Tag Archives: Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai – The City

Chiang Rai is the capital city of the Thailand’s northernmost province of the same name. It’s probably one of the best places to live in Thailand (in my humble opinion – I’ve spent here two beautiful years). The city’s population is about 70,000. You won’t find tall skyscrapers here, everything is spread out on a huge area and has more of a “huge village” feel rather than a “city” feel.

The climate here is much more comfortable than the one in central or southern Thailand. In fact, it can be really cold in winter! I remember crazy situations when the thermometer was showing over 20 degrees Celsius, yet the wind was so strong and cold that we wore jumpers and jackets and it was still very cold. At night, the temperature can drop down to just few degrees above zero.

As I already mentioned, the city is quite spread out and the best way to get around is by bicycle or motorbike. The city centre is rather modest – but still there are a few sights worth seeing – The Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), the Clock Tower and the colourful Night Bazaar.

Perhaps you have heard about the famous Temple of Emerald Buddha located on the grounds of Grand Palace in Bangkok. Well, this Emerald Buddha (in Thai: พระแก้วมรกต) was discovered in Chiang Rai, Lanna kingdom in 1434. A lightning storm truck a temple where the Buddha image was kept. The statue felt down and became chipped. It turned out that the figure was covered with stucco. Upon removing all of the stucco, the monks discovered a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade (not emerald as the name suggests – “emerald” in Thai simply means “of green colour”). The statue was never closely examined by experts, therefore the exact composition and origin is unknown. It was probably crafted around XIV century in Thailand, but it can also come from India or Sri Lanka. The Emerald Buddha has changed its location a number of times – from Chang Rai it was transported to Lampang, later to Chiang Mai, then Luang Prabang (currently Laos), Vientiane (Laos) and eventually Bangkok, where it stays until this day. The Buddha image in Chiang Rai is an exact copy of the original.

On the grounds of the Temple of Emerald Buddha in Chiang Rai there is also a small yet interesting museum. The green Buddha pavilion is quite small but nicely done and the green-coloured glasses make quite a unique feeling about the place.

The Clock Tower seems to be located in the very centre of the city, not too far from the above mentioned temple. It was designed by a famous Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat (who comes from the area and also designed the very famous Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple) and is quite incredible. Everyday at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 in the evening the Tower plays a music and is changing colours. There is also an extra show at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The Night Bazaar is a great place where one can eat well and cheap, buy souvenirs (or other useful things) and even watch the shows on the stage. Sometimes those are the traditional dances of northern Thailand, sometimes drag queen shows (lady-boy) and other times a local musician makes our time pass more pleasantly by playing good songs.

Chiang Rai city (A – Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of Emerald Buddha, B – Clock Tower, C – Night Bazaar)

Doi Mae Salong

Doi Mae Salong (Thai: ดอยแม่สลอง) is a place with a very interesting history. It is also one of my favourite places in Thailand. The official name of the village is Santikhiri (สันติคีรี), but it is located on a hill called Mae Salong (“doi” means mountain in Thai).

I mentioned the interesting history of the place. The early days of Doi Mae Salong go back to the time of opium trade in the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle was the name of the area where three countries border each other – Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos – and it was infamous for drugs trade. The following history was adopted from Mae Salong’s Wikitravel website (here).

In 1949, after the Nationalist Kuomintang government was formed, 93rd Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army refused to surrender to Chinese communists.

Unlike most of the unrelenting nationalists that fled to Taiwan in 1949, a force of 12,000 escaped from Yunnan to Burma and continued an insurgency against the Peoples’ Republic. They were at first supported by Taiwan and the USA, but diplomatic shifts later led to the partial disbanding of the nationalist forces in Burma. While thousands left for Thailand in 1961, many remained in Burma.

The soldiers that settled in Mae Salong kept it as a military base in preparation for an eventual counter-attack against communist China. They funded their arms purchases with opium production and rubbed shoulders with notorious Burmese warlord and drug baron Khun Sa, who lived a few kilometres away in Ban Hin Taek and who initially trained with the Kuomintang before founding his own army.

In the 1970s the Thai government struck a deal with the renegades: the battle-hardened soldiers would help them fight Thailand’s own communist insurgents in exchange for legitimacy and Thai citizenship. Part of their going straight involved the soldiers’ cessation of opium production in favour of the cultivation of mushrooms and above all oolong tea (a kind of between green and black tea, with the green being more dominant), which is now Mae Salong’s main product. The tea plantations can be spotted at almost every hill and valley in the area.

The road to Mae Salong is very windy and sometimes steep, yet usually very well constructed, which makes it seem actually pretty easy. Bear in mind that it doesn’t mean it is completely safe at all, as we have witnessed ourselves – but more about that later.

Probably the most famous place in Doi Mae Salong is Phra Boromathat Chedi, stupa built in honour of the Princess Mother, Srinagarindra. Next to the chedi is the Princess Mother Hall, a modern, Thai-style pavilion looking similar to a temple on the outside. There are two ways leading to the stupa – one on your feet, through 719 steep stairs (on photos) and very steep and windy paved road coming from the other end of Mae Salong (you can see the steep end of this road on the photos as well).

Other places worth mentioning are Tomb of General Tuan, the founder of Mae Salong, and Chinese Martyrs’ Memorial Museum (ticket: 20 baht, about 0.5 euro, in 2013). Museum is rather modest and its purpose is to keep the memory of soldiers that died during the fights against communism.

What is most breathtaking, are the views. Beautiful panorama can be seen especially from Phra Boromathat Chedi – from there you can also see the overwhelming tea plantations. It is definitely worth staying here for one night. During my last visit, it was a time of Tea Festival, Sakura Blossom and Several Tribes culture (not perfect name in English, but hey – this is Thailand). There was a procession of hill tribe members (living in the proximity) dressed in traditional clothes that walked through the length of the village. There was also a big marketplace and a large stage, where one could admire the shows of local folklore.

Mae Salong was founded by Chinese people from Yunnan province and therefore is a perfect opportunity to try the Yunnanese cuisine. Personally I love Yunnanese beef curry served with mantou (Chinese steamed bun without filling). Salapao (Chinese steamed buns with fillings) are also well worth trying.

On the way back we witnessed a scene of an accident – the truck has stopped on the tree growing at a turn. It is not something you can see every day. So much about the road safety.

Before arriving in Chiang Rai town, we briefly stopped at Pong Nam Ron hot springs. At that time they were still under construction, the only ready things were places for dipping feet and  ponds for boiling eggs.

The photos come again from many trips to Doi Mae Salong so do not be deceived by my constantly changing look.

Doi Mae Salong (A – Doi Mae Salong, Santikhiri village, B – Pong Nam Ron hot springs)