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JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

San Francisco, CA
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JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

If you’ve travelled to other tourist destinations in Asia, all the markets start to feel the same – fake handbags, fake t-shirts, and other things that locals think that foreigners want at prices 3x what you should be paying. The more commercialized the place, the more it feels like the town is set up just to cater to tourists. The Saturday night walking street and Sunday Night Market (different location) are filled with locals who just want to relax on the weekends. Saturday market is the biggest market, and I think it’s worth trying to time your Chiang Rai visit for Saturday night to catch the market.The markets were PACKED, and it was 90%+ locals rather than tourists. There is a main area of food, live music, and dancing, and locals carried around baskets with them where they filled their baskets with yummies from the stands, and went to the nearby 711 for cold beer and water. A perfect way to spend Saturday night! Food seemed clean, our guide said there is currently pretty strict sanitary standards, and we ended up not getting sick from the food. Plus, the folks were so friendly, tried to help you out and did not try to gouge the tourists. Prices start out low, and locals may ask to knock a few baht off the price (e.g. 39 baht item can be sold for 35 baht), but just a little. All in all a very fun way to spend the evening. BTW, there is a proper restaurant along the Saturday Night walking street called Phulae which was decent, air conditioned, and clean. Great Tom Yum soup there.

The next morning, we hired Charlee (Cha Lee) to be our guide and he took us to the White House, Black House, Golden Triangle. The White House was pretty and worth a stop. No one really talks about the Black House, and I’m not sure why. This place was very different from anywhere else I’ve ever seen. This guy has built 40+ different structures on his property, each with its own theme, and this property is wacky! You can spend a lot of time wandering around looking at everything. My one disappointment is that Charlee did not have much to say about the exhibits, as he said no one really knows the meaning and we are left to guess our own interpretation.

The golden triangle area was nice to see, but it’s really an overlook area, and not anywhere to walk around. We went to the small opium museum, which suited our purpose to learn a bit about the opium trade and use. We decided not to take a boat to the casino in Burma or Laos, which is something that some folks decide to do. We went to see an old temple, and had fun with a monk there who was trying to teach us how to make these brass bells “hum”. Came back to town to eat at the Sunday market, which was almost as lively as the Saturday market with all sorts of food, ranging from pad thai to gyros. The main food area is near the center by the temple. Listen for the music, b/c the food seems to be centered around the live music and dancing at each of these markets. If you have kids, the Sunday market also had a bouncy house section by the music for the kids.

The next day, we were scheduled to take a long tail boat down the river to the Ruammit elephant camp. The boat ride was nothing special, and in hind sight, probably not worth the 700 baht, if you have been on a similar SE Asia longtail boat ride before. We did see some women use these huge fishing nets that I hadn’t seen before, but that was the only neat thing we saw along the river. When we arrived to the elephant camp, we could pay 20 baht for some bananas to feed the elephants. I told Charlee that I wasn’t interested in riding the elephant if you had to ride in a seat, so he asked them if I could ride bareback w/o the seat, and they said yes. I think this is indicative of the type of place that Chiang Rai is- they are so nice, laid back, and not yet jaded and set in the ways of how tourists should be treated. This was the highlight of my trip - thanks Charlee!

From the elephant camp, we went to visit the hill tribes and tea plantations. The hilltribes have set up these camps for the tourists – they really do live there, but they choose to live there b/c that is where the tourists go. I suspect that if you want to see real hilltribes, then you have to trek into the mountains. They currently have at least two of these tourist camp areas set up, one close to the golden triangle, and one close to the tea plantations. We paid the 300 baht admission to go into these camps, and took pictures with the tribe members. They were all very friendly and nice about the picture taking, so I made sure to purchase little trinkets there. The trinkets are very cheap and very reasonably priced, bought a necklace for 100 baht, and two bracelets for 100 baht as well.

From the nice advice from trip advisor regulars, I did buy the coffee from Pangkorn coffee shop and Poo Salong. The Mae Salong store was closed, Charlee said it closes for a few months in the summer b/c it is low season. Husband loved both coffees.

Some tips:

Tours: If you are single, there are tours in town that take you to white house, black house, golden triangle, and Karen Hilltribe for 1000 baht. That sounds reasonable, and cheaper than the private tour guides + transport if you are by yourself.

Food: Based on the TA recommendations, we tried to stop at Aekocha for lunch one day, but it was closed for lunch for a special event that day. Instead, we ate at the Pho type noodle shop next door to Aekocha, and it was very good and cheap! Our hotel staff and Charlee recommended Lu Lam for dinner, and Charlee said in his opinion it was better than Aekocha. Lu Lam was terrible. The market street food was pretty good, but I think the local flavor may be more fishy than the thai food that I’m used to.

