From Chiang Rai to the Mekong River
Day one: Exploring the diversity of Chiang Rai
Total distance today appr. 30 km, driving time about 1 hour
Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple
Your guide and driver will meet you at your hotel at 0800 for your tour “From Chiang Rai to the Mekong River”. Our first visit will be to the Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple, about 10kms from Chiang Rai. Local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat created Wat Rong Khun, which has become the most popular attraction of Chiang Rai. We will spend some time admiring this remarkable structure. Chalermchai is also an amazing painter. His works are exhibited in a museum on the compound. After this visit, we will return to Chiang Rai and head for the statue of King Mangrai, the founder of Chiang Rai.
Explore Chiang Rai by Samlor
At the monument of Mangrai, our bicycle taxis are waiting for us. We will make a relaxing ride by bicycle taxi through the streets of Chiang Rai. We pass the beautiful old City Hall, which dates back to 1899. Almost next is the Wat Phra Singh, one of the oldest temples of Chiang Rai. We continue our samlor tour, passing through a street with magnificent rain trees.
Next is the Wat Phra Kaew, which is, without a doubt, Chiang Rai’s most famous temple. It once housed the famous Emerald Buddha image, which is now in Bangkok. We visit the museum and the main temple before continuing to the Kad Luang, Thai for the “big market.” We take our time to chat with the vendors and taste some of the local delicacies made in front of us. Our tour ends at one of our favorite Khao Soi restaurants, close to the spectacular clock tower.
The Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
After our lunch, we continue is the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park. This Park houses the largest collection of art items and teak artifacts from the Lanna and the Tai culture. The Tai culture also includes the Tai minorities in North Thailand, such as the Tai Lue people, who also live in China’s southwestern region of Yunnan, eastern Myanmar or the Shan States, northwestern Vietnam, and western Laos. The Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park is part of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage. This extensive park houses beautiful, traditional Lanna-style buildings like the Haw Kham (The Golden Pavillion) and Haw Kaew.
Wat Rong Suea Ten, the Blue Temple
We started with the White Temple and end with the Blue Temple. Wat Rong Suea Ten is the real name of this temple. The Blue Temple is stunning and attracts a growing number of visitors. Please note the beautiful statue of one of the most revered monks in North Thailand: Phra Upakhut. Not far from the Blue temple is the imposing Wat Huay Pla Kang. The statue is not a Buddha statue but an image of Kuan Im, aka Guan Yin, the goddess of compassion. An elevator in the statue will take you to a floor with a nice view of Chiang Rai and the surroundings.
It is time to return to the hotel. Your guide and driver will drop you off at the hotel.
Overnight at the Suknirand Hotel
Day 2 – From Chiang Rai to the Mekong River
Total distance today appr. 80 km, driving time about 2 hours
Wiang Preuksa aka Little Chiang Saen
Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel after breakfast. Our destination is Chiang Saen, which is according to us, the forgotten World Heritage Site. It is one of the oldest settlements in North Thailand, right on the Mekong River. We will drive along a beautiful road with rice fields. Our first stop will be Wat That Khong, the first monument of Chiang Saen Noi, aka Wiang Preuksa. This settlement predates Old Chiang Saen, but most ruins are from the 14th century or later. A bit further is a more extensive ruined complex called Wat That Kieo. It has a beautiful, quite well-preserved brick temple tower (chedi). Not far from here is the Wat Song Pee Nong, the temple of two brothers. This is the most impressive remains of Wiang Preuksa, located beautifully right on the Mighty Mekong River. On the other side of the river is Laos.
Wonderful Wat Phra That Pha Ngao
After Wiang Preuksa, we will visit Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, one of the most interesting temples in North Thailand. There are some unique buildings on this temple compound. The temple houses two small museums, a local and a textile museum, a building that houses containers of Buddha scriptures, an ancient broken Buddha statue with an interesting story, and a recently built temple tower on a hill. You have an amazing of the Mekong River, the Golden Triangle, and Laos from this hill. We take our time at Wat Phra That Pha Ngao.
Lunch on the Mekong River
From Wat Pha That Pha Ngao, it is only a short drive to Chiang Saen. We will have lunch on the Mekong River at one of our favorite restaurants. After lunch, we will drive to the “geographical” Golden Triangle, the spot where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. Here we will stop briefly before we continue to the Hall of Opium, an excellent museum that informs about the history of the use of opiates and the drug trade in this region. Most people spend considerable time in this museum, sometimes up to two hours. We have reserved most of the afternoon reserved for the visit to one of the best museums in Thailand. After this visit, we will return to the Golden Triangle.
Wat Phra That Phu Khao offers the best view of the Golden Triangle
Next is another temple that offers great views of the Golden Triangle and the Mekong River. You can either walk the Naga staircase up the temple or we can drive you up. At the viewpoint, there is a recently constructed walking Buddha statue. We can walk down to a lower level where one of the oldest temple ruins of Chiang Rai province is located. After this, we descend to the main assembly hall, constructed from sandstone, and an ancient Buddha statue. In the twilight, we board a small local speedboat, that will take us to Chiang Saen. We disembark at our accommodation for tonight.
