Populations have dwelled in Chiang Rai since the 7th century and it became the center of the Lanna Thai Kingdom during the 13th century. The region, rich in natural resources and textiles, was occupied by the Burmese until 1786. Chiang Rai province’s Golden Triangle bordering Laos and Burma was once the hub of opium production which had much influence on cultural practices and lifestyles. Until this day, entire clans live together in bamboo houses and each village has its own individual character.
The province is rich in tourism resources in terms of natural attractions and antiquities, evidence of its past civilisation. It is also home to various hilltribes who follow fascinating ways of life. Chiang Rai is also a tourism gateway into Burma and Laos.
Chiang Rai is Thailand’s most northernmost province and a beauty it really is. It is situated on the Kok River basin well above sea level with an area of some 11,678 square kilometres. It is about 785km from Bangkok. Mostly mountainous, it reaches the Mae Khong River to the north and borders on both Myanmar and Laos.
Popualtions have dwelled in Chiang Rai since the 7th century and it became the center of the Lanna Thai Kingdom during the 13th century. The region, rich in natural resources and textiles, was occupied by the Burmese until 1786. Chiang Rai province’s Golden Triangle bordering Laos and Burma was once the hub of opium production which had much influence on cultural practices and lifestyles. Until this day, entire clans live together in bamboo houses and each village has its own individual character.
Chiang Saen, Mae Chan, and Doi Mae Salong are three substantially different places. Chiang Saen’s rich culture has been influenced by its collection of Buddhist scriptures and temples. It was once the provincial capital. Mae Chan’s name lies in its silver and tribal handicrafts. Once officially unrecognized by the Thai government, Doi Mae Salong is a Chinese KMT (Kuomintang) area renowned for its natural beauty and unique Yunnanese culture. Besides the Chinese 93rd Infantry of the Kuomintang, several other ethnic minorities have settled down in the region including the Tai Yai, Tai Lue, Tai Khoen and Tai Yuan.
Ethnic People / Hill Tribes
Khon Muang are the city folk who originally came from Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang and Phrae. Culturally, they design their houses having only one floor with wooden gable-decorations called Ka-Lae. They are known for their craftsmanship in wood carving, weaving, lacquerware and musical instruments.
Tai Yai, Burmese in origin, harvest rice, farm, raise cattle and trade. Their craftsmanship lies in weaving, pottery, wood carving and bronzeware.
Akha have the largest population of any hill tribe in the region. Originating from Tibet and Southern China, they dwell on high grounds around 1,200 meters above sea-level. Within their villages they build a Spirit Gateway to protect them from evil spirits.
Lahu are also from the Yunnese area and live in high areas. They are known as hunters and planters.
Karen live in various areas of the region which have valleys and riverbanks.
Chin Hor, these are the former Kuomintang who took refuge in the area, mainly Doi Mae Salong
Hmong from southern China are located on high land. They raise livestock and grow rice, corn, tobacco and cabbage. They are also known for their embroidery and silver.
Tai Lue live in dwellings of usually only a single room wooden house built on high poles. They are skilled in weaving.
Lisaw from southern China and Tibet are renowned for their colorful dress and also build their dwellings on high poles. They harvest rice and corn and their men are skilled in hunting.
Yao reside along mountain sides and grow corn and other crops. They are skilled blacksmiths, silversmiths and embroiders.
The nearest train station is in Chiang Mai.
The 12 hour journey from Bangkok can be made on air-conditioned coaches originating from Northern Bus Terminal daily call 0 2936 2852-66, 0 25 76 5599 www.transport.co.th . Private bus operated by Bor Kho Sor Co., Ltd. Call 0 2936 3670, 0 5371 1369, 0 5375 4097/ Chok Rung Tawee Tour call 0 2936 4275-6, 0 5371 4045/ Siam First Tour call 0 2954 3601-4, 0 5371 9064, 0 5371 4386 / Sombut Tour 0 2936 2495, 0 5371 4971, 0 5371 5884
There are services from Chiang Rai bus terminal to various districts in Chiang Rai. Local bus ply nearby provinces, call Chiang Rai bus terminal 0 5371 1224, 0 5371 1154 for details.
Highway No. 1 (Phaholyothin Road) is the main road in Chiang Rai province. It passes through the areas of Phan Mae Lao, Muang, Mae Chan and Mae Sai districts. Along the higway, there are links to other districts in the province, such as roads 108 to Mae Suai, 1126 to Pa Daed, 1233 to Wang Whai and the 1016 to Chaing Saen districts.
From Bangkok drive on highway No.32 to Singburi, then take highway No.11 to Phare and highway No.1103 to Chiang Rai. The route is 829km.
There is a decent enough bus service in the province but in more remote areas, songthaews (public passenger pick-up vehicles) are the norm.
There is also the chance to travel by boat along the Kok River.
