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Chiang Rai Travel Information

Chiang Rai is the most northern province of Thailand and covers some 11,678 square kilometers with a population of 1.23 million. The neighboring provinces are Phayao, Lampang and Chiang Mai. In the north it borders Shan State of Myanmar and Bokeo and Oudomxai of Laos.

The average elevation of the province is 580 m. The north of the province belongs to the so-called Golden Triangle, at which the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge - an area which was very unsafe because of the drug smuggling across the borders. The Mekong river forms the boundary with Laos, the Mae Sai River to Myanmar. Through the town Chiang Rai itself flows the Kok River.

While the eastern part of the province is relatively flat river plains, the western part consists of mountainous terrain. While not the highest elevation of the province, the 1322 m high Doi Tung (Flag hill) is the most important hill. The Wat Phra That Doi Tung temple on top of the hill according to the chronicles dates back to the year 911. Nearby is the Doi Tung royal villa, former residence of princess mother Somdej Phra Srinagarindra. Thanks to her activities the hills were reforested, and the hill tribes changed from growing poppy to other crops.

Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Meng Rai and was the first capital of Lanna Thai (Kingdom of a Million Rice fields). Thirty-four years later, he founded Chiang Mai as a capital city and centre of the Lanna Thai Kingdom (circa 1262-1558 A.D). Thus the two towns have had brotherly relations for a long time. The Lanna Thai Kingdom covered the area of Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai, Phayao,Nan and other provinces in the North of Thailand at present. The kingdom became a Burmese colony from 1558 to 1774 A.D.

But finally, King Taksin (1767-1782 A.D.), the king of Siam of the Thonburi period, won it back from the Burmese, and the Lanna Thai Kingdom became a dependency of Siam (former name of Thailand). And Chiang Rai was ruled as a frontier town until 1933 when it became a province of Siam.

Historically, this beautiful and important place has been, unfortunately, almost entirely overlooked. The reasons for this are largely political. Long ago, everywhere, political unity depended on allegiance rather than geographical boundaries. Then Europeans came, bringing new complications. Also, the culture of border areas, as opposed to that of Sukothai, has traditionally been foreign to that of the Central Plains and their coastal outlets. Lanna became neglected, but that it was more essential to the actualization of a Thai Kingdom than shown in history as normally taught will be explained in the following account.

The province of Chiang Rai has all of Thailand's major hill-tribes. Once nomadic, the hill-tribes have been forced by modern pressures into settling. The major groups have distinct costume patterns and styles, for which they're well known. Most also have distinctive artistry styles. Village locations are easily found on many local maps. Ethnic delineation is sometimes problematic, though, as individuals and communities sometimes change their preferred identification. Not only is there inter-marriage, but category recognition differs among different ethnicities and polities, and names are often confused. A group name used here may be meaningless, or insulting, there. Different members of a group may refer to the group differently, because of their (perhaps only slightly) varied circumstance.

The town of Chiang Rai is about 785 km north of Bangkok and is easily accessible from Bangkok on highway no 1 and from Chiang Mai on highway 118. You take Highway No. 1, turn to route No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong and Singburi Provinces and change to route No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, drive through to Ngao District and turn right onto Highway No. 1 which takes you to Phayao and Chiang Rai Provinces. The total distance is 785 km.

The coach ride from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is probably best made overnight since passengers can avail themselves of sleep prior to an early morning arrival. There are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mochit 2 Bus Terminal) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take approximately 9-11 hours.

The town of Chiang Rai is 182 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. Air conditioned buses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal to Chiang Rai. Some buses continue to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen.

The capital may also be reached from Tha Thon in Chiang Mai province by a scenic 4-6 hour (depending on climatic conditions, such as rain, and other factors such as high waters and fast currents) long-tail boat ride along the Mae Kok River.

At this time, Thai Airways Internationals , One to Go Air, Air Asia, Nork Air operates daily flights from Bangkok and other northern Thai cities.

The public transport consists mainly of tuk-tuks and songthaews, 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.

This is a good way to see these parts; there are several trails and a 250cc dirt bike is a great way to see the country side. However be aware that many of the mountain roads are narrow and winding and that Thailand has one of the highest rates of motorcycle accidents in the world. Stay alert.

The north of Thailand is popularly known as a cooler place. The reality is that in the hot summer months, Chiang Rai can be just as uncomfortably hot as much of the rest of the country, if not more so. However, from December to February the nights can be cool enough to require a jacket, so the appellation is not totally undeserved.

The cool season runs from December to March, although there's usually just one week in December when temperatures are actually comfortable. The heat starts to increase soon after the new year and by April or May it can be almost unbearably hot and humid. During the rainy season the downpours can be extremely heavy, but generally only last for an hour or so in the afternoon. 

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