Chiang Rai Province is the northernmost province of Thailand. As the province is at the very top of Thailand, it borders Myanmar and Laos. The close proximity to these countries has allowed the cultures to influence the province of Chiang Rai.
The province is average sized and is home to approximately 1,130,000 citizens.
There are an abundance of different people from the different cultures from the surrounding countries, and the rest of Thailand obviously. The provincial capital, also named Chiang Rai is a honey pot of mixed races and mixed language citizens.
Arriving by plane really is a joy when flying into the nearest airport to Chiang Rai. ‘Mae Fah Luang-Chiang International Airport’ is only 8km from the city centre, so really isn’t far. Flights are available from all parts of Thailand.
The Mekong river, although not the biggest river, runs through the centre of the provincial capital, and is home to many hill-tribes along its banks. The Mekong links to other rivers such as the Mae Rim Valley River and acts as a carrier river. It has an amazing and fascinating mix of colours that varies between locations.
Chiang Rai city lies 565 metres (1885 feet) above sea level in a large fertile valley. Along the valley there’s an abundance of wildlife and vegetation of all different kinds. The river banks are lined with trees. The cool refreshing climate is a favourite of local Thai people and of world travellers alike.
There is a very famous and popular night market with a more subdued atmosphere than that of the bustling city centre of the provincial capital and the other cities and towns in Chiang Rai Province. Surprisingly, the pollution levels around the night time market are very low, some of the lowest levels in the whole of Thailand in fact. Local sellers are given special precedence in the market to sell their wares to the weary travellers. The market is not for from the city centre of Chiang Rai, and if you don’t want to walk you can always take a ride on a local form of transport, such as the Tuk-Tuk.
Hill tribe fabrics, beads, needlework, and silver dominates the city and whole province of Chiang Rai. There are many food courts in Chiang Rai city, selling a number of northern Thai dishes, and Asian dishes. Day time and night time snacks are available. Or, you can go into one of many pubs and just relax, enjoy the city, and people watch.
Geography of Chiang Rai
The province of Chiang Rai, and its capital city that is also called Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost province. The province is situated between north latitude 14 degrees and east longitude 49 degrees.
The whole province covers an area of 11,678 square kilometres, making it the 12th largest province in Thailand. The provincial capital is approximately 785 km north of the capital of Thailand, Bangkok.
The province is divided into administrative districts, sub-districts, amphoes, or king-amphoes. There are 13 in total, some larger than the others for political and economical reasons.
Chiang Rai city is 62 km from the Burmese border, so is easily and quickly accessible from Myanmar. The city is also only 60 km from the Laos border, so again is easily accessed from Laos. This has allowed an influx of immigrants from the border countries to move into the city and province of Chiang Rai.
The landscape within and surrounding Chiang Rai is flat and heavily vegetated, or is hilly with various rivers running through and around them. Many of the hill tribes are located within the limestone hilled areas of the province. Limestone cliffs are visible from miles around, and the view really is breath taking.
The climate of Chiang Rai province is actually quite stable throughout the year. On average the yearly average high temperature is approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) and the yearly average low is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). The hottest month is April with an average high of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). During this month weather warnings are often issued due to the hot and humid weather and the frequent thunderstorms experienced this time of year.
The official population of Chiang Rai city is 62,000 people, but this does not include the suburbs, towns, villages, and local tribes, so the actual population could be well over 200,000 citizens. 12.5% of the population of the city are members of local hill tribes, which is a collective term for the ethnic minority groups of northern Thailand such as the Karen, Akha, Lisu, Meo, and Muser tribes.
Many Chinese immigrants have moved to the province of Chiang Mai. The Chinese population has merged in with the native Thai citizens, and has created a “Thainese” ethnicity. Well over half of the businesses in the Chiang Rai are owned by the Chinese population.
Transportation in Chiang Rai province, and especially within Chiang Rai city is relatively well organised, if not a little hectic at different times of the day and at different times of the year. The province is easily accessible by plane from the major cities of Thailand. As Bangkok holds the country’s largest and most important International airport, daily flights are available from the airport to Chiang Rai International Airport with flight times of approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, with flights run by Thai Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air, and One to Go Airlines. Trains are not available to the city, as the train lines end at Chiang Mai city, but boats along the rivers, and buses which run along the Burmese border are available with travel times of approximately 14 hours.
The geography of Chiang Rai is very complicated and a little confusing, but it is an amazing province, and must be visited.
The History of Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is absolutely steeped in history, both from its past rulers, and from its past inhabitants. Many reminders of these historical events can be still be seen today.
Chiang Rai was founded in the year 1262 AD by King Ramkhamhaeng (1279-1299 AD) of the Sukhothai Kingdom of Thailand. Thirty four years later, King Ramkhamhaeng founded Chiang Rai as a capital city, and centre of the Lanna Thai Kingdom (circa 1262-1558 AD). The Lanna Thai Kingdom covered the areas of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayao, Nan, and many other provinces in the North of Thailand at present.
During the years 1558 to 1774 AD, the Lanna Kingdom was a Burmese colony, and many of the native Thai people were oppressed by their rulers. But finally, King Taksin (1767-1782 AD), the King of Siam of the Thonburi period, won the realm back from the Burmese, and the Lanna Thai Kingdom became a dependency of Siam (former name of Thailand). Until 1933 Chiang Rai was ruled as a frontier town when it became a province of Siam.
Legend has it that King Ramkhamhaeng was chasing down a runaway prize elephant and finally recaptured it at the foot of Doi Tong Hill. Taking this as a good sign, the King founded the city of Chiang Rai on that spot. The King built the temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Tong at the top of the Doi Tong hill. A short way down from the hill there is a Chinese shrine that backs into the hillside under the temple. The sign reads Hall of the Godfather of Doi Tong. It is written in Thai, and was erected as a thank you shrine to the founding Father of the city and province of Chiang Rai.
The Capital Chiang Rai was once a walled city along with the neighbouring city of Chiang Mai. The walls were constructed as defences and the protection of the city, as being on the border it was prone to attack from neighbouring forces. In the 19th century the walls were knocked down on the advice of a visiting Dutch engineer who believed that the walls were bad for public health.
Apparently, the walls restricted the flow of fresh air to the city. A few years ago, the city Fathers tried to make the city walls more appealing to visitors, but due to the lack of any actual archaeological of photographic evidence, the rebuilding effort failed.
In the last 50 years, many Chinese immigrants have arrived into the city to escape from Chinese Communist oppression. The village of Doi Mae Salong is extremely unique and over the years since the Chinese arrived, the village has changed and merged with the local Thai traditions. The Chinese have planted hundreds of Soolong tea plantations.
Remnants of Ancient Burmese occupation are very evident in the local traditions and buildings in the different areas of the city. Kaow Soy curries, which are an ancient Burmese food, are widely available in Chiang Rai.
Local citizens are just as proud of their ancient historical Bangkok royal family as they are of their founding father, and of the multiple cultures that have merged over the years to create the modern city and province of Chiang Rai.
Local Thai people and expats really are friendly and welcoming in Chiang Rai. The Thai people will show you their legendary charm and will always be there for you, just to have a chat with, or to help you if you are in need of it.
There are many adventure and health resorts in the province of Chiang Rai. You can take a relaxing break to forget the world and your problems at home, or you can take an adventure break, taking elephant treks along the rivers and in the forests.