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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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Monkey Temple

 

 

Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple, named after the macaques that live there, but also known as Fish Tail Cave due to its fish tail shape, this place is well worth a visit if you are not scared of the dark or enjoy walking into the relative unknown. The initial 200 stone-step climb brings you to the cave, inside which is pitch black but houses a Burmese-style bejeweled Bhudda image. Venture to the other end, to enjoy the amazing view of the lush jungle below which borders Thailand, Myanmar and Laos – The Golden Triangle.

City Tour By Tram

 

City Tour By Tram

Only available between the months of November and January, but well worth a try if you plan to visit at this time, this sightseeing tram is free to ride and runs a fixed route to nine of the popular attractions including the Chiang Rai Cultural Centre, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phra Kaew and the Chiang Rai Clock Tower before completing the loop at the monument. What’s more, you can hop on and off at the point you wish along the route.

 
Chiang Rai Walking Street

 

Chiang Rai Walking Street

If you’re after a few souvenirs to take back home, then there really is no better place than the shopping stalls which line the 1.5km stretch of Thanalai every Saturday evening. In addition to the numerous handicrafts, tribal crafts and clothing stalls, there is also an abundance of street food sellers, food carts and Thai snacks available on every corner. Another highlight includes the live folk music and cultural performances that give the evening a fabulous, festival atmosphere.

 
Hill Tribe Museum

 

 

Hill Tribe Museum

Both a museum showcasing typical clothing for many of the local hill tribe folk and slideshows about these tribes as well as a handicraft centre selling all manner of souvenirs and gifts traditionally found and made in the region, this education centre is a great place to visit before undertaking any hill-tribe treks. It will educate you on the importance of the hill tribes, their history and also provide you with some valuable information on what to expect when you visit these villages.

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