Chiang Rai taught me the serenity and sweetness of simply doing nothing. Here I learned that the journey is also sitting, quiet, meditating, getting lost, admiring the landscape, getting to know and muse.
I feel so good here that Chiang Rai has become my destination for resting and relaxation. Most travelers require a few days to recharge the batteries on the coast; I do it here. Chiang Rai is a bit like my own seaside paradise in the middle of emerald mountains.
Don’t worry; however, this is not a post about my hours contemplating nature and musing 😉
Chiang Rai is very well served by buses of all sizes and years of registration and condition. The bus stations are two, the new one out of town and the historical one close to the Night Bazaar (second stop), and connect the city to the rest of the country. The first time I arrived here from Chiang Mai, in about three hours trip through mountains and emerald forests, encrusted from the golden roofs of the temples (from 200 to 3oo bath according to the company). In 2011, I made a stop here coming back from Laos, leaving from the Thai side of the Mekong. Buses run every two hours from the market of Chiang Khong, meaning that they live right in the middle of the stalls of fruit … (140 baht).
Even if it does not allow you to enjoy the scenery, another option is getting here by plane. The airport is small but very well connected and just minutes away from downtown. As for other destinations, even in this case, the cheapest company is Air Asia; although coming from other cities in Thailand, it will force you to have a connecting flight at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok.
One of the reasons that keep me coming back so often in Chiang Rai is precisely the accommodation. Naga Hill is a place I have, since a very early stage, chosen as home. Just like heaven! It is a small resort on a hill a few kilometers from downtown, with charming romantic bungalows, a lush garden and saltwater pool with views, a great restaurant, and excellent service. No possible sore point or criticism. The bungalows are of three types (800, 1200, or 1800 baht), but my favorite is the small one…
The awakening in the morning it’s always fabulous, with the rays of the sun filtering through the cracks of the bamboo hut… like a charm.
I have always rented a scooter to explore the surroundings and to feel free. The first year I rented one downtown upon my arrival, and during the following holidays, I asked Naga Hill to deal with the rental to find it already there when I arrived. The cost during the last stay in 2013 was around € 9 per day, insurance included.
What to visit in Chiang Rai
Among the many temples in Chiang Rai, the top of my list is, without a doubt, the Wat Phra Kaew and the adjoining museum. The legend tells that during a lightning storm, the temple got broken, revealing the Emerald Buddha, which is now housed in the homonymous temple in the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Oh, actually, it’s jade and not an emerald statue…
However, the most famous temple is Wat Rong Khun, the white temple designed and decorated with white plaster and mirrors by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple incorporates folk traditions, Buddhism, and Hinduism and, to me, has absolutely nothing spiritual. It looks more like a Disney-style theme park than a Buddhist temple, and the endless array of shops and touristy restaurants that surround it do not help. Not far away, there are the falls recommended by the Lonely Planet, but these too disappointed me.
My passion, however, is the Saturday night Walking Street that occupies much of the city center and is always a revelation of various skills, flavors, colors, sounds… chaos that surrounds and twists, but it’s so nice to get lost 🙂 Prices are very low and very affordable compared to other markets in the country, the expanse of craft makes me lose track of time (and available space in the backpack!), and finger food kiosks seem endless. While elsewhere, I often feel that the hygienic conditions could betray me, here I always try everything without fear, and that’s how I found out I love stir-fried crickets!
Even the shows staged here and there along the way are very beautiful and colorful, and massage therapists gathered in the square very valid and cheap.
Nearby Chiang Rai
More than the city, I’m actually in love with its surroundings that offer various views and endless sources of discovery. Hidden village temples, workshops, meditation centers, lakes, mountains, and forests never dull. It’s enough to be willing to get carried away by emotions and curiosity and the days in this region always give surprises and adventure.
Having to choose, however, of all I would recommend these stages, which can be reached not without intermediate stops due to the beauty of the crossed scenery 🙂
- Mae Sai, on the Burmese border. You can get there in about two hours along the highway leading to Myanmar and stopping right at the bridge that serves as a border crossing. The town is a global market, but there are no special items, if not junk, and several fake brands. The antique shops where you find beautiful and valuable pieces are worth a stop by. In these magic caves, I always find new pipes for my collection. Yes, I do collect opium pipes.
- Mae Salong, a small mountain village. The road is winding and sometimes steep (even for a scooter!) but offers special views at every turn. Once there, you will discover a little town that brings together different ethnic groups and different customs. Very picturesque tea plantations as far as the eye can see and a must for me, the green and white tea tasting in the Chinese shops served accompanied by dried larvae. The first time I thought I would pass out, and I put one in my mouth with my eyes closed and preventive grimaced face… in fact, they have the consistency of cocktail biscuits, but they are completely tasteless. You can do it, in fact. Very nice the morning market held by aka women, beautiful in their costumes.
- Hot Springs (sulfur baths at 56°), which can be reached along a beautiful mountain road that at one point turns into a bamboo bridge to be crossed on a motorbike because the road once on the other side is still a long one… long, narrow bridge! I am alive and the regular customers of the spa as well.
I wouldn’t visit a second time…
I leave you with a local legend according to which King Meng Rai was able to capture an escaped elephant right at the foot of the hill Of Tong, and therefore in 1262 decided to found the temple Wat Phra That Doi at the top of that same hill and the walled town of Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The city walls now no longer exist, except for a few meters downtown, but they are not original and are a bit like a punch in the eye…