Guide to Chiang Rai


Chiang Rai, the capital of Thailand’s most northerly province – Chiang Rai Province – is located in northern Thailand, approximately 200km north of Chiang Mai and just 60km south of the border with Myanmar.

Chiang Rai is an excellent base from which to explore the Golden Triangle – Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Chiang Rai does have its own international airport, and flights are available daily from Bangkok.

Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Mangrai and soon became the capital city of the Mangrai dynasty. The city soon lost its status as the Mangrai Capital to Chiang Mai – also constructed by King Mangrai. Soon after the capital was moved to Chiang Mai, the Burmese captured Chiang Rai and the city remained under Burmese rule for several hundred years, Burmese influences are seen throughout the city.

One the most famous sites in the area is the Temple of Wat Phra Kaew. The temple was once home to the Emerald Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha images in Thailand. Legend has it that the Buddha was discovered when a bolt of lightening hit the Stupa cracking it in half revealing the Buddha inside. The original Emerald Buddha is now housed in Bangkok in a temple of the same name – an (almost) exact replica can be seen in Chiang Rai Museum.

Many visitors come to Chiang Rai to visit the hill tribes in the surrounding villages. The six major tribes in the area are – Karen, Hmong, Yao, Akha, Lisu and Lahu. Many of the tribes are descendants of migrants who travelled down from China and Myanmar. Each of the tribes is distinct, with their own culture, religion, language, art and dress.

On our tours in northern Thailand we visit Karen, Akha and Yao hill tribe villages:


The Karen people generally settle in the foothills and live in bamboo houses raised on stilts. Beneath the houses live their domestic animals, such as chickens and pigs. Karen woman are highly skilled at sewing and dress in white blouse-sarong combinations with colourful beads. Karen are peaceful, conservative people who have high veneration for the ancestors and elders.


Akha villages are distinguished by their carved wooden gates, presided over by guardian spirits. The Akha people live in raised houses with one room reserved for praying and worshipping ancestors. The tribe is easily recognised by the black caps covered with silver coins worn by the women.


The Yao people like to live among low hills near to dense forest. Their houses are on the ground, and feature space for a fire in the centre of the room. They, like other hill-tribes in the area, reserve a space for ancestor worship. The Yao language can be traced back to an ancient form of Chinese, and is still written using Chinese characters.

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