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What to see in Chiang Rai ? ….Beyond the Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai

Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai

What to see in Chiang Rai ?

Are you thinking about a trip to Chiang Rai? Trying to find out what to see in Chiang Rai ? Thailand’s most northerly province, has been primarily marketed alongside the Golden Triangle, and you’ll see the famous ‘Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Golden + Triangle Day Tours’ advertised just about everywhere, however there is so much more to explore in the beautiful province of Chiang Rai than this ! Most of the travelers we speak to, who have done this trip, say it was a huge disappointment – That it was nothing more than a very commercial tour, with a lot of driving and not much to see.

What to see in Chiang Rai? So much more than the Golden Triangle !

What to see Chiang Rai? So much more than the Golden Triangle !

More than 1 Day

What to see in Chiang Rai? Well, there’s more than 1 Day’s worth. The distance from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle, is approximately 198 Km, and it takes around 3 hours of straight driving on a major highway road to reach there. So you can see, travelling to Chiang Rai in one day,  means you’ll spend the whole day driving, with not time for sightseeing. This  blog post sums up a 1 Day Chiang Rai + Golden Triangle day tour pretty well!


Getting off the ‘Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai’ tourist trail

Most of the Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle tours, will stop at the same tourist  highlights, such as the;

  • White temple (Wat Rong Khun)
  • Black House
  • Mae Sai (Thai/Myanmar border town)
  • Opium house
  • Boat trip to Laos
  • Hot springs

And although Chiang Rai city is the capital of the province, you could easily skip this, as it’s a pretty unremarkable industrial Thai city, besides which, there are other more noteworthy places to spend your time at.

To discover the real magic of Chiang Rai, you’ll need to get off the ‘Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai’ tourist trail and into the heart of the countryside- into the rolling hills and sprawling rice fields, where dirt path lined rustic villages and rural life unfolds. In these rustic hinterlands, you will discover how locals are really living, and also the colourful ethnic minorities (hill tribes) that form part of Chiang Rai’s rich cultural tapestry.

Chiang Rai’s  Ethnic Minority culture

Karen Hilltribe woman and traditional dress

Karen Hilltribe woman and traditional dress

What to see in Chiang Rai? A large part of Chiang Rai’s identity lies in it’s diverse ethnic minority culture. Chiang Rai is home to a wide variety of hill tribes, such as the; Akha, Karen,

Lahu, Lisu and Palong, who migrated from neighbouring Myanmar and Laos.  Each  group has its own unique culture, customs and language. Getting to know these hill tribe groups, and visiting their villages, should be part of any visit to Chiang Rai.  A common village scene is that of young children running around, whilst chickens and pigs roam underneath rickety bamboo houses. Men and women maybe carrying logs or vegetables back from the farm, as grandma is weaving on the terrace. It’s a cultural delight, to simply watch how daily life unfolds in a village.  Although the colourful and eye-catching costumes of the hill tribes, are becoming less common, and increasingly reserved for special occasions such as new year or a wedding, if you’re lucky enough to visit some authentic villages, you can still see some of them (mainly the elders), proudly wearing their beautiful traditional dress.

Chiang Rai’s  Agriculture

Agriculture also plays a key part in this province, and most of the locals are either working as farmers or somehow connected to agriculture – it’s a key part of life in Chiang Rai, and provides an important insight into the locals and their way of life.  From paddy fields to tea plantations, a visit to Chiang Rai should also incorporate a visit to a farm. A wide variety of crops are grown here such as; rice, corn, strawberries, pineapples, tea, coffee,

The everyday scenery in Chiang Rai reflects this –  sprawling fields against a mountain backdrop, discovering these beautiful vistas should also be part of any Chiang Rai itinerary.

Chiang Rai scenery

Typical scenery in Chiang Rai



What’s the best way to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?

There are regular public buses that run from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, but their services usually end in Chiang Rai city. After that, the availability and reliability of public transport for the purposes of exploring the countryside is limited, and especially tricky if you don’t speak the language. So really, the best way is by private car.

Still thinking about ‘What to see in Chiang Rai ?’ ….there’s plenty beyond the Golden Triangle and what the guide books tell you. Why not check out our 4d/3n Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai tour? This has been specially designed to include the best and most authentic parts of Chiang Rai, we start off in Chiang Mai, and make a loop through Chiang Rai province, discovering the culture and local way of life in Chiang Rai. From our years of experience travelling through this region, this route is also the most effective and efficient way to see the province. We do pass the Golden Triangle and other tourist highlights, but after that, we venture further into the countryside with the aim of showing you the real Chiang Rai.

What are your thoughts on ‘What to see in Chiang Rai ?’.  Any hidden gems you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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