Like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai was founded by the Lanna king, Mangrai, and indeed pre-dates the former by four years. Situated to the northeast of Chang Mai, sadly however, little now remains of its once-great historical past.


Wat Phra Kaew, was the original resting place of the Emerald Buddha before it began its long journey to the temple which now shares its name in Bangkok. Another important remnant is that of Wat Phra Singh, much of which has been re-constructed, as has a portion of the old city wall.

An often-visited site within the city is the Hill Tribe Museum and indeed much of the tourist activity centred around Chiang Rai is devoted to trekking to the remote villages of the ethnic minorities featured within its walls.

A little way southeast of the city, by the Lao River, Wat Rong Khun, also known as the 'White Temple' is a superbly crafted modern work, the stunning creation of a dedicated local artist, and reinterprets traditional Buddhist themes and modern cultural references within in his fantastically intricate hallucinatory vision.

Just outside the city the Chinese Temple of Huai Pla Kung is dwarfed by the adjacent statues of the goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin.

The main reason for visitors staying or passing through Chiang Rai, however, is to visit the Thai portion of the fabled 'Golden triangle', a descriptive term first used by the CIA to refer to the area surrounding the convergence of Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, once a major source of the world's opium.

Little of the drug is nowadays produced in Thailand, but Myanmar and to a lesser extent Laos are still major contributors, though most opium is now produced in Afghanistan, which has adapted the moniker to 'Golden Crescent'.

The border area is dominated by the Mekong River and the landscape strewn with ancient remains. The small town of Sop Ruak, overlooking the two neighbouring countries, markets itself upon the reputation of the Golden Triangle, and is host to the Hall of Opium museum and its multimedia displays relating to the trade.

Further northeast is the most northerly of Thai towns, Mae Sai, thriving on its diversely ethnic mix of traders doing business across the border. An interesting feature of a visit to Mae Sai is the opportunity to cross the border into Myanmar for the day. The nearby immense cave at Tham Luang is also worthy of a visit.


Due east of Chiang Mai, Nan province offers little in the way of tourist focussed facilities, but does offer excellent walking and cycling routes particularly in the mountainous Doi Phu Kha National Park, whose trails pass through many ethnic minority villages.