Our last portion of the Thailand self-drive is from Sukhothai to Chiang Rai. It took us about 6 hours to reach Chiang Rai, so this was almost a whole day of driving. We made several stops at the service area for our lunch, toilet break, and coffee at Cafe Amazon
I found that 7-Eleven in Thailand is so much similar to Japan 7-Eleven, both have lots of interesting local snacks in attractive packaging. From local dried fruits, and bakeries to Japanese snacks. You certainly have to go check out the 7-Eleven when you are in Thailand. Please also watch out for those promotional items where you can buy and get one free.
You will notice there are a few service areas while self-driving in Thailand. One of our favorite service areas for petrol and snacks is PTT. PTT oil and Retail business usually have the Cafe Amazon where you can get nice coffee, 7-Eleven, clean toilets, and some local food stalls to fill your stomach.
Now, let’s find out places to visit in Chiang Rai. We reached Chiang Rai at around 4 pm but we were tired so we go to our resort to check in immediately.
This is not the first time for us to visit Chiang Rai, a few years back we did a similar self-drive from Bangkok to Sukhothai and then to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. This time we didn’t want to include Chiang Mai because Chiang Mai is too commercialized for overseas tourists and we prefer a more local experience. So we stayed and spend a long time in Chiang Rai – a total of 4 days and 3 nights.
On day 1 evening we went to Chiang Rai night market. We didn’t want to drive to the city so we took a tuk-tuk instead, which cost about 100 baht. We just wanted to experience the tuk-tuk experience in Thailand so we asked the hotel front desk to help us call a tuk-tuk. On the way back we use Grab instead, it is actually cheaper to call Grab, and also with air-conditional and better seats, you get a better service with Grab car.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
You can see that the bazaar has been hit hard by covid but it is slowly coming back to life. We had our dinner at the food court which has lots of stalls to choose from. Food is very cheap and you notice 80% of the customers are still local people. There is a stage where performers will be singing and dancing but we left without waiting for it to start after finishing eating.
You can also get local souvenirs here and traditional street food. We did not bargain for the prices when we purchase our souvenirs because these sellers aren’t easy since Covid time.
For dinner we had the local zhi char in the food court, we ordered 3-4 dishes, and the total cost us about 300 baht about SGD 12 for 3 people.
Some of the local street food we tried are :
Thai durian is so much different from ours in Singapore and Malaysia. We got a box of Thai durian with 3 seeds cost about 340 Baht, which is about SGD 12.00. Thai durians are usually very big in size and the durians are harvested before the fruit is ripe, ie the durian is plucked from the tree directly. Since it was harvested before they are fully ripe, so Thai durians do not smell as strong as Malaysian durians. How about the texture and taste? My Thai friends told me that Thai people prefer to eat durians that are not too soft, in fact, they prefer the durian texture a little bit hard. Indeed our first bite, we found out that the durian texture is still a bit hard and had less aroma, and was not that sweet. If you compare the price, the Thai durian actually cost more expensive than the Malaysian durian.
Mango Sticky Rice
The Thai mango sticky rice is mixed with thick coconut cream and sugar paired with perfectly ripe yellow sweet mango, served with some extra coconut cream on the top to make it even better. The street mango sticky rice cost about 60 baht about SGD 2.30
Golden Triangle (Chiang Rai)
It is about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai, about 68 km. This lush jungle and misty mountain area is steeped in history and is famous for its opium-growing past. Today, the Golden Triangle is a popular tourist destination, but still well worth a visit. It was our second visit to the Golden Triangle, the first time we came here, it was full of tourists and we could get on the boat ride. This time we have the opportunity to get on a boat and explore the 3 borders, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. The boat ride took about 45 mins.
Hiring a boat enables you to see three countries meet at the same point. The motorboat driver stops at each country’s borders and tells us the landmark. You see Myanmar casino and Laos Casino near the shores.
Historically the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for the growing of opium. House of Opium Museum is located nearby and displays the history of opium in this area.
Situated in Ban Sop Ruak, near the confluence of the Mekong and the Ruak rivers, there is a huge Golden Buddha statue sitting on a ship. This giant golden Buddha stands overlooking the Mekong river. This is where tourist stops to get photos and toilet break and hop on the boat ride to the 3 borders.
Paddy field restaurant near Golden Triangle
We had our lunch at one of the paddy field restaurants nearby, not in the city but on an outskirt which is about 15 drive from Golden Triangle. It is an interesting restaurant catering to locals. They serve mostly Thai cuisine at affordable prices. The backdrop is stunning with golden paddy fields and you are sitting in the traditional Atap hut to eat your meal. Pretty nice experience and a kampong ambient.
Doi Mae Salong
Doi means mountain in Thai, this is our next destination. It is about an hour to reach Doi Mae Salong but we were lost so it took us more than 2 hours to reach there. Doi Mae Salong is the site of Santi Khiri Village, a community settled by the former Chinese 93rd Division who moved from Myanmar to reside on Thai territory in 1961. A few years ago we visited here and the small town of Mae Salong is full of tourist buses and traffic but now this place is like a ghost town. Slowly it should resume back to normal. Things that you can do here include visiting tea houses, and tea plantations, tasting Yunnan Food, 过桥面线 cross bridge rice noodles.
Lu Lam Riverside Restaurant in Chiangrai
You find people love to enjoy their meals on the riverside, there are many riverside restaurants in Chiang Rai. Lu Lam is one of the most well-known restaurants and you notice most of their customers are local Thais. Lu Lam restaurant offers typical northern Thai dishes which we don’t really know how to appreciate. A little too spicy for us and the dishes uses certain herbs that we aren’t used to. But you do see this restaurant is a full house for local Thais. The restaurant is located near Chiang Rai city. Not too easy to find but it is located next to Amarin Resort.
