King Mangrai founded the city of Chiang Rai in 1262 and made it the capital of the Mangrai Dynasty. Later it was conquered by Burma and remained under Burmese rule until 1786 even so it was not declared a province of Thailand until 1933.
On the rice paddy road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, I stopped at a rest area that promotes safe sex. The convenient store sold a variety of condoms and giant cardboard cutouts of condoms with smiling faces hold signs that implore you that the food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy, a humorous way to deal with important issues. Great selfie opt!
Outside of the city stands the most artistic, graphic, and modern temple known as Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple. The artist, Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat, designed the elaborate white temple and all that it consists of such as mirror glass mosaics in cement, eerie hands popping out from the ground as you walk across the bridge, and a virtual monk. Construction began in 1998 and is still not completed. According to Kositpipat, it would take over 90 years after his demise to finish.
Chiang Rai is a quiet town in the hills of Northern Thailand, a place where history and tradition are frozen in time. I ventured to the village of the Hill Tribe People where four very different tribes of people live harmoniously in the same village. The rest of the world could learn a great deal from them.
The Akha, Yao, Lanu, and the Karen or Longneck people are the four distinctively unique tribes. Upon arrival into their lands, each tribe and their children honor you by singing and dancing.
Each tribe has very different distinctive attire. The Akha wear very decorative headpieces with many beads and live in raised houses. The Yao sport more of a turban headdress and simplistic attire and live in houses on the ground. The Lanu tend to be larger in stature and accessorize more and have knowledge of herbal medicine. And the Karen or the Longneck people get their name from the women who wear heavy gold rings elongating their neck.
It is kind to bring children toys or little trinkets of the outside world. Each tribe has little stalls selling the unique handmade items. You can watch the Longneck women weave beautiful sarongs and blankets. Hand made wood carvings are also popular. I couldn’t leave without purchasing a headdress from an Akha woman, whose smile lit up the foggy countryside.
As soon as you ascend the muddy hill children run down to you circling you, of course, they knew we were coming. Handing out coloring books, crayons, and other trinkets I picked up in town made them laugh and dance around. Any time you make anyone happy it is a beautiful moment. Any time you give something away you get something better back in return.
Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, as it is muddy and slick. Bug spray is a must. Rain gear is always good to keep around. Gifts for the children, and cash for handicrafts you will most likely want to purchase to remind you of such a rare experience.
The prices are cheaper in Chiang Rai than in Bangkok. The night market is full of mass produced items for tourists as well as unique hand made items from the hill tribe people.
The food markets are like a buffet line down an entire street. The vendor grilled and served me a whole fish on a stick. To this day that street fish is the best fish I have ever tasted. Masa look out! Per usual Thai food is cooked less spicy to cater to tourists taste, however, make sure you ask for it that way just in case.
The Golden Triangle is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River. It covers Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. It once was a place where opium was grown widely, however, this no longer is the case on the Thai side of the border. It is the largest tourist trap of all of Northern Thailand.
Chiang Rai has a tropical wet and dry climate. Winters are dry and warm. Monsoon season runs from April to October with heavy rain and cooler temperatures.