Chiang Rai is a city in Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai Province. Chiang Rai is the northernmost large city in Thailand. It was established as a capital city in the reign of King Mangrai, in 1262 CE. Chiang Rai lies on the flat alluvial plain of the Mae Kok River, a tributary of the Mekong, between the Daen Lao Range in the north and the Phi Pan Nam Range in the south. The Mae Kok River runs along Chiang Rai’s north side, flowing eastwards out of Burma at Tha Ton town, bending north-eastwards and joining the Mekong River about 40 kilometres (25 mi) north-east of the city. The Lao River, a tributary of the Kok, flows south of Chiang Rai.
The city is 860 kilometres (530 mi) north of Bangkok, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) north-east of Chiang Mai, 62 kilometres (39 mi) south of Mae Sai and the Burmese border; 60 kilometres (37 mi) south-west of the town of Chiang Saen on the Mekong River across from Laos; and 90 kilometres (56 mi) north of Phayao town. The Golden Triangle, the tripoint of the Thailand, Laos and Myanmar borders, is 55 kilometres (34 mi) north-east of the city.
Chiang Rai has a more relaxed and down-to-earth feel in comparison to Chiang Mai, but is never short on historical and cultural attractions of its own.
Wat Rong Khun, or better known as The White Temple is just outside of Chiang Rai. It is probably the most visited location by tourists who come to visit Chiang Rai. The White Temple is privately owned and comprises of a number of buildings in the complex.
Arriving in Chiang Rai
According to official bus schedules, the bus ride to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes. It’s likely you will arrive by road from Chiang Mai, as most tourists visit Chiang Rai as a side trip from their visit to Chiang Mai, which is their base for the region. Although, it is possible to fly into Chiang Rai. Several flights are available to and from Bangkok daily. Mae Fah Luang International Airport flight time is about 1 hour and 30 minutes. There are several major operators including Thai Airways, Air Asia, and Nok Air.
There are currently no rail services to Chiang Rai as the railway line from Bangkok ends at Chiang Mai. There have been talks of extending the rail line from Den Chai to Chiang Rai in the near future, but this is unlikely to happen as the city’s population is well below 1 million and there aren’t as many international tourists visiting Chiang Rai as Chiang Mai.
Getting Around Chiang Rai
Public transport consists mainly of tuk-tuks and songthaews (baht bus), plus a smaller number of taxis. The city itself can be explored on foot, but for trips into the province consider renting a car or a motorbike. Budget and Avis both have offices in Chiang Rai and there are several local agencies. If you don’t feel up to driving in what may be a very different environment, then consider hiring a car with driver. It doesn’t cost much more.
Chiang Rai has a few cyclo-rickshaws, which can be a pleasant way to see the main sights if you want a fairly quick tour.
Staying in Chiang Rai
A total of 334 properties pop up on a hotel search on one of the popular booking sites. Alot less than other cities. Chiang Rai is much smaller than Chiang Mai. There’s 5 star hotels in the area, but most are smaller traditional type hotels. Search close to the centre of town if you want to walk everywhere. The prices are quite low, so you’ll likely end up with a bargain.
The city offers little diversity when it comes to nightlife, entertainment and shopping, and most of these are concentrated in the area around the Clock Tower.
Areas of Chiang Rai
The city is gradually developing its tourist sector, beginning with its own Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and Jazz Festival. The riverside remains mostly undeveloped, albeit with a few luxury hotels along the waterfront. To fully appreciate the beauty of the Mae Kok, it is best to hire a long-tail boat and take in the scenery along the two riverbanks. At the end of the day, Chiang Rai City is all about chilling out and taking it in slowly, savouring each moment as it comes.
How long to stay in Chiang Rai
Many travellers think of Chiang Rai as a peaceful province that has very little going on besides mountain trekking and hill-tribe visits. The city area, in particular, is often dismissed as not worthy for a visit. In fact, Chiang Rai offers a whole lot more in terms of activities. With ecotourism as the main theme, you will find nature a major part of your travel experience here. While Doi Mae Salong and The Golden Triangle are ideal for embarking on overnight treks and home-stays at hill-tribe villages, you don’t really need to go far to experience the area’s adventures. The Mae Kok River is one launching point for a journey to visit hidden waterfalls, hot springs, caves and hill-tribe villages near the city area. You can charter a long-tail boat and customise your own itinerary to include as many attractions as you desire. Then, there are other excursions, such as golfing, wellness spa experiences, cycling, or temple tours by tram.
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