Chiang Rai Province
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Chiang Rai Province is a region in Northern Thailand.
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 northernmost province and a real beauty. It is situated on the Kok River basin well above sea level with an area of some 11,678 square kilometres. It is about 785 km 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.
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Chiang Rai International Airport (IATA: CEI, ICAO: VTCT) is located in the city of Chiang Rai. The airport is located about 8 km from the city centre. Access to the airport is available from an access road linking the airport with Phahonyothin Rd, which leads to the city and towns further north.
Although its name is Chiang Rai International Airport, and even though it has facilities for international flights, it is yet to service any international carriers, but it does handle immigration from Thai flights connecting from international cities (e.g., Melbourne-Bangkok-Chiang Rai).
Chiang Rai is served by AirAsia, Thai AirAsia (Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi), Thai Airways International (Bangkok-Don Mueang, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi), and SGA Airlines (Chiang Mai).
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 +66 2936 2852-66 or +66 2576 5599,.
There are services from Chiang Rai bus terminal to various districts in Chiang Rai. Local buses serve nearby provinces. Call Chiang Rai bus terminal +66 5371 1224, +66 5371 1154 for details.
Highway 1 (Phaholyothin Rd) is the main road in Chiang Rai Province. It passes through the Phan Mae Lao, Muang, Mae Chan, and Mae Sai districts. Branching off of it are roads to other districts in the province, such as Hwy 108 to Mae Suai, Hwy 1126 to Pa Daed, Hwy 1233 to Wang Whai and Hwy 1016 to Chaing Saen districts.
From Bangkok, drive on Hwy 32 to Singburi, then take Hwy 11 to Phare, and Hwy 1103 to Chiang Rai. The route is 829 km in length.
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 1,000 baht or more for a day trip is "cheap". Needless to say, these poor Burmese Karen working there for tourists get only a tiny fraction of this money. Their home, Burma (Myanmar), is the one of the poorest countries of the world. Be conscious that this is just a tourist trap. It's better to visit a remote, but genuine, Karen village than to help already rich people make money off 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.