Chiang Rai: The northern most Province of Thailand, about 795 kilometers north of Bangkok, situated on the Kok River basin, covering an area of approximately 11,678 square meters with an average elevation of 570 meters above sea level, the province, located in the renowned Golden Triangle area, an 180 kilometers north of Chiang Mai, there are direct daily flights from Bangkok, Chiang Rai is used as a base for those wishing to explore the Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos converge, a short drive to Mae Sai, Chiang Saen or Mae Salong and it provides the opportunity to visit Thailands neighboring countries.
King Mengrai in 1262 chose Chiang Rai as his new capital to consolidate his conquests in the Lanna kingdom he chose the present day site of Chiang Rai however he wasn’t to remain there for long and as his sights turned southwards, he moved his capital to Chiang Mai, the Burmese occupied Chiang Rai from the 16th to the 18th century and like Chiang Mai it was not until the 20th century that it became part of Thailand, Chiang Rai a travelers paradise, offering a broad range of activities among stunning mountain scenery where exotic hill tribes, historic Buddhist shrines, river adventures and elephant treks number among the major attractions, Wat Doi Tong is on a hilltop to the northwest of the city and provides panoramic views of the valley.
Many hill tribes live around Chiang Rai, Mae Chan, Mae Sai and along the Kok River including Yao, Akha, the Blue and White Maeo, Lisu, Lahu, Lahu Shi, Skaw and Karen, each group speaks its own language, follows animist customs based on a belief in spirits as well as more recently adopted religious beliefs, the Mae Kok River, 130 kilometers long, runs through the heart of Chiang Rai Province, is said to be one of the most beautiful and unspoiled rivers of the world, it flows gently along the jungle banks and towering mountain cliffs, on its route lie several hill tribe settlements, there are many organized rafting trips from Chiang Rai to many interesting destinations along the river, a popular tour is rafting from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai or vice versa.
Chiang Saen, approximately 60 kilometers from Chiang Rai, a small town situated on the banks of the Mekhong River a short distance upstream is the town of Sop Ruak, where the three countries Thailand, Burma and Laos meet, this point is what most people call the Golden Triangle, although the Golden Triangle covers a large area of all three countries, Chiang Saen has an interesting museum and some ancient temples the museum has exhibits from the Lanna and Sukothai periods as well as hilltribe artifacts and is well worth a visit.
Mae Sai is 60 kilometers north of Chiang Rai, is a border town on the Thai side of the Thai-Burmese border, the corresponding town on the Burmese side is called Tachilek the main reason for visiting Mae Sai is for shopping and to glimpse Burmese life by crossing over to Tachilek, you will find mostly gems, jade, textiles, Burmese tapestries, laquerware as well as other handicrafts and Chinese products.
Mae Salong is situated to the north west of Chiang Rai and is a very unique place in Thailand the original population were remnants of the Chinese Kuomintang, who originally fled to Burma but were pushed out of Burma in 1960 the Thais allowed them to settle in Mae Salong which has evolved into a distinctive Chinese settlement in Thailand, you can see traditional Chinese style houses and taste Chinese cuisine, purchase some of the best Chinese tea available plus a range of Chinese herbs, theres a bustling morning market where the hilltribes and Chinese cultures entwine, Mae Salong is a convenient location to tour some of the surrounding hilltribe villages and it makes an interesting overnight stop.