Chiang Rai, the little brother in the north
Everyone that has been to Thailand know Chiang Mai, the big northern city which is adored by tourists, expats and backpackers alike. However, there is a smaller city up north which is called Chiang Rai. Albeit similar in name, it does have some distinct differences compared to Chiang Mai, the city is quite a bit smaller and has more of a Thai authenticity.
First things first, how do you actually get to Chiang Rai. Well that part is actually quite simple, you can go by plane from Bangkok, or if you already happen to be in Chiang Mai, then you can just take a bus or a guided tour. There are many tour organizations that organize a guided day trip to the city and its surrounding, but if you really want to enjoy the beauty of the north the best way is to stay there for a few days. There are many accommodations ranging from simple hostels to luxurious resorts so there will be something to everyone’s liking.
So we now know Chiang Rai is north of Chiang Mai, how we can reach it and where to stay, which is all useful information. But the main questions which begs to be answered is why should you go there. What makes the area worth the exhausting 3-4 hour bus ride you might spend when travelling. Chiang Rai has a rich culture and history, with the city originally being the capital of the Lanna kingdom. Thus having many different kind of temples around offering something unique to the place. The mountains are some of the prettiest in Thailand, showing a beautiful view which will take your breath away. So Chiang Rai might not be a party centre such as Bangkok, but it does give a beautiful peaceful contrast with an almost hippie-like ambiance.
The Contrast between Black and White
Before leaving Chiang Rai, there are some must-see attractions in and around the city. The first and most famous attraction is the Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple as commonly called by foreigners. Wat Rong Khun is different from the conventional temples as it is a contemporary, privately owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. This temple is truly one of a kind and is definitely worth the visit when you are in Chiang Rai.
A contrast to the contemporary White Temple, is The Black House. These two buildings can be seen as complete opposite with the White Temple giving you a peaceful experience with beautiful koi carp swimming around the temple. While the black house is filled with an extensive collection of taxidermy and bones which will definitely make sure that the faint-hearted ones don’t feel at ease. One little funny fact however, the architect of The Black House is the former teacher of the architect of The White Temple.
Chiang Rai, the city itself
Besides the White Temple, there are a few more temples around Chiang Rai, as it is Thailand after all of course. Which means there is never a shortage on them, wherever you are. It is also worth a visit to go into the city itself and get a drink at one of the local bars. As Chiang Rai is not yet filled with backpackers, the bars really have an identical feeling to it. One you can try is Croissant, which fills the air with classic 90s songs. Another one is Peace House, which is more laidback with a great garden to relax.
Last but not least is the Saturday market which is definitely worth a visit. It is relatively similar to other markets around Thailand. Although it is little bit less touristic and you will not be drowning in the shops selling tank tops with the Chang logo on it. Thai music is being played in the background while you walk around, get the possibility to buy some amazing crafts and try some Thai delicacy.
One great place to stay is The Legend Chiang Rai, which offers a great home base in Chiang Rai to explore the city as well as relax at the beautiful resort which offers all the amenities needed when in the quiet and peaceful north.