If you really want to get off the beaten track and experience northern-style Thai culture then continue about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai and you will arrive in enchanting Chiang Rai. Surrounded by lush jungle and stunning mountains, the city and province are truly beautiful and serene.
Founded in 1262 by King Mangrai the city was taken over by Burma which ruled for hundreds of years. In 1933 Chiang Rai was again declared a province of Thailand. Arriving in Chiang Mai you will see a monument dedicated to the king who founded the Lanna Kingdom.
Today Chiang Mai has a strong Lanna influence which is reflected in the food, temples, artwork, architecture, language and music of the local people. As you explore the area you will begin to recognize the Lanna features.
Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park is a beautiful place where you can learn all about Chiang Mai’s long history and culture. With teak buildings, a lake surrounded by beautiful gardens and an impressive collection of old artifacts it is easy to spend half a day enjoying the rich cultural atmosphere. The city has a number of other museums that hold well-preserved pieces telling stories of the past including pottery, ceramics, costumes and books.
For accommodation you can find everything from super cheap to 5-star luxury. You won’t go hungry either with a range of restaurants serving up traditional Thai food that is fresh, delicious and authentic with some Western options too.
You can see the river best by long tail boat and late afternoon or sunset is a nice time to go before heading to the night bazaar for a spot of shopping.
The Clock Tower was built in 2008 to honor His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and it comes alive every night at 7 pm, 8 pm and 9 pm with a sound and light display. You might recognize the fine design which is by the same artist who created the famous White Temple.
Pay a visit to the Hill Tribes Museum and Education Centre, especially if you plan to take a tour to witness how the hill tribes live. If you educate yourself about the history and traditions of the hill tribes in advance you will get so much more out of the interesting once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Devote a day to temple hopping with the highlights being Wat Klang Wieng, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong. All are stunning examples of Thai Buddhist temples, each uniquely different and fascinating.
Finally you must see the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) near the city center. To see this unusual white temple is the reason many people travel to the province of Chiang Rai in the first place. The privately owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple is the creation of Chalermchai Kositpipat.
You might want to time your visit with the 5-day international balloon festival that is hosted in Chiang Rai every February. It’s a stunning sight to see the sky full of colorful hot air balloons from countries all over the world.
If you want to enjoy nature, experience Lanna culture and relax in true peace and quiet then Chiang Rai will win your heart. It deserves to be on the list of must-visit destinations in Thailand.