Chang Rai it is the most Thai city close to the border with Laos and Burma and is located in the "golden triangle”(Famous for the opium trafficking in the 60s-70s). The city of Chiang Rai is often "sacrificed" by travelers at the expense of Chang Mai, but it has several noteworthy attractions both in the city and in the surrounding area. On previous trips to Thailand I had not been there and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised.
I was there only one day (and two nights) and I saw the "musts", but if you have more days available it is certainly worth organizing some 1-2 or 3 day treks in the surrounding area.
How to reach Chang Rai
If you decide to reach Chang Rai directly from Bangkok, the fastest way is certainly the plane. The flight lasts 1h and there are plenty of them every day that depart from both Don Muang Airport and Suvarnabhumi International Airport. From this link you can see them all (even buy them directly). The e-ticket then arrives by mail.
The bus is only recommended if you are coming from Chiang Mai or Sukothai. Coming from other destinations, with the same distance, the train is always convenient. Anyway find the timetables and departure stations on this site.
How to get around Chang Rai
To move around the town you can use tuk tuks or taxis, but if you are staying downtown, you won't need those either. Instead, to visit the attractions I am talking about in the next paragraph you will necessarily need a taxi because the distances are not irrelevant. To see them all in about 5 hours I hired a taxi for 1000B (including of course stops in each place). To see the sunset from the tea plantations, just leave Chang Rai around lunchtime. Remember to bring something to cover your arms and legs to enter the temples.
What to see in Chang Rai in 1 day
Wat Rong Khun (Tempio Bianco)
The most photographed place in Chang Rai it is certainly the most sober Wat rong khun, recent work of a contemporary artist (Chalernchai Kositpipat). The artist rediscovered Buddhism after being a monk in 1992 and began building the White Temple in 1997 (it is white to symbolize the purity of the buddha). It is a decidedly trash temple that overall, however, is beautiful and, all in all, fascinating. The temple is located 20 'by car from the center of Chang Rai, towards the south, and to enter you have to pay a ticket (50B).
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)
From the White Temple we return to the center of Chang Rai to visit the Wat Rong Suea Ten, the blue temple. This temple was also recently built and was built on a project by a pupil of the master Chalermchai Kositpipat (the creator of the White Temple). As the name implies, the temple is blue and gold in color, and is quite distinctive. Overall, he too has his own reason (free admission).
Black House Museum (Baam Dam)
From the Blue Temple we move further north and in half an hour we reach the Baam Dam, or Black House Museum. the former residence and studio of the national artist of Chang Rai Thawan Duchanee (entrance 80B). The Museum collects the artist's collection in about 40 buildings arranged in a magnificent garden. Many of the buildings are closed, but the doors are open and you can see the collection. It's a beautiful place (which doesn't look too good in the photos unfortunately), where you could stay for hours! I loved it.
Chuoi Fong tea plantations
With another 40 'of transfer you reach the Chuoi Fong tea plantations (Tea plantation Chuoi Fong, free admission). The landscape is very beautiful, all green and orderly, with the rows of tea plantations organized on terraces. If you have never seen tea plantations, they are absolutely not to be missed! You can walk (and take pictures) among the rows before going up to the restaurant terrace and enjoying the sunset. From here it will then take half an hour to return to Chang Rai.
NOTE on the long neck Karen village (long neck women)
All Chang Rai agencies will try to offer you a visit to this village (or others similar) that are located along the border with Burma. In this village you can find the famous “long-necked women”; you will have to pay 300B each to enter and go around 4 villages with different colors and traditions, even with two “shows” of typical dances and songs. Personally I am opposed to this type of activity that exploits people for tourism purposes, using them as a freak phenomenon with which to take photos and selfies. Of course, everyone is free to do what they want, but please reflect on these aspects when you choose to do some activities.
Where sleeping in Chang Rai
- Le Patta Hotel: magnificent 4-star hotel which is located just behind the night market and the bus station. Modern hotel enclosed around a beautiful swimming pool and with every kind of comfort. If you want to pamper yourself a little (without spending too much) this is the right place.
- Busket Hostel: if you travel low budget the Busket Hostel is perfect. He is also 2 'walk from the bus station, is clean, comfortable and has a nice common space.
Where to eat in Chang Rai
The best place to eat in Chang Rai is the night market. It is located behind the bus station and has lots of food stands where you can buy food (and then sit at one of the many tables in the center). Here you will find every type of typical dish, from pad thai to hot pot, skewers of meat, fish..fruits and desserts. While you eat you can also enjoy the musical entertainment offered on stage, with drag queens and lots of orchestra.