Chiang Rai is a city located in the far north of Thailand along the border near Laos and Myanmar. With a population of only 200,000, Chiang Rai has a very different vibe when compared to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Chiang Rai is a fantastic destination for families traveling around Thailand and Southeast Asia, with temples, hill tribes, markets, restaurants, and more. Here are my top 5 recommendations!
1. Visit The Karen ‘Long Neck’ Village Hill Tribe and Akha Hill Tribe
One of the more memorable experiences from our time in Thailand was visiting hill tribe villages in northern Chiang Rai. We thought these villages would be more natural, but they’re actually more like living museums with tribe members working for tourists. We still learned a great deal and enjoyed our time hearing how the brass rings are a symbol of beauty in the Padaung culture, and that they actually push down on the collarbones to create the long neck illusion.
Many of the hill tribe members are refugees that fled from their native countries, most from Myanmar. While visiting the Akha Hill Tribe, we learned that the Burmese civil war forced around 80,000 tribe members from Burma into Thailand. Tha Akha originated in China and some still speak the Akha language.
2. Visit The White Temple
The most iconic building in Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. This privately owned Buddhist temple belongs to its designer, Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Wat Rong Khun was opened in 1997, and has since become one of the most visited locations in Chiang Rai.
The main hall ubosot building is reached by crossing over the cycle of rebirth bridge. After crossing the bridge, visitors will see the gate leading into heaven. After passing through the gate, visitors enter the main ubosot building. This main building looks like a traditional Thai building at first glance. A closer inspection reveals images with characters from Star Wars, The Matrix, and Terminator!
3. Visit The Black House
After a visit to the White Temple, balance things out with a visit to the Black House. The Black House, or Baan Dam Museum, is a compound of buildings and art collections of Thai artist Thawan Duchanee. Thawan Duchanee lived on the compound until his death in 2014, and his son still lives there with his family.
Thawan Duchanee was a collector of animal hides, horns, and skeletons, and used them extensively in the design of Baan Dam. Thawan Duchanee designed Baan Dam as a portrayal of hell on earth, and has done a great job executing on his idea.
4. Visit The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is the place on the map where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar along the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. The name Golden Triangle was actually coined by the CIA to reference the mountainous region that became an opium producing hot-spot in the 1950’s.
The Golden Triangle is mostly known for opium production, but travelers and shoppers will know that it is also known for crafts. The markets on the border have very affordable Burmese jade, bronze, tapestries, and more. We spent some time looking in the shops and Julia picked a few things out before we were ready to stop for a coffee break.
Our guide showed us a cafe that was actually located within the shopping market and had cabinets of crafts to sell as well. The beans and brew for the cafe came from Doi Chaang, which is a specialty coffee grown in Thailand. Doi Chaang can credit their origins to the royal decree of King Rama 9 that helped farmers swap opium production for coffee.
5. Visit the Night Markets And Explore Town
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is a great way to spend the evening while in Chiang Rai. There are numerous restaurants, food stalls, crafts, clothing, and jewelry available. There is also a stage in the middle with live music. The Night Bazaar isn’t on the same level of the night markets in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, but it’s a great place to spend the evening while in Chiang Rai.