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Not to be confused with Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a somewhat different destination where diverse attractions, a relaxing environment, captivating scenery, good-value accommodation and tantalizing local food make it a great place to start an exploration of the Northern Thailand region.
Although comparably small in size and often overlooked by mainstream tourists and travellers, the city of Chiang Rai is the centre of commerce for its surrounding province. It is certainly the place for those seeking a reprieve from life’s scurrying demands. The city’s surrounds offer the natural attractions of lush forests, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and remote hill tribes. Here one can visit the historical Golden Triangle intersection, a meeting point between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand and the former centre of the world’s largest opium trade.
To reach the city, flights can be had from most airports in Thailand to Chiang Rai International Airport located 8 km from the centre of the city. Alternatively, driving from Bangkok on the Bangkok Highway or from Chang Mai on Highway 118 will take one through some spectacular scenery.
The abundance of rural landscape is delightful here and villages dotted through the swing of terraced rice fields offer homestay accommodation. Cycling and off road touring is also popular in this area.
Throughout the city, attractions range from ruins of ancient settlements to magnificent Buddha temples including Wat Kong Rhun or ‘White Temple’, an unconventional structure built by Thailand’s famous architect Chalermchai Kositpipat back in 1998. The temple is a bizarre mix of surreal science-fiction art and Thailand traditional architecture where pure white dominates the colour theme. Other noteworthy places to visit include the commanding sweep of the Mae Kok River and the popular hiking grounds of the Phucheefah Mountain. Chiang Rai is also the home of a number of museums and art galleries where much of the area’s artistic repute is on display. One should not miss the opportunity here to take in the local restaurants and the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar where tasty traditional dishes for you and some rather extraordinary items for the adventurous are on offer.
For a different aspect of Thailand, Chang Rai is recommended for its delightful city attributes and its simply beautiful surrounds. This really is an exotic Southeast Asia destination.