Monday, September 30, 2013

36 Hours in Chiang Rai, Thailand

White Temple Buddha
Story and pictures by Prisana Nuechterlein

From eating field rats to discovering a sacred belly button - Chiang Rai offers travelers a taste of authentic Thailand.

Far from Bangkok’s chaotic pulse, Chiang Rai, with its glistening rice fields, quaint city streets and golden spires, promises an escape into the distant past of a bygone era. Upcountry, time has a different quality – it flows sweetly on the banks of the Mae Kok River, where simple pleasures abound and nothing is rushed in its passing. 
A colony for painters, sculptors and ceramic artists, Chiang Rai’s alluring beauty has inspired a number of Thailand's most famous artists including Chalermchai Kositpipat of White Temple fame and visionary Tawan Duchanee (the creator of Chiang Rai's remarkable and equally disturbing Black House). At the core of the city’s artistic soul is a place forever creating itself with a vision of both the traditional and historic past and the more abstract and contemporary present.

Historically, Chiang Rai belonged to the Lanna Kingdom, founded by King Meng Rai in the 13th century. Lanna means 'land of a million rice fields', which aptly describes the emerald plains of this legendary city. Legend has it that King Meng Rai founded the capital city in 1262 when his elephant veered off a trail and took him to a scenic spot on the Mae Kok River, where he saw the military potential of building a town. Thirty-four years later, the King founded Chiang Mai as the new capital, but always regarded Chiang Rai as his most beloved city. After several hundred years of being ruled by Burma, Chiang Rai was finally officially a Siamese province in 1939.

Chiang Rai's much revered statue of King Mengrai

Today, Chiang Rai has arrived into the modern era after a few sleepy decades of thankfully slow progress. Situated about one and a half hour's drive from the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand converge, the city offers a perfect gateway to explore the mighty Mekong and the ethnic hilltribe villages of the region.

The White Temple 


Designed by famous Thai Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the stunning White Temple (053-673-579) is one of the most photographed temples in Thailand. The creator works and lives at the temple and if you are very fortunate, you may get the chance to meet him. He speaks fluent English and is usually surrounded by his friendly entourage and adoring fans. Entry is free and be sure to visit the museum and gallery.

You can easily hire a driver to take you to the temple, located along Phahonyothin roadside at Km816, approximately 13 km from the city or take a public bus from the Chiang Rai bus station for less than $1 (20 baht). To return, flag down a public bus or songthaew (red truck taxi) from the police station on the left side of the road leading back to the main highway. The bus ride is approximately 30 minutes.

Treat yourself to a small snack of coconut ice cream and head back to Chiang Rai for lunch.


There are plenty of noodle vendors serving Kao Soy, Chiang Rai’s famous Burmese style chicken curry and noodle dish, but the most well known vendor is Po Sai located just opposite Wangcome Hotel.  Typically eaten for lunch, the restaurant closes at 6 pm. Kao Soy is served with yellow noodles brimming in a rich milky curry soup and topped off with crispy fried thin noodles. Be sure to add the pickled cabbage, small red onion and lemon slice. An absolute treat and costs only 25 baht which is less than $1!

Flower Blossoms Mae Fah Luang Garden

Known by locals as Thailand’s Switzerland, Doi Tung (‘Flag Mountain') is an alluring mountain-top destination located near picturesque Shan, Akha and Lahu hilltribe villages. Doi Tung was traditionally Thailand's thriving center for opium production until Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, (the late Princess Mother of Thailand), initiated The Doi Tung Development Project in 1988.  Inspired by her son, His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose efforts to end opium cultivation began two decades earlier, the Princess Mother recognized the root cause of the people's struggles was their impoverished lack of options for legitimate livelihoods. By introducing other sustainable crops such as coffee, strawberries, cabbages and macadamia nuts, opium production levels fell significantly and the project was a great success.

Stroll through the vibrant hills of Mae Fah Luang Garden (053-767-0157, adjacent to the Royal Villa in Doi Tung. Inspired by fond memories of her earlier years in Switzerland, the Princess Mother built her last residence – the Doi Tung Royal Villa in the cooler climes of Chiang Rai province. With an impressive collection of over 70 species of different flowering plants, the garden is a blossoming abode to her former European home, with sweeping views of the majestic valleys surrounding the Royal Villa.

Located an hour's drive north of Chiang Rai, The Mae Fah Luang Garden is open daily from 7 am to 5 pm. 

Mae Kok River


Enjoy the view of the Mae Kok river at Favola at Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort (221 / 2 Moo 20 Kwaewai Road, Phone: 053-603-333 Great Italian dishes and excellent service. 

Chivit Thamma Da's two dogs greeting customers.
Saturday 8 am –  CHIVIT THAMMA DA

Ideally located on the bank of the Mae Kok River, this delightful café (081-984-2925179, Moo 2, Rimkok, and spa serves fantastic salads, decked out sandwiches, homemade bread, dreamy desserts and delicious coffee drinks. The price range is around $5 - $15 per dish. After dining you could choose an aroma massage at their spa, however, be prepared to pay a high bill for such luxury.

Wat Phra Sing



Historic Wat Phra Sing (Temple of the Lion Buddha) and was once home to the sacred Lanna-style Buddhist statue Phra Buddha Sihing, before the famous image was moved to a temple in Chiang Mai, bearing the same name. A smaller replica of the revered statue sits in the elaborate ordination hall. The temple was founded in 1385 during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma.

Red Truck Taxi (Songtaew)

The Navel City Pillar of Chiang Rai

Locals refer to the Navel City Pillar as the "belly button" of Chiang Rai, while others have viewed the monument as the heart of Chiang Rai. Constructed in 1987 to commemorate the 60 years birthday of His Majesty the King and the 725 years celebration of the City of Chiang Rai, the pillar stands on top of Doi Chom Thong inside the grounds of Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong.


Doi Chang Fresh Coffee is a great place to unwind, catch up on your emails with free wi-fi, eat lasagna or a Thai dish. It's conveniently located in the center of town at the intersection of Paholyothin and Rattankhet Roads. Look for the Fat Free Bicycle shop (542/2 Baanpa Pragarn Road, T. Wiang, 053-752-532, 089-755-4676) next door where you can rent a bike or opt for a cycle tour after lunch. Contact Khun Chumpoo for details on cycling tours. Everyone in the shop is friendly and knowledgeable and they have a great selection of newer bicycles.

2 pm - WAKE ZONE

If you're looking for something a bit different and enjoy waterskiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing or banana boat rides - check out Planete Wakeboard,  (129 M.5, Huesak Mueang, 053-918-076 Located 15kms from Chiang Rai, the lake is small enough for glassy conditions and food is available at the restaurant.


Few people literally run into their dinner, but if you are extremely fortunate you may come across a tasty field rat. Considered a delicacy up north, Thais are known to catch them and transport them alive on sticks to keep them fresh.

Bon Appetite and Sawasdee!

Blog Quote of the Day:

“But there was more to it than that. As the Amazing Maurice said, it was just a story about people and rats. And the difficult part of it was deciding who the people were, and who were the rats.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents


Village Farang's excellent blog provides a useful map of his favorite places in Chiang Rai:


The Legend Chiang Rai
The Legend Chiang Rai Boutique River Resort & Spa (124/15 Moo 21 Kohloy Rd., 66-53-910-400, is ideally located on the Mae Kok River and only a few minutes drive from the city center. Room rates start at $110 (3,300 baht). The serene and stunning setting and elegantly designed rooms are a winning combination.

Agoda ( has some exceptional deals on hotels throughout Asia.

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