ChiangRai city’s best and most important is the Oub Kham, between the Den Ha fresh produce market and the military hospital (Khai Mengrai Maharat). It’s named for a gold gilt bowl, a masterpiece long the property of royalty, and intended only for their use. On display also are a gold gilt throne from Chiang Tung (now Keng Tung, Shan State, Myanmar) and many pieces of royal Lanna regalia dating to the 15th century. There are processional chairs, peacock fans, a large variety of elaborate costumes and beautiful cloths, wood and bronze statuary, embossed silverwork, betel sets and photos of Shan tattooing. The buildings are Lanna style, situated with a beautiful garden and pavilion. This is absolutely the best place to get a glimpse of the glorious but lost world of Lanna and the extensive ‘Culture of the Region of the Dhamma Letters’ (where a Mon script called Akson Tham or ‘tua muang’ was used in religious texts written on palm leaf, for words in Pali). The owner/operator is Khun Julasak Suriachai; a teacher who believes the beautiful objects of his collection can enrich study of the Lanna culture. Adults B100, children 50. Tel: (053) 713-349.
The Hilltribe Museum and Education Center focuses on the 6 major hilltribes: Karen, Hmong, Akha, Yao/Mien, Lisu and Lahu. Costume styles, housing styles, tools and utensils are available for inspection, and there’s a small book and gifts shop. On Tanalai Road above the Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant, this museum is operated by Population and Community Development Association, perhaps Thailand’s best established and most widespread non-governmental organization. The restaurant offers live music and a choice of outdoor dining, excellent Northern style cuisine, and plenty of very good information. 9 am to 8 p.m. Tel 053-740-088. B50 donation requested.
The Chiang Rai Province Cultural Hall Museum is almost across from the TAT office on Singhaklai Road in a big white building with a large parking lot. There’s a sizeable statue of King Mongut (Rama IV) in front of the main door. No signs in English beckon (nothing in Thai even promotes the museum from outside), but it is here that a child or newcomer could readily learn most about the region. It’s only a small museum, starting with a few prehistoric tools and a couple medieval canons. The costume examples are quite good, as is the write-up of local tribes. There are examples of ancient Lanna literature in the Dhamma script, and some interesting ancient pottery. Screens for watching explanatory videos are placed in the walls, there’s a model of the city, and a display of five main areas of Tai culture. There was a small gift shop in the front, but it seems to be gone from lack of interest (the new “Walking Street” Saturday evenings, on nearby Tanalai Road, offers lots!). Hours are irregular, but the door is usually open during daytime. If not, ask at the office to the right, or upstairs.
Princess Mother ’90 Museum—past the Goh Loi library and the barber school (a very old building inside of which free haircuts are offered!) is a large pavilion dedicated to the memory of the King’s mother. On display are collections of lacquer boxes, wood pulleys, and pottery, but the markers are only in Thai. There are some old handwritten, folded texts with drawings, a good display of weaving equipment, and lots of costumed mannequins. Admission is free.
Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park, just opened a few years ago, just across from Country Home, a housing estate popular with Farang, west of town. There are two lakes, a huge barge, several large Shan style “Haw” and many small ponds. B200 entrance fee. Haw Kam Golden Pavilion is B50; it’s a great 2 story Shan hall full of royal accoutrements collected by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (“Phratep”), with many superb examples of Lanna craftsmanship: seven-armed candelabra, Buddha images, wooden alters, embroidered cloths for wrapping Buddhist scriptures, carved wood screens, swords and monk’s fans. All quite magnificent. Ancient stone markers with Dhamma letter inscriptions kept there before opening are no longer on view. The gardens are as manicured as any golf course, the gift shop handicapped accessible. Botanicals aren’t named, and a semi-open building with grass courtyards, large paintings, antiques and sculpture remains locked.
Haw Shan Art Gallery – out NongBua Road, across from Family Bakery, in a large, dark-wood, Shan-style pavilion. Open for special showings only, but a magnificent building in its own right.
Lanna Museum, at Rong Rian Ban Sang Khong Yai, just southwest of Chiang Rai Hospital at an elementary school, can be opened by request.
The Chiang Rai Cultural Center is just north of the new airport, to the other side of the highway, by Rajapat Teacher’s College. There are impressive gardens there also, by a lake.
The House of Opium is one of the main attractions of the Golden Triangle confluence. Otherwise, there’s the casino out on a Burmese island (deposit of passport necessary), the Lao island Donsao (B20 entry per person, no visa necessary, 6 people in a boat over costs B200; there’s a Lao products market) and the view. The museum’s gift shop doesn’t offer seedless dried opium poppy pods for sale, as have shops past Doi Suthep at Doi Poi, Chiang Mai. Some are on display, though. About everything else is for sale along the sidewalk market outside, along the river, but one needs to bargain quite well to get what a local would consider good prices. The museum, though small, has interesting information on the drug warlord Khun Sa, some opium and opium packages on display, and good collections of weights and pipes. 7am – 7 p.m., B40 (the owner tried opening an interesting jewelry museum next door, but seems to have given that up).
The Chiang Saen National Museum is open 8 to 4 Wednesday to Sunday but closed 12 -1 for lunch; this museum is a must for anyone with a real interest in the area (B40 donation). The town itself is a kind of museum, with over 130 ruins, unusual pagodas and some interesting statues. In the museum are many ancient stone markers carved with ancient Dhamma letters, some yet untranslatable. There are other fascinating stone carvings, as well as a display of very ancient pre-historical findings. The explanatory markers are very good, as is the book selection in the gift-shop. Next door is Wat PaSak (“teak forest”) with a restored brick jedi, and nearby, along the river, one can see many riverboats from China.
The Hilltribe Development and Welfare Project, 12 km from Mae Chan towards Doi Mae Salong, displays tribal-style houses and cultural accoutrements, and every 4th Saturday of a month has a light-and-sound show, first in Thai then in English (B450, tel. 053-779124)
Ban Jalae Hilltribe Life and Culture Center, a project of the Mirror Art Group, has a small museum with a scattering of Musur cultural artifacts, and a slide show about changing Hilltribe life and the three tribes of the area: Lahu, Yao/Mien and Akha. 20 km. northwest of Chiangrai near Huai Mae Sai Waterfall, B20.
On the road to Pattaya Noi is a temple to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Jao Mae Kuan Im, with a large statue of her outside. Kwan Im, or Guanyin, is considered the female Buddha aspect. There’s another temple to her, a Taiwanese one, in the Ban Kheck area.
Da Rul Ahman Mosque, on Thanon Issaraphap a bit behind Haw Nalikah Restaurant), was first built over 100 years ago. Chiang Rai’s first mosque, it’s frequented by Haw Chinese and was recently rebuilt (it now has a minaret). On Thanon Aladin, southeast of the bridge to Mae Sai, is Nu Rul Islam Pakistan Mosque (Kok Thong Soi 19). Its minaret has loudspeakers. Men there wear white with skullcaps, and speak neither Thai nor English. Their neighborhood, north-east of the Mengrai statue and Ha-Yak, is Chiang Rai’s most ethnically diverse; one finds also a Hakka &/or Taiwanese Chinese temple dedicated to vegetarianism and the goddess Quon Im, a small Baptist Church and the Catholic Mission, with Santi Vithaya School and the Church of Mary’s Nativity.
Chiang Rai First Church, its largest, was built in 1914 at PratuSiri corner. It’s Presbyterian.
by Joel John Barlow -Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok’s only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998