Overnight at Gin’s Mekong View Resort and Spa or similar
Day 3 Chiang Saen, the Forgotten World Heritage Site
Total distance today appr. 20 km, driving time about 30 minutes
An abandoned “mini Angkor”
It is the third day of your tour “From Chiang Rai to the Mekong River”. Chiang Saen is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Thailand. Phaya (King) Saenphu founded Chiang Saen around the year 1328. It became one of the most important political and religious cities in North Thailand. In the second half of the 16th century, Chiang Saen became part of a Burmese empire and was a Burmese outpost for centuries. Siamese forces conquered Chiang Saen in 1804, drove the Burmese out, and resettled the population in Chiang Mai, Lampang, and other towns in the north. Chiang Saen became an abandoned ruined city, that was taken over by the jungle where tigers roamed at will.
Relaxed bicycle ride
We drive the short distance to the bicycle shop where we get our bicycles. It is an easy ride with many stops. The ideal place to start is the Chiang Saen National Museum and Wat Chedi Luang. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday unfortunately but on other days this small museum is our first stop. Next to the museum is the “big stupa“: Wat Chedi Luang. It is the most imposing temple of Chiang Saen. From there we follow the old city walls, which have been restored by the Fine Arts Department. Chiang Saen was not an easy place to conquer: the wall and the moat were formidable barriers for armies a couple of centuries ago.
The ruins of Chiang Saen within the walls
The bicycle is the ideal means of transportation to explore the ruins of Chiang Saen within the walls. There are about 70 structures and remains of temples in the walled city. We will visit the most interesting of them. Wat Sao Khian, Wat Phra Non, Wat Mung Muang and Wat Chetawan are some of them. Until about 100 years ago very few people lived in the old walled city. Ruins and scattered Buddha statues under lush jungle vegetation. We will make our way to Wat Pa Sak which is outside the city walls. It is a beautiful ride along the deep moat and city walls with giant fig trees on top. Chiang Saen has the best-preserved old city walls in Thailand. Wat Pa Sak, the temple in the teak forest, is another magnificent temple ruin.
Temples outside the city walls
We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before we bring back our bikes. There are some significant and very interesting ancient sites outside the city walls, all west of Chiang Saen. Wat Jorm Mork is a ruined temple on a small hill, just outside the walled city. It is the only bell-shaped pagoda in Chiang Saen. Next is a highly revered and most interesting temple: Wat Phra That Chom Kitti. We walk up the moss-covered staircase and spend some time enjoying the view over Chiang Saen and admiring the ancient structures. Wat Pa Daeng is the temple of the red forest. It was the temple of a sect of forest monks and it once was located in the middle of the jungle. It has the largest Buddha statue of Chiang Saen.
Chiang Saen’s “leaning tower”
Another rather hidden gem of Chiang Saen is the Wat Ku Tao, the “leaning tower”. British explorer Holt Samuel Hallett (late 1870s) and British consul Reginald Le May (1914) wrote about this unusual structure. Earthquakes and flooding probably caused the temple tower to be damaged and leaning to one side. It is our last sight of the day. We drive back to Chiang Saen to enjoy a dip in the pool.
Overnight will be again in Gin’s Mekong View.
Day 4 Chiang Saen to Chiang Rai
Total distance today appr. 75 km, driving time about 1,5 hours
A glimpse of Myanmar
After breakfast, we will transfer the drive to Mae Sai, about 45 mins driving. Mae Sai is the bustling border town on the Thai side, Tachilek, the Myanmar side. Here thousands of Thai, Burmese, and people of other nationalities cross the border back and forth every day. There is a typical border town atmosphere which is a lot of fun to observe. This is the only border crossing in North Thailand that is open for tourists. You will visit Tachilek in Myanmar on a day pass. We will walk across the bridge of the Mae Sai River, which forms the border here. You will immediately notice the difference. In Myanmar, many men wear a traditional longyi. It is a sarong-like tube of fabric worn by both men and women. Please note that all are in the Burmese language, a beautiful alphabet that is very different from the Thai alphabet.
The Shwedagon Pagoda of Tachilek
We will explore Tachilek by local “tuk-tuk,” which is a motorcycle with a sidecar. It’s an ideal way to explore this exciting border town. You will visit the Temple of the Enrobed Elephant and the Thai Yai Temple, which is an excellent example of typical Burmese temple architecture. We will continue to Tachilek’s own Shwedagon Pagoda, a smaller copy of the original Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Before we return to Thailand, there will be time to visit the border market in Tachilek, a favorite destination for Thai visitors. We cross the border back to Thailand, where we will have a delicious lunch in a local restaurant.
Wat Tham Pla, a rather bizarre but surprising place!
After lunch, we will drive back to Chiang Rai. Along the way, we will stop at the Tham Luang, the location of the miraculous rescue operation of a teenage football team, who were stuck in a cave. It will depend on the season if we can enter the cave. If not, we will visit the museum. Not far from Tham Luang is an interesting cave temple, called Wat Tham Pla. It is a peculiar place with a fish cave, lots of monkeys, monks, and strange statues and buildings. Then it is time to return to Chiang Rai where we will drop you off at your hotel. We hope you enjoyed our trip “From Chiang Rai to the Mekong River”.