Chiang Rai is the real Thailand. Authentic and quaint, this small town in the north of the country is known for the glorious Wat Rong Khun, a looming white temple complex covered in unconventional décor (think skulls, monsters and more). Though many tourists only pop over to Chiang Rai for a day trip to see the famous Buddhist structure, spending a few nights, a few weeks or even a lifetime in Chiang Rai is the way to go, and here are five reasons why…
1. Chiang Rai Won’t Break Your Budget
Restaurants and accommodation are extremely cheap. At both local spots and expat bars and restaurants, you won’t spend more than $10 for a meal, and if you go local or eat on the street, just a few dollars will get you some tangy curry or steamed dumplings. Stay overnight at a guesthouse for under $25 per night, or splurge for a five-star spot, like the Le Meridien Chiang Rai for under $150.
2. Truly Epic Monuments
The White Temple gets all the fame (the nine white elaborate buildings, including a bridge and moat make for gorgeous photos), but the lesser-known Black Temples are even more enticing. A complex made up of over 40 structures and several gardens, the Black Temples aren’t really temples at all. The eclectic buildings, designed by Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, are used as art studios, a home, a museum and more.
The Black Temples easily live up to their dark name: a creepy, spooky complex filled with grotesque and eccentric objects. Check out the giant black whale-shaped structure that’s actually a bedroom to the artist when he sleeps onsite, the main hall filled with skins, bones, furs and taxidermy and the outdoor drum rooms, where you can tap and touch huge drums and instruments. Live animals are also to be found around the property, such as horses and a giant caged snake.
3. Eat, Drink, Shop and be Merry at the Night Market
Chiang Rai’s night market is filled with cheap eats and wild entertainment. Foreigners and locals join together to experience the city’s epic collection of hawker food stalls, tourist souvenirs, clothes, paintings and all sorts of electronic gadgets. Live music, often featuring Thai lady boys belting out tunes and prancing around on outdoor stages set the scene for laughter and chatter. The hot pots are the best part: for as little as $3, you can cook your own seafood, chicken and vegetables on a hot pot and even make your own soup in the center courtyard of the market. Those feeling daring can sample grasshoppers, crickets or even scorpions.
4. Get Lost in the Thai Culture
It’s worth taking a wander through the non-tourist quarter of the city. Motorbikes and tuk-tuks zoom down the main streets as locals sell everything and anything in shops and outdoors stalls. Though little English is spoken is these areas, the locals are only too happy to welcome you into their rich culture, help you get around and find what you need.
5. Location, Location, Location
Chiang Rai’s northern location ensures you’re close to all sorts of stunning landscapes and adventures. Just a couple hours from the Mekong River, you can cruise down into Laos for a weekend. Trekking and trails are nearby and you can visit traditional hill tribe villages or the nearby larger city of Chiang Mai for the day. A one-hour flight gets you to Bangkok from the Chiang Rai airport.
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