Easing into Thailand in Chiang Rai

Buddha Statues at Wat Jed Yod, Chiang Rai Thailand

Buddha Statues at Wat Jed Yod, Chiang Rai Thailand

We choose Chiang Rai as a starting point for our Asian travels because it seemed like a low-key way to ease into Thailand. This small city in the north didn’t disappoint.

The thing that pleased us most here were the people we met, who were uniformly friendly and helpful. From the grandmotherly woman who pointed us to the correct bus without being asked to every shopkeeper and restaurateur who patiently worked with us to bridge our gaping language barriers. It’s quite the contrast with our introduction to Paris, where our first waitress walked off in a huff of frustration because we had difficulty placing our order in French.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Rai, Thailand

We were also pleasantly surprised by the fact that not a single person here tried to sell us something we did not want. We were never swarmed by hawkers pushing trinkets, and we were never barked at by touts selling tours. Not even our guesthouse owner tried to sell us the tours he offered, preferring instead to give us handwritten directions to those same places using public transportation.

A tour poster and our handwritten self guided tour instructions

A tour poster and our handwritten self guided tour instructions

As for the town itself, it lacks anything that might be described as a major tourist attraction and isn’t especially pretty. Mostly it has the well worn look of a place that is doing a lot with fairly little. Except for the temples, of which there are plenty, the architecture is best described as basic and functional. There is little in the way of flourishes and a lot in the way of bare concrete and corrugated steel.

A Street in Chiang Rai Thailand

And yet “poor” isn’t an adjective I’d use to describe this place. If I didn’t know it already I wouldn’t guess from looking around that Thailand’s per-capita income is a mere tenth of that enjoyed in the U.S. To say we saw fewer panhandlers here than we did in San Francisco or less blight than in New Orleans is more than a mere understatement because we saw absolutely none of either in Chiang Rai.

Buddha Statues at Wat Phra Singha, Chiang Rai Thailand

Buddha Statues at Wat Phra Singha, Chiang Rai Thailand

The temples, meanwhile, are marked by opulence. Gilded Buddhas loom large in brightly painted prayer halls. Elaborate freezes adorn the walls and all manner of fierce creatures stand guard to protect the faithful.

There are at least nine Buddhist temples scattered throughout the downtown area. The most famous of these is Wat Phra Kaew, also sometimes known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha due to the “perfectly carved” statue that was rediscovered by chance there in 1434. The original Emerald Buddha has long ago taken up residence in Bangkok with a replica now serving Chiang Rai.

Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew, Chiang Rai Thailand

Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew

Most of Chiang Rai’s temples are within an easy walk or bike ride from the city center. In fact, we found getting around the area to be quite simple with frequent bus service to outlying areas and plenty of people willing to help point you in the right direction.

Clock Tower, Chiang Rai Thailand

Chiang Rai clocktower

The city is also littered with too many terrific restaurants, noodle shops, and food carts to count. We had no problem eating well here and usually for less than $2 per person.

Chiang Rai night market

Chiang Rai night market

If you go: We stayed at the Baan Jaru guesthouse, which we couldn’t recommend more highly. It’s not your cheapest option in the city, but we were completely happy with our stay. Baan Jaru is well located within an easy walk of all the local attractions and the bus station. It’s immaculately clean. The wifi is fast. And best of all, the proprietor, Toddy, is one of the most helpful and friendly hosts we’ve come across on our travels.

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7 Comments on “Easing into Thailand in Chiang Rai”

  1. allisonmohr November 10, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Thank you! for mentioning where you stayed. I appreciate that very much as we are now considering Asia for the next trip. This is very helpful. As always, great photos. The new camera seems to be working out well.


    • Brian November 11, 2014 at 12:43 am #

      Thanks Allison. The new camera is working out OK. I miss using the old one but I don’t miss carrying it. 😀


  2. mytimetotravel November 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    Chiang Mai is pretty typical for SEA. Did you visit Wat Doi Suthep? That’s generally considered its main sight. Aside from the night market, of course…..


  3. maristravels November 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Chiang Rai is one of my favourite places in Thailand, much nicer than the more popular Chiang Mai which is just a northern Bangkok. I hope you enjoy your trip. I love the country.


  4. digger666 November 11, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666.


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