Visitors to the province of Chiang Rai can expect to see some splendid mountain and valley views, while being blessed with excellent weather which is much cooler than in the central plains.
Many folk choose to spend some of their time in Chiang Rai visiting fascinating hill tribes such as the Akha, Lisaw, Hmong, Lahu, Karen, Mien and Yao etc Most visitors go with a certified guide but other simply go on their own (have to plan ahead though). It is all right to stay overnight with the villagers. Solo travelers not going with a guide are advised to stay with the village headmen; a small donation is welcome.
Sadly, some Thai "businessmen" impudently exploit hill tribe people to extract money from the tourists. A village just near the road between Mae Sai and Chiang Rai (it is frequented by tourist minibuses returning from Golden Triangle) is actually privately owned, and, while entrance to the village is free, visiting long-neck Karen people there costs 200 baht. Most tourists (and backpackers) have already paid this price in a tour package, thinking that 1000 baht or more for a day trip is "cheap". Needless to say, these poor Burmese (as was explained privately by guide) Karens working there for a tourists get only a tiny fraction of these money - as they home, Burma (Myanmar), is the one of the poorest countries of the world. Be conscious, this is just a tourist trap. It's better to visit a remote, but genuine Karen village, than to help the rich people to make money from the poorest ones.
When trekking off the beaten track and away from hill tribes, it is possible to sleep at any temple, but again a little donation is appreciated.
Amphoe Mae Fa Luang
Doi Hua Mae Kham (ดอยหัวแม่คำ) is the domicile of the hilltribe near the Thai-Burmese border, about three hours by road along the Mae Chan-Ban Thoed Thai-Ban Huai on routes which wind along the steep mountain edge. The inhabitants are predominantly of the Lisu tribe, with a scattering of Akha, Hmong and Lahu. Doi Hua Mae Kham is most scenic in November when the yellow wild sunflowers are in full bloom.
Amphoe Wiang Kaen
Doi Pha Tang (ดอยผาตั้ง), about 160km from the provincial town, is a viewing point on top of a high cliff over the Thai-Laotian border. It affords a delightful scene of the river and a sea of mist throughout the year. During December-January, blooming Sakuras provide picturesque scenery. It is home to the Chinese Haw, the Hmong and Yao minorities. There are a lots of bungalows & tents serve tourists.
Doi Luang National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยหลวง) covers an area in Amphoe Mae Suai, Amphoe Phan, Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao in Chiang Rai, Amphoe Wang Nuea in Lampang and Amphoe Mae Chai, Amphoe Mueang in Phayao. It has an area of 731,250 rai (1,170 million square metres) with a topography of high mountains whose peak is Doi Luang. It contains mixed deciduous forest, evergreen forest and deciduous dipterocarp forest. There are diverse kinds of wildlife and birds. To get there take the Chiang Rai – Phayao route for 58 km. to get to Ban Pu Kaeng. At km 773 turn right and go on for 9 km. to the national park office. One interesting tourist attraction there is Namtok Pu Kaeng, a beautifully big waterfall in Chiang Rai. It has 9 tiers containing lots of stalagmites and stalactites. Camping and forest trekking are available. Please call 0 5360 9042 or contact the office in Bangkok at Tel. 0 2562 0760 or www.dnp.go.th.
Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao
Wiang Ka Long (เวียงกาหลง) is a community about 16km from the district office of Wiang Pa Pao. Here have been found remains of ancient furnaces used to make terra cotta utensils. The furnaces are shaped like turtle shell of various sizes with a width of 2 to 5 meters.
Bo Nam Ron (บ่อน้ำร้อน) is a hot spring located at Tambon Mae Chedi Mai on the Chiang Rai - Chiang Mai road at Km. 64-65. It is found next to a stream. Villagers sell eggs to boil in the hot spring.
Khun Chae National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติขุนแจ) at Tambon Mae Chedi Mai of Wiang Pa Pao district can be reached by taking the Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai route, Highway no. 118. The park headquarters is right next to the highway at Km. 55-56. Visitors wishing to undertake a jungle trek and camp within the park need to have a guide and prepare their own camping equipment. The trek through the Khun Chae jungle is for adventure travel enthusiasts as the route passes through steep terrain and several hilltops and cliffs over 1,400 metres height. There are good viewing points and trekkers can enjoy waterfalls, flowing streams and virgin jungle areas lush with plantlife. Tel: 0 5360 9262, 0 2562 0760 
Hilltribe Museum and Education Center situated in the center of town is aimed at promoting a better understanding of hill tribes and their cultures etc. These are the six major tribes: Akha, Lisaw, Lahu, Karen and Yao and Mien The displays include that of housing styles, tools, utensils and traditional hunting, clothing, giant bamboo, fishing and agricultural equipment. Visitors can also enjoy a half an hour power-point presentation in any main language.