The white temple is also known as Wat Rong Kun. Wat in Thai means temple. This is a privately owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple which was opened in 1997. Most of the temples you see in Thailand are covered in gold but this is a special one in Chiang Rai. Why in white? Because it is a symbol of Buddha’s purity. The white indeed is really stunning, especially since it also has thousands of small mirrored pieces of glass creating a glistening look. So glaring that you may need sunglasses.
The white temple is located outside the city of Chiang Rai, about 15 km away, 15 mins drive from the city. This unique design mixing contemporary and classic styles makes this one of Thailand’s most unusual and visually striking man-made attractions.
The entry fee is 100 Baht, about SGD 4.00
Nearby there are stalls for food and drinks and souvenirs.
As the nickname “Blue Temple” implies, everything here is blue. Sounds odd, but in a city with the White Temple and the Black Temple, it fits right in.
The Blue Temple is known as Wat Rong Suen Ten, it is in the bright shade of rich sapphire. Blue Temple is a lesser-known tourist destination and far less busy. As of now, there are no entrance fees for Blue Temple.
Some historical background about the Blue Temple.
About 80-100 years ago, this place was an abandoned temple. According to tales told by the elders, there weren’t many people settling in the area back then, so there was a large number of wildlife, especially tigers. Locals who passed through this area often saw tigers leaping around which eventually became the origin of the site being called Rong Suea Ten (literal translation from Thai – Dancing Tiger Ditch) a name that also applies to the nearby village, so it came to be called Rong Suea Ten Village as well.
Japanese food in Yayoi in Big C Chiang Rai
Big C is the second largest hypermarket after Lotus’s. You see them in many cities in Thailand. What I love about Big C is there are always free parking lots for their customers. Even if you aren’t shopping, there are still plenty of restaurants to choose from such as KFC, local food, Japanese and many more.
This time we choose Japanese Yayoi. The food in Yayoi is relatively cheap compared to Japanese food in Singapore. What about the taste? Well, I’ve been living in Japan for several years and I do know what authentic Japanese food taste like, Yayoi meet my standard and I would give a very good review for them. We ordered a sukiyaki hotpot, Japanese ramen, a sushi sashimi set, yakisoba noodles, and their traditional dessert, zenzai red bean soup served hot and green tea warabi mochi served cold. We just didn’t expect to have such good quality Japanese food in Thailand and they are cheap too. If you are in Thailand, do visit Yayoi restaurant, there are many chains outlet around the country.
Karen Long Neck Village
There are several locations to visit the Long Neck Village but we went to the biggest village in Chiang Rai. There is an entry fee of 300 Baht per person, about SGD 12.
I have to say this is one of the most exotic experiences. Who are the Karen People? Well, the Karen are a tribal group who has historically lived in the Myanmar near Thai border. The Karen women wear heavy brass rings in gold around their necks, forearms, and shins.
Why do they wear those brass rings? In the early days of the Long Necks, the practice of the brass rings was started not just for beauty but also to protect against tigers. There aren’t many long neck Karen women left in the village. Too many of the young Karen women are breaking with tradition and it is estimated that the long neck practice only has a few generations of life left.
There are also other tribes living in the village and each wearing their own traditional outfits but selling similar things.
Mae Fah Luang Garden
Mae Fah Luang Garden is about an hour’s drive from Long Neck village, a beautiful garden located high up on the mountain of Doi Tung. You need to reach there by 5 pm because the ticketing booth closed at 5 pm. You can take your time to check out the garden and don’t have to come out by 5 pm.
Mae Fah Luang is named after the Princess Mother. The stunning view over the mountain is fabulously designed. Lots of colorful flowers and many photo opportunities. The Garden is well-kept and clean, with a good pathway even for wheelchairs.
Chiang Rai Hot Spring
It was a nice brief stop to check out the local hot spring in Chiang Rai. Only local visiting this place. Entry is free and the location is right after we came down from the Mah Fah Luang Garden.
Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, Bistro & Bar
Dinner at Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, Bistro & Bar. Again the restaurant is located beside the Kok River. Beautiful colonial western house in white color that serve Thai Western fusion cuisine. The portion is big and tastes good too, a mixture of western and Thai tastes. Well, you do find Vietnamese spring rolls and Australian beef stew too. The price is not very reasonable with this good standard. Service is good.
Where to stay in Chiang Rai?
We stayed in The Legend Chiang Rai Boutique River Resort and Spa. The resort is located right beside River Kok and close to Chiang Rai night market. About 5 mins drive. The room is spacious, especially the shower room, feels like showering in nature. Breakfast is served with Thai and Western choices with their special in-house fruit jam.
Beautiful grounds, it definitely feels as though you’re in the middle of nowhere with nature.
We spent 10 days in Thailand at Khaoyai, Sukhothai, Chiang Rai, and Bangkok. Legend Resort Chiang Rai is the cheapest hotel we booked among all others that we booked in Thailand. It is about SGD 100 per night including breakfast for a room with 3 adults. The hotel is located in a local neighborhood, pretty interesting too if you have a chance to walk out of the resort and look at how local Thais live their life.
I personally favor Chiang Rai more than Chiang Mai simply because the things here are cheaper and more countryside. Visiting the Karen tribe is another eye-opening experience that you should not miss. 3 to 4 days is enough to explore Chiang Rai.
I have to say Chiang Rai is probably one of the best-known hidden gems in Thailand. Beside White and Blue Temple, the other famous temple would be the Black House Museum also known as the Black Temple.
There is an international airport in Chiang Rai. It is about 15 mins from the city where we stayed. We took a domestic flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok which is our last destination in Thailand before we flew back to Singapore. Hence we returned our rental car in Chiang Rai airport.