For city dwellers everywhere, there comes a time when we must give ourselves a break from the noise and pace of the urban environment and escape to a place where we can catch our breath and recharge. This past weekend we did just that, with a long weekend in Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai is a great option for a short trip from Bangkok. The flight is only slightly over an hour, but the city provides a satisfying taste of the Thailand that exists outside of the incredibly modern capital. Chiang Rai is found at the very northern peak of Thailand, very near the spot where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
Although our weekend in Chiang Rai was primarily spent relaxing (i.e. significant time spent laying by the pool and reading magazines), there was plenty to see in and around the city. The city center is spread out over a large area and offers plenty by way of typical Thai casual cafes and outdoor dining.
The region surrounding Chiang Rai is also home to a number of tribes known in Thailand as the hill tribes. The individual hill tribes vary in culture, ethnicity and origin (many crossed into Thailand from neighboring countries), but the city has made an admirable attempt to offer information on the tribes through the Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center.
Run by the nonprofit Population and Community Development Association, the museum is housed on the third floor of a concrete government building. It is only a few rooms and, although a bit haphazard, offers an interesting selection of costumes, tools and information on the tribes. This is also a great place to start if you are interested in taking a day trip to visit a hill tribe (as offered by a number of tour groups in the area). There is some debate over whether or not tourists' visits to the tribes are benefitting the tribes or exploiting them, but the museum offers some information that might help visitors to make an informed decision before signing up for a visit. The museum is very small and can be seen in about 45 minutes.
The somewhat surprising highlight of the trip was the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park. The park is part of the nonprofit organization that exists in honor of the Princes Mother (the mother of the current King of Thailand). In the center of the park is a temple built in her honor that houses a beautiful collection of religious artifacts representing the different regions and styles of Thailand. Below the temple is a collection of intricate carvings which are truly worth taking some time to see. But the breathtaking grounds alone are worth the visit. The plants, carvings, immaculate gardens and traditional Thai Lanna-style structures and artwork are beautifully maintained and presented.
On Saturday nights, several streets in the center of Chiang Rai are filled with a night market offering more handmade goods and street snacks than could ever be explored on one trip. For people looking for an adventure, a number of outfitters in the area also offer trips to hike in the mountains, ride elephants, kayak or do a number of other activities ranging from half day to multiple day trips. It is a great jumping off point for exploring the region.
For more information:
Chiang Rai Hilltribe Museum and Education Center
620/25 Thanalai RD., A. Muang, Chiang Rai
Mae Fah Lung Art and Cultural Park
313 Moo 7 Baan Pa Ngiew, Chiang Rai
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