes 130 large teak logs, each over 300 years old, used as house supports. It was opened to the public in 1985 by the family after the death of Kitja Chaivannakoopt. The contains a large collection of golden teak and other furniture and other objects. It is clearly a family house and indeed the wife of Kitja Chaivannakoopt, Lamyong Chaivannakoopt, still comes to the house most days, despite her age, and is quite happy to sit and chat with visitors (in Thai). [Source: Si Racha, Arthurrvr,

Walking from the car park one passes some gardens to the house itself built in the classic Northern Thai style. The first entrance on the left actually takes you to the basement where you can see some of the 130 large teak house supports. Walk further on and up the stairs by the second entrance will take you to the main part of the house. There is one large room full of furniture and other objects. Towards the back and right of the main room there is a doorway into a nice small courtyard with seats and further objects and a few plants. No-one seems to have any objections if one tries out the furniture and the chairs are generally surprisingly comfortable. The house sits in just under 5 acres of grounds and there are other smaller buildings about the place, including a couple of further small souvenir shops, as well as some pleasant gardens. Well worth spending a couple of hours here especially if you like teak.

Tourist Office and Website: 448/16 Singhaklai Road, Muang District, Chiang Rai 57000, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5, 0 5371 7434. Accommodation: Phayao has a variety of accommodation options to suit visitors on any budget. Getting to Phayao: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Phayao is best reached via private car or public bus. However, it is possible to take a plane or train to nearby Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai an then a bus to Phayao. By Bus: Bus companies which operate daily bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Phayao include Transport Co. Ltd (Tel: 0 2936 2852-66, website:; Siam First Tour (Tel: 0 2954 3601); and Sombat Tour (Tel: 0 2936 2495). By Air: There are no regular commercial flights to Phayao. Visitors can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and then transfer to a bus to Phayao.

By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32 and Highway No. 1 to Phayao via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Nakhon Sawan, Tak and Lampang, a total distance of 966 kilometers. For an alternative route, take Highway No. 1 to Amphoe Tak Fa via Saraburi and Lop Buri before turning onto Highway No. 11 to Phrae via Phichit, Phitsanulok, and Uttaradit, and finally proceeding to Phayao along Highways No. 101, No. 103 and No. 1. Otherwise, most visitors arrive in Phayao by driving from neighboring provinces, such as Chiang Rai (90 kilometers ), Chiang Mai (140 kilometers ) and Nan (137 kilometers ).

Phu Langka Forest Park is the only viewpoint spot to admire the sea of fog in Phayao Province, especially at the field of Dok Khlongkhleng - Osbeckia stellata Buch.-Ham. ex Ker Gawl. - which is usually in full bloom during July – December. It is located at Pha Chang Noi Sub-district with a height of 1,700 meters above sea level, covering an area of 7,800 rai. The Yao hilltribe call the summit of the mountain “Fin Cha Bo”, meaning an enshrining venue of angels. Its miracle has been told that on full moon days, there will be a white aura at the summit. The top of the mountain is very narrow and can contain less than 10 persons. Most of the area is hill evergreen forest with plenty of large trees, as well as, wild flowers and rare kinds of plants, such as Wightia speciosissima, Colquhounia elegans, Dendrobium heterocarpum, Impatiens mengtzeana, Paris polyphylla Smith, etc. It is a venue for the study of the original ecological system of the hill evergreen forest and the source of rivers along the nature study route where there are more than 100 species of fauna and a splendid sea of fog. Interesting sites in Phu Langka include Phu Langka Summit, Phu Nom Summit, Dok Khlongkhleng – Indian Rhododendron - Field, Namtok Phu Langka, Lan Hin Lan Pi – a million-year stone terrace, Hin Yaeng Fa, Pa Ko Boran, and legendary traces of the Communist Insurgents in the past.

Tham Luang Cave: The Cave Where the Boys Were Rescued

Tham Luang Cave (near Tachileik, Myanmar and the northernmost point of Thailand, 30 kilometers north of Chiang Rai town) is a karstic cave system in the Tham Luang–Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, near the village of Pong Pha, Its name means 'Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady'. In June 2018, the cave drew international attentions when twelve members of a junior association football team — the Wild Boars — and their assistant coach were discovered deep inside the cave, trapped by monsoonal flooding, A rescue effort succeeded in bringing them out safely about two and half weeks later. One Thai rescue diver died in the attempt.

When the cave reopened in November 2019, drawing some 2,000 tourists, Reuters reported: “Guests are not allowed beyond the entrance for now, where they can peer into the cave opening, but officials said they were considering allowing people deeper inside after surveying the safety of the route.“"We have allowed visitors to see the mouth of the cave," said Kamolchai Kotcha, director of the local conservation office that overseas the cave. [Source: AFP, November 2, 2019]

“Photos from the opening on Friday showed tourists at the site's entry, where last year the boys' bikes and backpacks were found — alerting local police they were likely inside. The Wild Boars went into Tham Luang in June 2018 for a routine hike after a football practice, but became trapped after heavy rains blocked the only route out. Hundreds of people descended on the remote site to help save the boys, who were found — emaciated but alive — on a muddy perch deep inside the cave after nine excruciating days of searching. The boys were sedated and fitted out in full-face breathing masks before being pulled to safety through a hazardous underwater labyrinth. Several books deals about the drama have been inked, and the first film about the rescue premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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