Often associated with its neighboring and more popular province Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai actually boasts of a wide array of activities for travel enthusiasts of all types. So, no, this lesser-heard-of city is more than just a side trip.
Whether you’re looking for something that will kick your adrenaline up or the kind who just likes to sip a cocktail by the poolside of a posh hotel or villa, this border town, wedged between Laos and Myanmar, has got you covered.
Here are seven reasons why you should make a stop in Chiang Rai on your next visit to Thailand:
- Experience indigenous hospitality at Doi Pha Mee.
Doi Pha Mee, which literally means “Bear Mountain,” is home to a community of hospitable people who still follow the decades-old Akha hill tribe custom and tradition. Here, visitors are allowed to take a peek into the daily lives of the villagers.
They can join the local community in planting fruits and vegetables, picking and roasting homegrown coffee, weaving and embroidering indigenous clothing, and cooking traditional snacks.
There are various homestays within the village for tourists who would like to complete their immersion by staying a night or two in the highlands. For more information about Doi Pha Mee, visit www.localalike.com
- Visit a picturesque oolong tea plantation.
Have you ever wondered how the leaves that they use as a main ingredient in your favorite milk tea are being grown? Chiang Rai is a major producer of oolong tea and some of the plantations here are actually open to visitors. Don’t miss the chance to learn more about growing tea and be prepared to be amazed, too, as these tea plantations can be very pleasing to the eyes. Forget everything except your camera!
- Crack macadamia nuts at Busaw Homestay.
Admit it, not a lot of people you know can claim that they have had the chance to be a “nutcracker.” But aside from the bragging rights, cracking your own macadamia nut and eating it right after it pops out of the shell is more than enough reason to go.
Freshly cracked macadamia nuts taste way better than those that you buy from the grocery. Be warned though: the feeling of cracking a nut open can be addicting so be thankful that hammers have long been obsolete here. They use an actual nutcracker to help you do the job and make it more enjoyable.
- Take a selfie at Wat Rong Khun (White Temple).
Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, is a masterpiece of one of Thailand’s most popular visual artists who goes by the name Chaloemchai Kositpipat. Just like Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Wat Rong Khun’s construction is still in progress to this day. This temple is a clear standout among all the temples in Thailand and other neighboring countries because of, obviously, its white color and the use of pieces of glass which make it sparkle in the sun.
- Enjoy cultural entertainment while having authentic Northern Thailand cuisine.
The Thais have one of the most beautiful cuisines in the world; many of us know that already. Here in Chiang Rai, there is a traditional style of eating known as “Khantoke Dinner,” wherein well-presented dishes are served in large platters at low tables while diners sit on the floor.
While the guests feast on sumptuous servings of meat, vegetables and seafood, they are also treated to a selection of cultural performances like the Thai finger dance, the Thai candle dance and the playing of traditional musical instruments.
Several hotels and restaurants offer Khantoke Dinner in Chiang Rai so there’s no reason for tourists not to enjoy an authentic northern Thai dining experience.
- Pamper yourself with a stay at a luxury villa.
Chiang Rai has accommodation options for all types of travelers. There are backpacker hostels, mid-range hotels and luxurious resorts scattered around the city. If you have the money to spend, an elegant villa with mountain views and a pool right at your doorstep is your best bet. And to truly feel pampered, don’t forget to get a relaxing Thai massage to cap your day.
7. Scream at the top of your lungs with the Akha Swing.
This one’s for the thrill-seekers. Guests get to ride a giant wooden swing back and forth to soaring heights with the picture-perfect view of the Chiang Rai highlands as their backdrop. This practice is an ancient tradition observed annually in Akha villages all over northern Thailand to celebrate a good harvest and honor the women of the tribe.
During the Akha Swing Festival, women get to play dress-up wearing their most beautiful clothes and ornaments as they ride the swing, hoping to meet their potential husbands. Nowadays, tourists can also experience the thrill of this ancient ritual.
Chiang Rai is an hour flight or a 10-hour bus ride from Bangkok. It has an international airport connected to major hubs in Thailand and Southeast Asia.
Been to Chiang Rai before? Share your own lists of reasons why people should go here
By Don Lejano
On the occasion of the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 17 journalists from nine Asean member countries are currently touring Thailand as part of the Asean Travel Journo Camp initiated by the Thai Journalists Association and supported by Thai AirAsia.
For more photos and information, follow the author’s Instagram page @donmeetsworld.