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Located among the hills of Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai is a quieter alternative to busy Chiang Mai, and is a good springboard for hill treks and excursions to the Golden triangle.
Located on the Kok river, the city has an esteemed history dating back to the 13th century when the Lanna Kingdom was at its zenith. The town was the original custodian of the Emerald Buddha, which has an interesting history becoming Thailand’s most Pious Buddhist symbol. Today this diminutive and much revered Buddha lives in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but the original Wat Phra Kaew (c. 1434) temple still exists. Wat Jet Yod and Wat Phra Singh are two other magnificent and highly regarded temples in the town centre.
The centre is easily walkable, with several markets, endless eating options and some good shops containing Northern crafts and woven silk and cotton. Dusit island is also popular.
Quite a few people actually arrive after a two-day ride down the Kok river, alternatively you can take an hour cruise up river in one of the long tail boats.
Treks are a popular activity and usually include an elephant ride, rafting down sedate rivers on bamboo rafts and visits to the curious hill tribe villages of the Karen, Akkha, Lisu, Lahu and Mien, each displaying differing and unique cultures.
Trips to the Golden Triangle and Mekong river are popular and the Burmese border town of Tachilek is a mere hour’s drive away. People typically cross for a few hours to pick up bargains among the many cheap Chinese goods on sale.
The easiest way to reach Chiang Rai is to fly to Chiang Mai on one of the regular daily flights from Bangkok or Singapore and then hire a car. The local buses aren’t terribly comfortable or efficient.