When visiting the northern part of Thailand, the two major cities often come across in pair as the most attracted destinations: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. These provinces have the same social and cultural factors of Lanna. Chiang Rai is located on the northern most tip of Thailand and is a gateway to Myanmar and Loas. The city has been inhabited since the 7th century, but it was only established as the first capital of Lanna during the reign of King Meng Rai between 1262 – 1296. Later, the capital was relocated to Chiang Mai.
As a former capital of the great Lanna Kingdom, the city is vibrant filled with cultural temples and indigenous hill tribe communities. Wat Phra Sing, for example, used to house a major Buddha statue. It also features the Lanna style Buddhist sanctuary and the wooden door panels carved by the local craftsmen.
Chiang Rai is a home for many hill tribes and their own unique cultures. Centuries ago, it was once the centre of Asia’s opium trade in 1960’s to early 1990’s at the Golden Triangle where the Mekong River from Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. The opium and heroin base produced in north eastern Myanmar are transported by horse and donkey caravans to refineries along the Thailand–Burma border for conversion to heroin and heroin base. Most of the finished products are shipped across the border into various towns in the north of Thailand. The indigenous hill tribe mainly cultivated opium, for instance, Akha hill tribe, the only tribe that spreads out over Chiang Rai province. Akha tribe has its own language, tradition and religion, these have passed through generations. There is no evidence of scripture. They are taught their family history at a very early age, and their culture has a strong focus on honouring ancestors and their parents. Akha’s religion is a belief in a world filled with spirits, a natural cycle of balance. Thousands of Akha migrated Thailand in early 1900s from China, their language is Yunan dialect. Akha tribe lives in basic subsistence agriculture. Opium plantation was the main farming community until the late Princess Mother “HRH Princess Srinagarindra Boromrajajonnani” changed their way of living and developed a better income for the community. The hilly land was converted into coffee agricultural estate. Hence, Akha live above the subsistence level and it was the end of opium production at the Golden Triangle. A visitor who wishes to learn more about the 5,000-year history of opium: how it was a drug to treat illnesses, the impact of drug abuse and addiction, you can visit The Hall of Opium at the Golden Triangle Park. Not only has the exhibition, The Hall of Opium provides lodges and bungalows by Mekong River with full facilities.
Chiang Rai is rich in tourism resources in terms of natural attractions and antiquities, evidence of its past civilisation. Unlike Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a land of natural beauty, 32% of the region is forested. As a result, there are 27 forest parks in Chiang Rai. Today, the city is a centre for community development projects including “Mae Fah Luang Foundation” under Royal Patronage. This is to help the rural villagers develop their attractions without harmfully affecting their cultural and natural assets. In northern Thai language “Doi” means “Mountain”, Doi Tung is a revered mountain which has Doi Tung Palace and Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park. The Princess Mother established Mae Fah Luang Foundation to help preserved the traditional skills and support the livelihood of ethnic minorities. It is also a home to hundreds of youths from remote areas with limited access to schooling. The Princess Mother believed in acquiring skills from actual experiences. These minorities learnt how to live as a community, developing their social skills, worked in shifts to clean their lodgings, farmed, gardened, and tended vegetable plots. Consequently, Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park is part of the foundation and is the region’s largest collection of artefacts from Lanna culture or Tai culture (the minorities in northern Thailand) set inside the beautiful style and characteristics of Lanna architecture “Haw Kham” (Golden Teakwood Pavilion). Haw Kham is a centre of holiness featuring object d’art and collected works of Buddhist art of more than 200 years ago. There are a variety of ancient Buddha images and paintings from Myanmar, Laos, Chiang Tung, and Lanna.
