A few miles north you'll find the multifaceted Myanmar, whilst to the west lie the mountains and the jungle, full of striking colours and natural habitats to explore. Straight ahead, meanwhile, stands the Golden Triangle, a region sadly renowned for the cultivation of opium poppies and trafficking but whose name could easily be a reference to the crossroads of the three countries found here: Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.
This is what Chiang Rai looks like - a far cry from the controversial mix of modernity and rural poverty that is Bangkok. It is somewhat smaller than Chiang Mai but has an almost provincial air of tranquillity, which can't help but win tourists over right away.
The River Kok runs through this city found in the far north of the country, which dates back to the pre-Thai period when the city was founded by King Mengrai in 1262. The original capital of the Lanna reign, it was later overtaken by Chiang Mai. Nowadays, all that remains of its former splendour are a few temples, such as the Wat Phra Sing on Singhakhlai street, and the late Lanna-style Wat Phra Kae, with its bronze Buddha statue. Last but not least, look out along the road leading to Mae Chae for the King Mengrai monument - a site which, according to some of the locals, must be respected by all travellers passing through here.
Make sure you visit the nighttime market, which runs until around 11:00pm. The stalls are laid out along two or three little alleyways and primarily sell art and craft objects created by the tribes who come here to sell their wares, including storage cases, shirts, bracelets, and bags. Goods produced by the Tibeto-Burmese Akha tribe are also commonly found at the stalls here.
The areas surrounding Chiang Rai are primarily mountainous, with some of the peaks in the region, where the tribes live, reaching some 1,500m in altitude. Each of the ethnic groups living here, including the Akhas, the Lisus, the Karens, the Lahus, and the Mnons, has its own dialect. There are plenty of villages within walking distance along the various footpaths where tradition still plays a central role in daily life. The Mae Fa Luang Botanical Garden, a royal project based on the Doi Tung mountain and instigated by the Queen Mother, is also worth a visit. You can admire the various plant and flower species as well as the Arabica coffee fields. Members of the various tribes have been employed in an attempt to demonstrate solidarity in the workplace with the aim of improving the living conditions of the tribespeople.
Surface area : 198195.0 km2
Population : 63525062 inhabitants