Thailand’s Relaxed Chiang Rai

Northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai offers a more relaxed and chilled destination than neighbouring Chiang Mai…

…although Chiang Rai is also steadily becoming a popular haunt for locals and foreigners.

Chiang Rai, Thailand, SE Asia

In this part 2 of Chiang Rai, I share a few sights with you from a three-month journey through Thailand in 2014. Part 1 – Chilling in Chiang Rai – shares how to get to Chiang Rai from Mae Sot by bus, where to eat and sleep.

Where is Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai, Thailand, SE Asia

Founded in 1262, Mueang Chiang Rai (or just Chiang Rai) is Thailand’s most northern city and is around 839 kilometres from Bangkok.

Chiang Rai is a border city and travellers are using this town more as a stepping stone to cross into Laos. Moreso than the more touristy and expensive Chiang Mai.

Why Chiang Rai?

Sadly, Chiang Rai is the last stop-off after three months of amazing and fascinating overland travel from the south to the north of Thailand, with some challenging volunteering thrown in for good measure.

Thailand: 3 months travel route
The three-month route through Thailand

Finally reaching this almost border town, the next country to explore is Laos, which I haven’t visited since 1989 and readying myself for massive changes.

What to see

Essentially, northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai is a service city for the surrounding province but is also renowned for its hill tribes living in the mountainous terrain, and accessible by trekking.

The city also serves the Golden Triangle border region – Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos – in the past, renowned as a lucrative opium trading hub.

Hiring a bike for a couple of days to see Chiang Rai’s sights although only see snippets. This is due to getting lost on a winding pot-holed almost shell-holed dirt track – luckily all this before the afternoon torrential deluge of rain, which ended in a small bike accident.

White Temple

Somehow missing this temple after avidly looking for the temple in the pouring rain on the bike, see the temple from a distance whilst whizzing by in traffic, which ended in a bike accident – read below.

The temple is around 14-kilometres south of the city and I hear it’s worthwhile visiting, next time.

Khun Korn Waterfall

Riding up to the entrance gate, everything is closed for this waterfall. Mental note to self, many things are closed for the low (wet) season in Thailand.

Khun Korn Waterfall, Chiang Rai, Thailand, SE Asia
Entrance to the Khun Korn Waterfall

Apparently, you can swim here as the water is crystal clear in this picturesque and tranquil setting – another time perhaps…

Khun Korn Waterfall, Chiang Rai, Thailand, SE Asia
Khun Korn Waterfall entrance – shut during the wet season

Singha Park

Travellers rave about this park owned by Singha Beer (Thailand’s signature beer) as the best tourist attraction in the region as animal feeding is offered, a coffee shop, a tea plantation, and free farm shuttle buses.

Riding past this park and stopping only for a few minutes, we didn’t really fancy going in as the park appears to be probably more fun for a family with children.

Bike accident

Unfortunately, on the day of trying to find the ever-illusive White Temple, a little accident on our scooter occurred.

In thunderous torrential rain on the return trip to the resort and right in the middle of the city during peak-hour – traffic-it’s always peak hour in Thailand – the inevitable happens…

The old hand slipped on the accelerator and bang, we accelerated into the back of a utility truck with a loud thud.

Both parties pull over and understandably, the Indian guy is quite annoyed at the mere tiny dent in his car, although our bike shows a little more damage. The front of the metal basket is pushed in and also the bike sustained some scratches – not there on hiring the bike. Visions of dishing out buckets of cash to the hire company flash through my mind, as I have heard that often tourists are ripped off severely when an accident occurs.

After some heated words back and forth then acknowledging we are in the wrong, we apologise. Really, this is all the other driver wanted and then we both continued in different directions on our merry way. I hear that if we were locals, the driver probably would have taken the accident further and claimed on insurance. But, it’s probably much too hard to pursue such a minor issue when foreigners are involved – whew!

Using a little muscle power, the basket is pushed back into its relative original shape and the bike returned without any issues…very lucky on this day.

Day trip to Doi Mae Salong

If you feel like a day’s break or longer from Chiang Rai to somewhere a little quieter and cooler, then Doi Mae Salong (or just Mae Salong) is a great day trip. The catch is to make sure that you have your transport sorted out before you leave Chiang Rai to avoid a lucrative scam.

Mae Salong is a small town with a village feel, with an early history centring on the Golden Triangle’s opium trade.

Akha Tribe, Mae Salong, Thailand, SE Asia
Akha Tribe – our relentless hawker

Today, however, the trade is mostly in tea and not opium. Mae Salong is also home to many of the Akha Hill tribe, which these days make money hawking on the streets.

Check part 1 of Chiang Rai for detailed information on where to eat and stay while visiting this relaxed city, but also how to get to Chiang Rai by bus, if you happen to find yourself in Mae Sot.

