EXPERIENCE
CHIANG RAI

The scent of fried garlic and fish sauce wafts through Chiang Rai’s night market, mixed with a faint smell of sewage. Tables covered with silks and plastic tubs, cheap costume jewellery and printed t-shirts are lit by lanterns and flickering neon tubes. The narrow passages are crowded with people, some of them carrying shopping bags, some of them looking to fill their stomachs. The stalls are a buzzing, sizzling hive of activity, selling skewered meatballs, chopped crispy pork belly, fried fishcakes and sticky rice wrapped in green banana leaves.
Night markets, like coconut trees and elephants, are part of Thailand’s identity and of Thai people’s daily lives. Once the sun goes down at 6 p.m. and temperatures start to drop, people leave their homes to run errands, meet friends and eat. But unlike popular spots like Chiang Mai, Phuket or Koh Samui, you won’t be meeting many tourists in Chiang Rai.

White temples and green forests

With a population of 70,000, Chiang Rai is located at the very northern end of the country near the border to Laos and Myanmar, more than 700 km away from Bangkok, the country’s capital. Far from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, the town moves along at a more relaxed Southeast Asian pace. The air around the golden clocktower is filled with the roar of scooters, humming AC units and the scent of incense sticks coming from the wats, the Buddhist temples. Throngs of people line up every day to see them: Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is famous for its intricate embellishments that equal the beauty of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle. Less opulent, but equally fascinating is the Blue Temple, Wat Rong Sue Ten, with its stunning golden carvings.

The town of Chiang Rai is small enough to be easily explored by bike, but as a true mountain bike enthusiast you’ll find your calling just outside the city gates: acres upon acres of varied terrain in endless shades of green. The green of teak and pine trees covering rolling hills and ragged rock faces; the green of tea plantations and coconut groves; the green of rice fields dotted with farmers wearing straw hats. The Chiang Rai region is the country’s leading producer of rice.

Authentic country life

The dusty red roads that connect the villages see hardly any traffic, and the villages themselves are almost untouched by modern life: laundry can be seen drying outside the traditional local stilt houses while a rooster crows, and every village has at least one rusty Japanese moped parked under the shade provided by the leaves of a banana tree. Many of the ancient Thai hill tribes, like the Karen, Lisu and Lahu, still live in these mountains. If you prefer lower elevations, you can learn about their peoples’ culture at the Hill Tribe Museum in Chiang Rai. If you’re already familiar with Thailand, Chiang Rai is a fascinating glimpse into the past – and if you’re not then it’s the perfect place to start exploring this beautiful country. Just remember: always drive on the left, even when riding your bike.

If you’re already familiar with Thailand, Chiang Rai is a fascinating glimpse into the past – and if you’re not then it’s the perfect place to start exploring this beautiful country. Just remember: always drive on the left, even when riding your bike.

Experience Chiang Rai

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