The unique city of Chiang Rai is nestled in the far north of Thailand and gives a fascinating mix of Lanna culture, Burmese influences and the traditional cultures of various hill tribe communities originally from as far away as Yunnan and even Tibet.
Although Chiang Rai was the first Lanna capital, founded in 1262, it’s dramatically different from Chiang Mai as it remained under Burmese domination for over 200 years. The town, some 860kms north of Bangkok and 200kms north of Chiang Mai, is bisected by the MaeKokRiver and borders the notorious Golden Triangle of opium cultivation fame.
Chiang Rai’s hotels make for great bases for exploring this mostly unspoilt agricultural region bounded by the mighty MekongRiver, the Burmese border at Mae Sai and the craggy limestone mountains of Laos and beyond. The scenery here is spectacular, and the Lisu, Karen, Akha and Akha hill tribe villages are well worth a visit. Accommodation in the city varies from budget and mid-range properties, including guesthouses and homestays, to a few luxury resorts including the famous Legend Chiang Rai Boutique Riverside Resort and Spa.
Chiang Rai’s weather is cooler than the weather in the rest of the country, with its winters between November and the end of February seeing average daytime highs of around 25°C. The hot season in March and April sees highs of up to 33°C and rainy season temperatures hover around 30°C, with the months between May and September seeing an average of around 300mm of rain a month, with occasional flooding in remote valley areas. Nights stay warm and pleasant throughout the year, although high altitudes experience cold night-time snaps in winter.
Getting in is via good roads running north from Chiang Mai, where the railway stops, or by air from Bangkok or Chiang Mai to the city’s international airport some eight kilometres from the central area. Chiang Rai has two bus stations, with local buses using the older terminal and air-conditioned luxury buses from Chiang Mai and other large centres using the newly-built station off the superhighway ring road.
Transport within the city is by songthaew (shared taxi), tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) or a small number of metered taxis. If you’re planning on visiting the White Temple, Namtok Khun Forest Park, ancient Chiang Saen, Burma’s Tachilek border town or the Mekong River, car hire is the best answer as the roads are generally good and mostly uncrowded, making driving here straightforward.