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Thailand gallery for more images. More blogs on Thailand.

24 responses to “Thailand’s Relaxed Chiang Rai”

  1. Cat Motors Avatar

    Hi, Nilla! We wrote the travel guide about Mae Salong that you mentioned I don’t know if it’s okay to post links in your comments, but if you find this helpful guide to your readers, we’d love for you to share our link. By the way, we have a free bikes for bloggers. So if you will be traveling in Chiang Mai, feel free to visit us and take a motorcycle for your trip to northern Thailand. Thanks!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Please share my blog site with your readers and I’ll allow your link. 🙂
      Thanks for visiting.

  2. gillmorris Avatar

    Nilla! Your posts on Thialand are fab! I went to Chiang Rai in 2018 and I loved it much more than Chiang Mai. I stayed in a lovely little homestay where I was the only customer for a few days, cycled everywhere, saw the white temple (full of tourists) and visited some caves. I went in June and it was bereft of people – I loved it! xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Gill
      Thank you for the great feedback and happy that you like these posts. Hoping it brings back great memories for you. 😉
      That sounds ideal, no people and no tourists, how unusual. We were there during August so not too busy but starting to ramp up… x

  3. equinoxio21 Avatar

    You really are a true modern times explorer. 🙏🏻 (Kraap!)

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks, but not enough as still too many countries to explore… 😉

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I know, I know… don’t remind me. Right now? If I could, I head back to Siem Reap and spend some time at Angkor… Must be empty. O bliss.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        That would be fabulous…I’d go back just for the fish Amok- delicious! Asia is very affordable for Australians…thinking of going back…

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Fish Amok? Duly noted.
        Asia is affordable. Even Singapore I didn’t find that expensive. And we did travel through Asia for almost a month, the 5 of us plus Baby Grandson. Who got special treatment by all the Asian waitresses because he was curly blonde… 😉
        Need to start making travel plans…

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Think it’s the national dish but don’t get the tourist’s variety (chicken or beef) as traditionally, it’s made with Snake Fish and it’s absolutely delicious.
        Singapore is expensive for us Australians as our dollar isn’t great against any of the major currencies.
        I bet your grandson did but then again, Asians love children, especially blonde curly ones!
        Me too… 😉

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Snake fish? 🤔
        Yes, it was a great discovery, amongst others, that Asian love for children. I really, really enjoyed Asia…

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It’s delicious in Fish Amok – trust me. Even went to a cooking class while in Cambodia and we learnt how to make this dish, but alas, haven’t made it since!
        I always enjoy Asia when I visit although sometimes, things have changed too much and not for the better, as we’ve spoken of before I’m sure.

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I trust you. You are the expert.
        I’m sure Asia has changed. What country hasn’t? But what I saw in 2017 hit me in a favourable way… (Also comparing to Latin America… but that’s another story)

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, I don’t profess to be an expert at anything! 😉
        Very true, most countries change and not always for the best but Asia is still a wonderful destination and also affordable. I hope to return again soon…

      9. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Hopefully the COVID restrictions in Asia will be lifted soon.
        (And you’re right: experts always get it wrong…)

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yeah, it isn’t great over there at the moment but then again, which country is free from COVID or has the virus under control…
        Borders are open, masks are no longer necessary, tests are almost non-existent, and we just wait for the next wave of a new variant – not sure what the answer is…”go now my friend, it’s later than you think…”

      11. equinoxio21 Avatar

        “Il est plus tard que tu ne penses…” That was the title of a play late 50’s, early 60’s… It may be later indeed…
        Be good Nilla.

      12. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Really? I’ve never heard of that play but there you go…
        Oh and had to salvage this comment from the Trash folder. The last couple of weeks have seen your comments go to the correct folder, apart from this stray one!
        Always Brian 😉

      13. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Very popular in the 50’s. A novel, not a play actually by Gilbert Cesbron. All but forgotten now… My parents had many of his books.
        We’re making progress then? 😉

      14. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        When I’m lazing on that deserted island, I’ll make sure that I have at least one of Cesbron’s novels.
        Piano, piano si va lontano 😉

      15. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Andiamo… 😉

      16. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Si, e Vero… 😉

  4. Yetismith Avatar

    Your photographs are stunning. I took a tour through Asia which is special to me. Children’s faces always get to me. I remember some that sparkled and so many more that had what I think of as dead eyes, devoid of happiness. They have to grow up so fast, babies carrying smaller babies around. You must have seen a lot of tough stuff while volunteering.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the kind feedback – made my week!
      I know exactly what you mean and the divide between rich and poor in Thailand (as in many countries) is widening. The stories of how humans treat other humans were horrendous but not surprising, knowing how people were/are treated during wars. No excuse for it but sadly, inflicting pain seems to be human nature for some. Returned to the same organisation for a 3-month volunteering stint again in 2016.
      Take care

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