Located in the far north of Thailand, and often in the shadow of its neighbour Chiang Mai when it comes to tourism, the city of Chiang Rai is situated in one the Thailand’s most rural provinces. However, this ‘gateway to the Golden Triangle’ is much more of a laid-back town and has many cultural sites to explore.
Half of the border of the Chiang Rai province is enclosed to the north by the mighty Mekong River, on the other side of which can be found Myanmar and Laos. Steeped in history and very mysterious, this region was once the opium capital of Thailand, but in more recent years this trade has migrated over the border.
Although Chiang Rai is further north than Chiang Mai, it can be reached quite easily via a short, direct flight from Bangkok and is also only 180km from Chiang Mai, making twin centres between these northern neighbours a popular choice. Trekking is one of the most common activities around Chiang Rai, with hikes between 1-4 days available. These often involve trekking with professional guides, typically in the Doi Tung, Doi Mae Salong and Chiang Khong areas and passing traditional hill tribe villages along the way.
As with Chiang Mai, there are many temples to explore too (although there is not quite as much choice). Wat Phra Kaew is a popular choice as it is the city’s most revered Buddhist Temple and also known the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as is Wat Rhon Khun which, at the end of the 20th century, was completely restored by a local Chiang Rai artist.
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