ChiangRai offers many places for bicycling (there are clubs), mountain or dirt biking, horse riding, rafting, rock climbing and other sports. There are also photo shops with costumes and accoutrements to help supply one with interesting keepsake photographic images, which, either in color or sepia-tone, can be quite grand.
There are many hot springs, waterfalls and caves. The hot-springs are hardly up to international standards, unlike Sankampaeng Hotsprings outside of ChiangMai. Usually there is only free public bathing; nothing one would consider a spa.
Huai Mak Liam Hot Spring and Forest Park is 4 km past Ban Ruam Mit on the other (south) side of the river, past the turn to Akha Hill Guest House. Sometimes at the height of the rainy season the area gets flooded, but it’s usually quite pleasant enough. Just by an almost boiling lake is another, cool, normal one. There’s a mixed water lake for free public bathing, and snack shops. A few kilometers closer to town a newly constructed natural hot-water pool has recently opened, also offering free public bathing.
Ban Poang Phrabaht Hot Spring (Ban Du) is west from Hwy 1 by Ban Kuk (just north of the airport road at k835). Private rooms with showers B20 plus B10 per person, a little more for newer rooms back behind the guyser, which looks a bit like a public shower. The half-hour time limit can be stretched a bit for showering off. There are herbal ointments for sale and towels for rent. Clean enough (at least by Carribbean standards). The water’s so hot it must be mixed with cold.
Pong Nam Rawn (Baw Nam Ron) by Mae Suai, at the tourist trap on Hwy 118 – very sulfurous. 3 cement and stone well-like structures, 2-4 meters wide, with shallow, very hot water. Across the road one can rent small rooms with stone tubs and cold showers, B20.
Many of the area’s caves have become Buddhist shrines, but not all:
Thaam Phra is north across the Kok River from Pattaya Noi (Chiang Rai Beach), take 2st left after the river at Ban Nam Lat, Soi 5. It’s on the right, about a kilometer in, with a Buddha image carved into the stone of the hill. There’s a life-size hermit (Rusi) in a small pavilion, and a big Brahma in another. One climbs stairs to reach the cave, passing one deck or platform and arriving at a second one at the entrance. Inside are marble steps and flooring (wet, especially in rainy season). There is natural light, but also bats. The big plaster or cement Buddha image there must have been formed inside the cave. A third level can be reached from inside the cave; from there is a decent view of countryside. The place has a bit of the feel of a hermitage.
Another 3.5 kilometers further on, around a big hill, is Tu Pu Cave – also referred to as Thaam Pra. It’s right at the riverside. There’s a little lake right below the rock-face. The cave is larger than TuPu but much smaller than Thaam Luang. The cement floor is fairly dry, so one is requested to take off shoes. There are 81 Buddhas, some from King Chulalonghorn (Rama V). An archaeological dig was done at the front left of the cave (going in).
Tham Doi Kong Kao (Rice Box Hill), under Loi Kong Kao, enter across from Monsuanthip Resort, also has shrines in a cave, and a Buddha statue on the top, up over 400 stair steps. Cross back to the Kok River’s south side by the old suspension motorcycle bridge, go by the new prison and a mountain to a “police box” (small police station). Just before it (to the west) is a small lane going north (to the left). From there you can climb up Rice Box Hill (just past Hang Doi, comeing from Den Ha Intersection). On past the Police Box, across from Suanthip Resort, is the entrance to an interesting temple, with cave, several devotional areas, and many nuns, dressed in white. There’s a Rusi pavilion near the cave entrance, at the top of a long flight of steps. It’s a good idea to make sure cave lights are on before entering it (a switch box is to the left at step’s bottom)! There’s a long series of cave rooms, complete with stalagmites and stalactites. At the very back is a reliquary. One area has a marble floor; there’s wet sand and mud, and some bats, too.
A gravel road goes behind the mountain, half of the way parallel to a small stream. This place isn’t tourist oriented, and signs are only in Thai, but people around are usually very friendly to anyone dressed well and acting politely.
Close together, south of Mae Sai, are:
- Thaam Luang – west off Hwy 1 at about K 884.5 (5 km south of Mae Sai). 2.5 kilos in, left from Ban Jong at K882, near the Phra That Jom Nat and Doi Nang Non (Sleeping Lady Mountain). This is the biggest, 7 km long – use good equipment and inform park officials when going to explore!
