Explore the Gateway to the Far North
Chiang Rai was the grand capital of the Lanna kingdom. In the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is a jade replica of the Emerald Buddha, a famed holy relic. (The real one is in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.) Another must-see is the White Temple, a phantasmagoric creation by a local artist. There’s no shortage of things to do in Chiang Rai, but don’t miss the Hilltribe Museum, which exhibits clothing and tools and explores the culture of Chiang Rai’s indigenous people.
Head to the Mountains and Border Towns
Ascend misty Doi Tung mountain to the Doi Tung Royal Villa, the summer house and gardens of the late king’s mother. The town of Sop Ruak, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, is the modern symbol of the now peaceful Golden Triangle, once ruled by drug warlords; don’t miss the two opium museums. The sleepy town of Chiang Saen is rich in ancient temples. Mae Salong is where many Chinese Kuomintang soldiers fled in 1949. Today, it’s a picturesque landscape of tea farms.
Taste Regional Teas and Herbs
Spend an afternoon in the mid-century mountain town of Mae Salong, founded by Chinese Kuomintang soldiers fleeing the Communists. The once outlaw territory has been transformed into beautiful terraced tea estates, herb farms and a market with exotic goods like rice wine bottled with a snake.
Stroll the Night Bazaar and Saturday Walking Market
Shop and sample local food, like the pork sausage sai oua to curries like khao soi or kaeng hang leh, at Chiang Rai’s night bazaar. Browse through the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park. On Saturday nights, the number of food vendors multiplies—and so do the opportunities to shop for hill tribe crafts.