Chiang Rai Province – visiting the City and surrounding sites

The last major city before reaching Myanmar

In 2019 my Mum, girlfriend and I embarked on a period of travel in Chiang Rai Province. The drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was fascinating, passing through vast areas of mountains and abundant temples. I first encountered this route in 2018 when travelling to Myanmar via Chiang Rai by bus. Since then, a long stretch of the main Highway 118 has undergone construction, adding to the journey time. After passing through the construction, we stopped at Mae Kachan Hot Springs before reaching Chiang Rai. Our first destination was the amazing Wat Rong Khun where we consumed a lunch of Khao Soi. Below I detail our main excursions whilst visiting the province for two nights.

Mueang Chiang Rai (the City)

My mum captures the Clock Tower ‘light show’.

Mueang Chiang Rai has a northern Thai sense due to the unmissable backdrop of mountains and nature. Likewise, the city is similar to Chiang Mai in that the outer suburbs disperse gradually, but are smaller. We wandered through the night bazaar and several central streets, experiencing the lights of the clock tower and temples. We stayed at the Pan Kled Villa Eco Resort close to the municipality, yet in a serene and natural setting. Our dinner was at Leelawadee restaurant, located beside the river Kok, where we shared some delicious dishes. Appropriately we arrived at the restaurant in time for a magnificent sunset and later on some live music.

Wat Rong Khun

Possibly the most iconic temple I’ve visited since I’ve been travelling around Thailand.

Wat Rong Khun was constructed by Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat, the same designer of the Chiang Rai clock tower (below). We marvelled at the fabulous architecture of the vividly White temple, a moment where I was lost for words. Further, I felt quite spiritual as we explored all of the relics at the temple complex. In the years I’ve lived in Thailand I’ve become accustomed to interesting Buddhist rituals ever present at temples. Wat Rong Khun also contained an art gallery, a hall of Buddhist artifacts and many other fascinating features.

Chiang Rai Province

Doi Tung Mountains

The signpost at the viewpoint showing how close we were to the borders with Myanmar and Laos.

On our first full day we journeyed out to the Doi Tung mountains which consist of 3.5 million coffee trees. En route up the steep roads we stopped at a spectacular viewpoint across the mountain ranges. The proximity of Doi Tung to the neighbouring borderlands of Laos and Myanmar was particularly fascinating. We continued to the Mae Fa Luang Gardens on the slopes below the Doi Tung Royal Villa. Here we examined the immaculately maintained flowers and plants growing among rock formations before visiting Doi Tung Cafe. The coffee at the cafe is grown, harvested and roasted locally and was available to buy amongst other local products. Prior to our onward route we strolled through a market which was selling crafts made by local hill tribe people.

Choui Fong Tea Plantation

The stunning vantage point at the plantation with Doi Mae Salong mountain range in the backdrop.

The journey to Choui Fong Tea Plantation from Doi Tung was an amazingly scenic one through endless mountains and forest. As the driver, I focused on the steep, winding roads but admired the scenery through gaps in the canopies. Choui Fong contains several types of tea plants, for example, Assam, Green, Oolong and Black. The plantation site encompasses 475 acres and is 1000 metres above sea level. In regards to production quantity, the plantation is the largest in Chiang Rai province. Furthermore, you may witness people hand picking the tea leaves ready for blending as we did. You are able to sample and purchase various teas at the Cafe which we participated in doing. Choui Fong was one of many of my highlights on the brief Chiang Rai trip.

Wat Rong Suea Ten

The superb architecture at the colourful Wat Rong Suea Ten was a joy to witness.

We managed to reach Wat Rong Suea Ten, which was high on my priority list, for sunset. Wat Rong Suea Ten is located in the Rimkok district, just outside Chiang Rai municipality. Probably less known than Wat Rong Khun, the temple is unique in that the exterior is adorned in all blue. Likewise, the two white Buddhas inside and outside, were beautiful, the one inside the viharn was also lit up in blue. Suea Ten translates as “dancing tiger” apparently in reference to tigers that used to frequent the river in the vicinity. We arrived as the sun first started to set, wandering around before heading back to our resort for the night. The following morning we began the road trip back to Chiang Mai visiting several coffee growing areas. You can read about these experiences in the post: Coffee growing in the mountains of northern Thailand.