- Tham Poom – south from Tham Luang at dirt road, or west from Ban Tham Luang (K878) past Ban Pa Sak (U Lo Akha), has a spectacular interior.
- Tham Pla, with freshwater lakes in the cave, and Tham Ku Kaeo, a kilo north of Sleeping Lady Lagoon, 1.8 km off Hwy 1, have a unique jedi in front. Be warned of the many mischievous monkeys and gibbons by the food stalls out front! 13 k south of Mae Sai. Bring a torch (flash-light).
- Nang Non Lagoon and Cave, or Tham Phyanak Cave and Reservoir, has multicolored limestone. A sign 14 km south of Mai Sai (K. 876 or 877) reads “Sao Hin Cave and Lake.” The turn-off is hardtop.
- Pha Mii (Bear Cliff) Cave is nearby, off the road to Doi Tung, by an Akha village.
- Thaam Pha Jom – just west of Mae Sai, with stairs cut in and a meditation center, has colorful stalactites.
The mountains tend to have streams flowing down and these streams tend to have cascades. It would be impossible to list them all. Some have popular public parks, other places are more private. They do provide some of the area’s most pleasant places to visit. Many falls are marked by road signs and shown on maps, but hardly all! Listed here are some of the more interesting ones:
Huai Mae Sai Falls – take Rt. 1207 to Ban Thung Luang, go west on a dirt road past Ban Huai Mae Sai (a Yao village), then an U Lo Akha village and finally a Lahu village where you must avoid a left turn and cross a small bridge, the further side of which is rough road. There are 2 levels; the second being a much higher falls. Trees are marked with names in Thai, there’s a stone pathway and a dirt one just a bit higher up, along which small horses are often led. There are trash receptacles, and there’s sand by the pools.
Poang Prabaht – west off Hwy 1 by Ban Kuk (just north of the airport road at kilo 835), past the hot springs (at the right turning) and to the very end of the road. The falls aren’t high, but the landscaping is quite lovely, there are often many butterflies, and it’s easily accessible. West from Hwy 1 at K835 to road’s end.
Nang Lae Nai W.F. – past of Wat Nang Lae, west across the highway from Mae Fah Luang Univ., in Khao Doi Yao, north of Poang Prabat.
Khun Gon – about 15 km west of town bear right on 1208, follow to the end of paved road (maybe 10 km more). Walk 2k. The 70-meter fall (highest in the province!) produces an incredible spray! There’s a small waterside park a few kilometers below the final car park, and a 2.3-kilometer circular trail. Well cared for, with bamboo bridges and benches, there are restrooms by the parking area.
Huai Kaeo – beyond Pong Nam Ron hot springs and Akha Hill Guest House, due west of town. The pavement leaves off somewhere past the hot springs, toward the guesthouse, but it’s hardly a long or difficult journey.
Pu Kaeng – In Doi Luang National Park. West from Hwy 1 close to the Phayao border, turn at Ban Pukaeng, south of Phan. The largest waterfall in Chiang Rai, with strong current all year round, there’s a 9 stage series of falls; higher ones are inaccessible in the rainy season.
Huai Nam Un – 30 km north of Mae Suai, west past some beautifully terraced fields in a sizeable valley. Due to stream crossings, a 4-wheel drive vehicle or mountain bike is advisable. There is a pleasantly shaded pool beneath the fall.
Huai Mae Yao – Rt. 1207 to Ban Huai Khom (Karen) and Mountain View Guest House brings one to 3 km of dirt road and a kilometer long trail. U Lo Akha and Lahu live in the area.
Lalichi and Huay Mae Kam – at the tip of the northwestern peninsula of the province sticking into Burma – long not readily accessible, there’s a new hard-top sealed road now – a mountainous 100 km drive from Chiang Rai City. Tribal area.
Suan Tai and Mang Gara – west of Ban Wawi and the Moang River, both of these falls are only a few kilos from a Yunnanese village, Ban Lee Wu. The area has only dirt trails, and a local guide is very advisable.
By Joel Barlow