The trekking area in Chiang Rai covers Amphoe Mueang, Amphoe Mae Suai, and the banks along the Mae Kok River. Prices include guide, basic meals, transportation, accommodation, boat, and elephant. Different prices depend on the condition of accommodation, food, vehicle, insurance etc.
Tribal Experiences with Local Tribes
AFECT is the oldest NGO working with Hill Tribes in Thailand and established in 1981. They run 3 day and 5 day Cultural Tribal packages where you spend time learning about the fascinating 2700 year old relationship the tribes have with the Forests. Recommended 
Travel along Kok River (Route: Tha Ton – Chiang Rai)
Tha Ton is a village along the Kok riverside, 24 km. north of Amphoe Fang, Chiang Mai. Attractions along the route: Phra That Sub Fang, many tribal villages near the river and hot spring. Either long-tailed boat or bamboo house rafts with pilot is available for travelling. For more information, please contact Ban Tha Ton Boat Club Tel: 0 5345 9427 or rafting which takes 3 days 2 nights at Thip Travel Tel: 0 5345 9312, Tha Ton Tour Tel: 0 5337 3141. There are 4-5 resorts and guesthouses at Tha Ton and also in Amphoe Fang.
Chiang Rai offers the visitors an ample amount of enjoyable activities and golf is right up there are one of the most popular. New golf courses are being designed, built and opened all the time. Wanna-be golfers can confirm with travel agents opening times, playing rates and how to get to the courses.
Doi Pha Mon Highland Agricultural Extension Office (ศูนย์ส่งเสริมการเกษตรที่สูงดอยผาหม่น) in Amphoe Thoeng located in touch the spectacular scenery ‘Sea of Mist’ & ‘Fantastic Sunrise’ on Phu Chi Fa and the splendid flower bed of ‘Tulips’. This is a place to observe the recycled plantations of ‘temperated climate plant’. Open daily from 08.00-16.30 hrs. Tel: 0 5371 4023 Fax: 0 5371 4024
There are other Agricultural Extension Offices which are also interesting as follow;
Since Chiang Rai has a stunningly scenic mountain landscape with lots of fresh air. It is an ideal place to go mountain biking. Cyclists will love the natural beauty along the trails following the Mekong River including great views of Burma and tropical forests. Contact travel agencies for more details.
Rafting Along the Mae Kok River This 130-km river is well known as one of the most picturesque and cleanest rivers in the whole of Thailand. Rafting can be done along the waterway and visitors can view hilltribe villages situated along the banks. Lush jungles and mountain cliffs create scenic views and a fresh atmosphere.
It takes 3 days and 2 nights to cover the 80-km distance by raft from Tha Ton of Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai town. River trips to and from Chiang Rai by long-tail boats are also organized regularly. The trip takes about 4-5 hrs.
Riding on elephant's back is one of those fantastic activities one should not miss. For more information contact a travel agency.
Events and Festivals
Dok Siao Ban or Blooming Siao Flower Festival at Phu Chi Fa (งานดอกเสี้ยวบานที่ภูชี้ฟ้า) is held during 13-15 February. There are sports competitions and cultural performances from hilltribes at Ban Rom Fa Thai in Amphoe Thoeng.
Buatong Ban or Blooming Mexican Sunflower Festival (งานเทศกาลดอกบัวตองบาน) is held in November. See performances from hilltribes and visit the sunflower field, waterfalls and a sea of mist at Ban Hua Mae Kham, Amphoe Mae Fa Luang. Chiang Rai Flower Festival (งานเทศกาลเชียงรายดอกไม้บาน) This beautiful festival is held during the end of December to January every year. There are colourful flower processions, flower gardens, Miss Thinn Thai Ngarm Contest and also the fair of agricultural products and the variety of indigenous flowers.
Chiang Rai is rich in handicraft items such as hand-woven cotton materials, dresses and hilltribe silver ornaments, as well as wood-carving products. Certain food items are quite popular such as Naem and Mu Yo (preserved and fermented pork sausages). Agricultural products include lychee (April-May), pineapples, tea, and other products from the royal projects.
Amphoe Mae Chan
Amphoe Mae Suai
Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao
Traditional northern food is quite unique and very popular all over Thailand. The staple diet of local people consists of sticky rice (glutinous rice) which is rolled into balls and served in small hand-made bamboo containers.
Typical delicious dishes in the area are khaeng khanoon (spicy jackfruit curry), khaeng yuak (banana palm leaves), sai oo-a (pork sausages) and Yunnese and Burmese rice noodles.
Khantok is a traditional dinner which can be found in several restaurants in the town.
In the meantime, for those not fancying anything Thai, there are plenty of international restaurants with something for everyone’s taste.
Amphoe Mae Chan and Doi Mae Salong
Doi Pha Tang
Phu Chi Fa
Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao
Amphoe Mae Chan
Amphoe Mae Suai
Amphoe Mae Lao
Chiang Rai has three quality hospitals.
--globe-trotter 17:23, 3 February 2010 (EST)