Doi Tung is a high mountain in Chiang Rai. It was once a secluded area in the heart of Golden Triangle. Another flagship community project of Mae Fah Luang Foundation is “Doi Tung Development Project”. The project started after the late Princess Mother first visited Doi Tung in 1987. Having seen the lack of opportunity, education, survival wisdom and know-how which had caused the ethnic minorities’ extreme poverty, she intentionally reforested the area covers approximately 15,000 hectares of 29 villages. To demonstrate her commitment in improving the condition of ethnic minorities’ living life in every way: socially, economically and environmentally, she began with the built of her home in Doi Tung. The Princess Mother had spent several years to develop the infrastructure giving hope to the ethnic minorities and providing opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, or nationality. One of her objectives is to strengthen sustainable growth and to be able to support oneself financially; thus, Doi Tung brand was created. The brand comprises four business units: food, handicrafts, horticulture, and tourism. The products of Doi Tung are ranging from home ware, ready-to-wear, mulberry items, plants, orchid, etc. Sustainable development has generated incomes for the ethnic minorities and by the end of the project in 2017 the ownership of some of the business units in Doi Tung will be transferred to the local community as the wish of the Princess Mother. Until now, Doi Tung Development Project has been recognised by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as one of the world’s best examples of Alternative Development. Also in 2009, Mom Rajawongse Disnadda Diskul, the CEO of Doi Tung Development Project received the Schwab Foundation’s “Social Entrepreneur of the Year for the Region of East Asia” award on behalf of the organisation’s effort to eliminate social illnesses, and provide people with legitimate livelihoods as well as better quality of life, while restoring the natural environment.
Cultural temples are the must see attractions in Thailand especially in the northern part – the golden bas-relief, the carved walls, the Buddhist ceremonies, and so on… On the other hand, the temple was designed and built by the artist “Chaloemchai Khositphiphat” is an extraordinary temple in Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun or White Temple is a white ordination hall decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors. This temple was clearly inspired by 3 main factors: Nation, Religion and Monarchy, these what Thai people are thought to respect since childhood. In the same manner, Khositphiphat loves the country and art, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life for the nation, religion and monarchy deliberately described through his work of temple that he built for a public domain of State. The temple structure has great significance of Buddhism – the white colour of the church represents Lord Buddha’s purity and the white mirrors symbolise Lord Buddha’s wisdom shinning around the earth and universe. The bridge indicates between hell and heaven. It is described all through the myth – human must abandon lustful desire, passion, greed, mortal sin, and evil wish in serpents’ mouth in order to walk to heaven without impurities. A walk on the bridge leads through spirit starting from 16 demons 8 on each side, Sumeru Mountain is in the middle of the bridge where goddess and angel live, underneath pound is interpreted as ocean. There are 6 levels of heaven prior to the highest 16 levels of Brahma ground which represents by 16 divine lotuses around the church, the 4 largest lotuses at the entrance signify the four Buddhist saints, male disciples of Lord Buddha. Inside the church, walls are covered with paintings based in gold colour depicting the world’s incidents filled with western and Japanese cartoon characters. The story illustrates a mixture of reality and imagination; heroes were taken from the inspired animated films such as Ultraman, Doraemon, and Superman who cannot help safe the world from the ruthlessness.
Climate: Chiang Rai has an average temperature of 25 degree celcius with the highest temperature at around 36 degree celcius during the summer season from March to May. Moving from May to the end of October, it’s a monsoon season with heavy rainfall in August and September. The cool season starts in late October to February while the coolest months are December and January when the temperature at night can drop below 10 degree celcius.
How to get there: There are four ways to travel to Chiang Rai: by plane, car, train and bus.
By plane – Chiang Rai has Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport that served by many airlines: Air Asia, Phuket Airlines, SGA and Thai Airways
By car – Chiang Rai is 785 km north of Bangkok which takes more than 12 hours of driving.
By train – from Hua Lumpong Train Station in Bangkok, either heading to Lampang or Chaing Mai province and continue your journey with a car to Chiang Rai. Find out more information via www.railway.co.th
By bus – there is a daily bus leaving from Bangkok, depart from the Northern Bus Station in Kampangpetch 2 Road. Type of bus, route and prices can be found via www.transport.co.th
What you should know
- Doi Tung coffee is known for the best coffee in Thailand and is widely accepted by many coffee lovers both locally and internationally.
- Doi Tung products are hand-woven by ethnic minorities. Every penny will definitely help support their living. We are luckier than them in every way so appreciate who you are, where you are come from and what you are!
Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage
1875/1 Rama IV Road, Lumpini,
Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel: +66 (0) 2252 7114