Chiang Rai, the quieter neighbour of Chiang Mai, often goes unnoticed on the tourist trail but has plenty to offer in its night bazaars, unique temples and vibrant nightlife.
The Tourist Authority of Thailand describes Chiang Rai as being “the quieter neighbour of Chiang Mai” and like the typical quiet neighbour it often goes unnoticed, even when it is quietly doing very good things.
Not that anyone in Chiang Rai seems to mind going unnoticed. As a matter of fact they seem to enjoy the distinction of being a city that many foreign tourists consider very boring. Life is good in Chiang Rai, and there is no reason to hurry any changes or to envy a more popular neighbour such as Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai is the civil administrator of a large province with a thriving farming industry that includes rice, coffee, tea, fish farms, and many varieties of fruit and flowers. There are also several large hospitals and a very large education system in the city. The private sector of Chiang Rai is kept very busy providing the farm machinery, raw materials and supplies needed by the farming industry throughout the province.
Chiang Rai actually has a very successful tourism industry but it is somewhat hidden from view in the city, because most of the foreign visitors are transported directly to their hotels and from there are transported by tour companies to specific sites throughout the province. These sites normally include temples and museums, hill tribal villages, the Golden Triangle itself, the Kuomintang Chinese settlement of Mae Salong, and the Doi Tung Palace with its beautiful gardens.
The only time any of these visitors are actually visible in any numbers in the city, is in the night time when they visit the Night Bazaar area for the shopping and street food market. The Night Bazaar is located next to the old bus station in the center of town, with many shops that sell souvenirs, T-shirts, tea and coffee, antiques and more.
There is also the nearby Jetyod Street for a massage, drinks and food in the row of small bars and restaurants that cater to local and visiting foreigners. In the daytime this same street is the place to rent motorcycles, find cheap tours, get a tattoo, and the location of many very reasonable priced restaurants and guest houses. Chiang Rai is a great place for the normal tourist, but it is an even greater place for those travellers who want to not only look at other cultures but to dive right into them head first.