Chiang Rai is Thailand’s most northern city, over 740 years old it is located 580 meters above sea level, thus its cool climate. The surrounding area is known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ as the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos join here. Renowned for its mountains and many hill tribes, it is a quiet city, small enough to walk around most of the city sights in one day. It provides an idyllic place for treks through some impressive scenery.
If you are a temple enthusiast then ensure you visit Wat Ngam Muang, 'beautiful city' in Thai, it has a small chedi said to hold the ashes of King Mengrai, who founded Chiang Rai and the Lanna kingdom. There is also a statue of Mengrai and the temple is a popular place where Thai people come to pray; the thousand year old temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Tung is located up on the hillside just outside the city where its golden chedi can be seen when approaching from the north. Part of the charm is the drive up to the temple, as you pass through woodland and Shan, Lahu and Akha tribal villages. The temple is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from Thailand and other countries; it is a steep road to reach Princess Mother Hall and Doi Mae Salong, but the view from the temple is fantastic.
In Mae Salong there is a museum for KMT (soldiers of Chiang Kai Sheck) and you can learn what happened to them after their expulsion from China by Mao Tse Tung and then again from Burma, finally arriving in Thailand where they helped the Thai government in the fight against the Communists; Doi Tung Royal Villa is the last residence of the Princess Mother (mother of the King of Thailand), a blend of Swiss and Lanna architectural styles built on the mountain with spectacular views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Bordering the villa is the Mae Fah Luang Garden, a beautiful garden and memorial hall in honour of the Princess Mother. If you have time then visit the Gate of Siam situated right on the border of Laos, stand high on the mountain and view Laos and the mighty Mekong River.
There is a small night bazaar which you will find in the center of town between the bus station and Phaholyothin Road. There are lots of stalls all along the narrow streets with a selection of goodies, from silk scarves and ready made clothing, tattoo etching, food stalls, souvenirs and traditionally made items to pet rabbits, cats and dogs. The hill tribe people have a unique selection of ancient coins, needlework items and striking quilted bed spreads. There is an open-air restaurant in the same area with dozens more stalls around it that has demonstrations of classical music and dance performances. Not really a typical tourist attraction, but an interesting place to see where the locals shop is the central market near Wat Phra Singh; pick up some spices, dried chilies, local fresh fruits or vegetables, dry goods or cheap clothes.