Chiang Rai is one of the most popular cities in Thailand in terms of tourism. This is owed in large part to the fact that Chiang Rai is one of the most centralized cities that falls between the Golden Triangle Area, a confluence of rivers that bounds both Myanmar and Laos. Once infamous primarily for its opium trafficking, the area has since become a great sightseeing and tourist draw.
However, the city of Chiang Rai has its own claims to fame. This northernmost city of Thailand is known to have been founded by 13th century ruler King Mengrai, prior to the establishment of its neighbour Chiang Mai, and served as the capital of the Lannathai Kingdom for many years. Today, the rich history and culture of the region is attested to by its traditional communities and the many historic temples found around and about the city.
These temples are of unique character that sets them apart from other Thai constructions; architectural characteristics of India and Sri Lanka among others are seen prominently in the building styles and artwork of these temples (or Wats, as they are called). Combined with aesthetic facades whose designs appear unique to North Thailand, reflecting a period when the region was not yet a part of the Siam Kingdom, the temples of this city become all the more intriguing to those interested in cultural exploration. Among these, a handful emerge to prominence as sites of exceptional interest.
Wat Prasingh is a 14th century temple distinctive for its image of the PraBuddha Sinhingh from the Sukhothai period, the stone footprint believed to be that of the Buddha which is inscribed in ancient Khmer script and a Bo tree from India. The Sri Lankan styling of one of its wooden buildings and the striking northern Thai design of its bell tower are also stand out aspects.
Wat Phra Kaeo of Ruangnakorn Road is a wooden building adorned with intricate carvings and panel paintings. Its main claim to fame is having housed the famous Emerald Buddha during the mid-15th century. The diminutive yet revered relic is said to have first been discovered in Sri Lanka and was also enshrined at the Angkor Wat of Cambodia during the days of the glorious Ayutthaya Dynasty. Today, it houses a replica of the Emerald Buddha (the original being secured in the Royal Palace in Bangkok) and a two storey museum within its premises.
Wat Doi Thong is a temple on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, overlooking a stunning view of the Mekong River and the symbolic Mer statue from its hill-top perch. Shrouded in natural beauty and serenity, this is one of the most scenic spots tourists can find to sit back and cool their heels. Wat Prathat Doi Prabatt also shares in the privilege of a spectacular view, although it is found on the other side of the city, close to the city’s airport. Opposite the airport runway can be seen the Wat Pagor, a charming showcase of architecture from the Shan state of Myanmar.
Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is a temple on the banks of the River Koh that is believed to pre-date the founding of Chiang Rai and therefore the oldest religious relic in the area. In direct contrast, the White Temple, appearing a short distance away from the city, is a recent and very modern construction by renowned artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. The building is arguably the most eye-catching in the region; its façade is made of small slivers of mirror and is adorned with exquisite decorations crafted from white stucco.
Munniti Chiang Rai is yet another religious centre that stands out in Thailand by reason of being one of the rare Taoist and Mahayana Buddhist temples in a region where Theravada Buddhism is predominant. A Shan-style house and a shrine devoted to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy also appear in its vicinity. Meanwhile, Wat Klong Wiang and Wat Ming Meuang are two of the best examples of the Lanna style, with its exuberant ambience and exquisite décor. The latter is believed to house the spirit of Chiang Rai.
For those looking for a centralized hotel in Chiang Rai, Anantara Golden Triangle, Thailand is recommended as a suitable option. Situated in laid-back surroundings offering the most exotic sights and sounds of the region, this accommodation ranks among the best of Chiang Rai hotels.