If you find yourself dreaming of a vacation in Northern Thailand, consider the metropolitan city of Chiang Rai. This centrally located capital of the Chiang Rai province provides an excellent home base for exploring the surrounding areas. While it serves well as a home base, it has its own charms worth wandering.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Some of the most iconic and beautiful sights you'll find in Thailand are the temples and local art. The Baan dam Museum, or Black Temple, was created by a Thai artist and includes nearly 40 black houses constructed with wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in various, unique styles and designs. The houses contain collections of paintings, sculptures, animal bones, skins, horns and silver and gold items from all over the world. The artist often gathers inspiration from animal skeletons so if you're an animal lover, you may not want to visit. It can be a bit disturbing.
Then there's the White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun. This modern temple was designed and built in 1998. There are large mural paintings of the Buddha, and beautiful white halls decorated with glittering mirrors. There are halls of reciting prayers, museums and reception pavilions.
Remember, if you're visiting these temples these, you must not forget that these are temples. Cover your shoulders and your knees. Especially in the White Temple, where they still take this very seriously. Show up with your knees exposed, they'll likely hand you a skirt for cover up.
Another temple worth exploring is the Wat Phra Kaeo. This Buddhist temple is most known for its 14th century housing Emerald Buddha. It is one of the most famous images in all of Thailand, and according to legend, the statue was discovered when a bolt of lightning hit a stupa on the grounds. The stupa cracked open and inside was this stunning Buddha. Today, a near exact replica of the Emerald Buddha is on display for all visitors.
Thailand is full of amazing rocks to scale and Chang Rai is no exception. The limestone rocks shoot up miles into the air. There are at least two dozen routes cleared for climbers of every experience level.
For the most marvelous viewpoints in the city, take the old road, Thamon Ratchayotha, for a few kilometers. Take the hill on the left toward the temple at the top to arrive at Buffalo Horn Hill. There's also the views worth seeing from Rice Box Hill, otherwise known as Doi Kong Kao, just west of town.
For a shower like you've never had before, visit the Kun Korn waterfall. Follow a winding road to the end and you've arrived. You can also find the smaller waterfalls in the Mae Sai Hill tribe village, or the larger ones at the Akha Village.
A nice spot to spend a day trekking and relaxing is at Lion Hill Cav. On the west side there's a Buddha Cave and a picnic area, while the east side is home to a three chambered cavern. Each chamber is filled with its own, natural skylight. Visitors can hike through the hills from the south side to the north. This area is home to the country's largest red fig tree. If you happen to be visiting during early summer, have your camera ready to tae photos of its enormous branches covered in beautiful, pink figs.
Food and Dining
There are a lot of good meals to be had in Chiang Rai. A favorite of most tourists is the Night Bazaar. Here you'll find a Western-Thai restaurant, and the night bazaar food court. Both of these are perfect for a night out in Chiang Rai, as there are free music and dance performances every night. With over 50 stalls and a great atmosphere, there are plenty of things to eat, though they may not be authentically Thai. For that, you'll want to peruse the restaurants in town.
The public transportation in Chiang Rai is mostly tuk-tuks and songthaews, with a handful of taxis seen around. Walking the city is completely possible, and recommended, but if you plan on exploring other parts of the province, you'll probably want to go by car. If you're a very experienced driver who's ready to take on unfamiliar environments, feel free to rent your own car. If not, consider hiring a driver for the day.