Welcome to Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand is about 785 kilometers north of Bangkok. Situated on the Kok River basin, Chiang Rai covers an area of approximately 11,678 square meters with an average elevation of 580 meters above sea level. The province, which is located within the renowned Golden Triangle area where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge, is also known as the gateway to Myanmar, Laos and Southern China.
Chiang Rai, which was founded in 1262 by King Meng Rai, was the first capital of the Lanna Thai Kingdom (Kingdom of a million rice fields), which was later conquered by Burma. It was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became a Thai territory and was proclaimed a province during the reign of King Rama VI in 1910.
Today, Chiang Rai is a travelers paradise endowed with abundant natural tourist attractions and antiquities; the province itself is evidence of past civilization. Attractions range from magnificent mountain scenery, ruins of ancient settlements, historic sites, Buddhist shrines and ethnic villages as the province is also home to several hill tribes who maintain fascinating lifestyles. For those interested in the natural side of Chiang Rai, jungle trekking is recommended along various trails.
Chiang Rai which tends to be a little more ’laid back’ now competes with Chiang Mai as a tourist attraction and is fast becoming a popular escape for tourists wanting to get away from the troubles they left behind.
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Options in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Although a fairly remote province, Chiang Rai is fairly well connected to the rest of Thailand and can be reached via private car, public bus, or airplane. However, it is also possible to take a train or plane to nearby Chiang Mai an then a three hour bus ride to Chiang Rai. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, but there are standard forms of local transport available for visitors: i.e. songtaews and tuk tuks.
Getting to and from Chiang Rai
There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. Visitors must take a train to Lampang (9 hrs. from Bangkok) or Chiang Mai (11 hrs.) and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. (2 hrs. from Lampang and 1.30 hrs. from Chiang Mai) For more details, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690 (hotline), 0 2223 7010, or 0 2223 7020.
From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), to Highway No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong, and Singburi Provinces. Change over to Highway No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, driving through to Ngao District where a right turn back onto Highway No. 1 will lead through Phayao to Chiang Rai Province. The total distance is 785 km.
From Chiang Mai it’s a three hour drive to Chiang Rai if you follow the fastest route and avoid stopping at attractions along the way. Otherwise there are several routes one can take between the two cities, the most straightforward of which are:
1.Take Highway No.107 north to Route No.109 and then Highway No.1 to Chiang Rai.
2.Travel South to Lampang on Highway No.11 and then follow Highway No.1 North to Chiang Rai.
From Bangkok, there are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take from 9 to 11 hours, though there are overnight sleeper busses available that may make the time seem to pass more quickly.
From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, air conditioned busses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal for the three hour, 182 kilometer ride. Some busses continue on to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen.
Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. For more information, visit www.thaiairways.com or www.airasia.com
From Chiang Mai, both Thai Airways and Nok Air have service to Chiang Mai, though Nok offers flights only a few day each week. www.thaiairways.com & www.nokair.com
Chiang Rai may also be reached from Tha Thon in Chiang Mai province via a scenic 4 to 6 hour long-tail boat ride along the Mae Kok River, depending on water levels, currents, and climatic conditions, such as rain.
Getting Around Chiang Rai
Getting around Chiang Rai town can be done on foot and by tuk-tuk or songthaew, although there are a few taxis if you need some air-conditioning or it happens to be raining.
To get into the countryside there are local busses and songtaews between rural towns, though exploring is likely more convenient in a rental car or motorbike. There are car rental agencies such as Budget and Avis in Chiang Rai as well as some more reasonably priced local agencies, including Northern Wheels. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road. If you are concerned, hire a car with a driver for a reasonably priced extra fee.
For around 200 to 300 baht per day you can also hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law.
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