Taxis: Taxis are not plentiful, and it seems like you have to call a cab if you want a cab. I only saw the tuk tuks in the market area, charging around 20 baht/person from the Sunday market to the Saturday market area (20 minute walk).

All in all, a great trip! Thanks for all the help in my planning!

Chiang Rai, Thailand
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1. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Hi sfgirl,

It sounds like you had a fantastic time, I hope you'll be vack another year.

I love the Saturday Night Walking Street, so do my girls, it's quite a long walk to do it all. Sorry about Aekocha being closed, I don't know LuLam or maybe I do but don't know the name.

Great report and glad we could be of help.

Best,

Bruce

Colorado
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for Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai Province
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2. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

sfgirl3:

Thanks for sharing your trip with us. It is always such a delight to come onto the forum and find another traveler has posted a trip report!

I loved reading your report. I was sorry to hear Aekocha was closed, as I think it has great service and great food. I'm not familiar with LuLam but sorry you didn't have a good experience. I've eaten at Phulae along the Saturday Night Walking market and found it acceptable, but not fantastic.

Your elephant ride sounds spectacular. It is nice that the mahouts in Raummit will let you ride the elephants bareback. Glad it was the highlight of your trip.

I have not visited the hilltribes that charge 300 baht to visit near the Golden Triangle or Raummit, as I prefer visiting a hilltribe not set up for tourists. There are other hilltribes one can visit in the Raummit area that are not set up for tourists.

I am sure your report will provide a lot of information and helpful guidance to other travelers. Thanks for taking the time to share so much detail.

Broder

San Francisco, CA
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3. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Broder- we wanted to visit the long neck Karen tribe. Of course I would have preferred to visit one not set up for tourists - does that exist with long neck Karens? If so, it would be helpful for more information on it for other visitors. I understand they are building another long neck Karen tribe for visitors, so it will make 3 in the area.

Kuala Lumpur...
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4. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Hi,

I will be travelling alone to Chiang Rai just before the Loy Krathong festival. I will only be there for a day or two, will be in Chiang Mai for Loy Krathong.

I would love to join a group tour to the White Temple and the Black House while I'm in Chiang Rai.

Is it easy to find a group tour when I'm there? Or should I book ahead?

Many thanks for sharing your report.

Denver, Colorado
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5. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Sfgirl3,

Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Sounds like you had a great time. Glad you were able to ride the elephant without the seat and that you enjoyed Ruammit. It is also great ou were able to get Poosalong coffee. It is one of my favorites.

Hamzy

Sacramento...
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6. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Broder - your comment of: "I have not visited the hilltribes that charge 300 baht to visit near the Golden Triangle or Raummit, as I prefer visiting a hilltribe not set up for tourists. There are other hilltribes one can visit in the Raummit area that are not set up for tourists."

Can you post where these hilltribes are located? Can we visit them on our own or do we have to be with a group or guide? We will be in Chiang Rai the end of October for a few days and would love to visit hilltribes in their natural setting rather than one set up for tourists.

Colorado
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7. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

It is pretty difficult to post how to find hiilltribes that are remotely located. I don't think I could find most of them on my own and I have been there many times. You can visit a hillltribe on your own, just like you could visit a neighborhood or ethnic area in the states, but the difficulty is finding them on your own due to the remote location. I have visited many with a guide or a local friend and have also visited hilltribes where I just meet a person in town at the local market or a restaurant and end up getting myself invited. In Mae Salong, if you stay at one of the local guesthouses they have walking maps of how to get to the hilltribes. Those are interesting, but there are even more remote hilltribes about 15 minutes outside of Mae Salong. Around Ruammit if you go west and find the suspension bridge, there are hilltribes in that area too.

I've visited hilltribes on my own but found it more interesting when I had someone with me that could translate.

I think if you go with a group tour you are more likely to end up in the type of hilltribe set up for tourists.

Any of the local guides in the FAQ should be able to take you to more authentic hilltribes, but you need to be clear about your goal. A lot of travelers are not as adventurous so unless the guide understands the type of experience you desire, you may end up in a setting where you have to pay to enter a "tourist" site.

Let me know if you have more questions or feel free to send me a PM.

Safe Travels,

Broder

Colorado
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for Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai Province
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8. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

inluvwithblue

Just saw your question after I posted the above.

You don't need a group tour to get to the White Temple. Just ask any tuk tuk driver or taxi to take you. The taxi or tuk tuk will wait for you.

You can also just take a tuk tuk or taxi to the Black Artists House, but they are not in the same direction.

If the only two things you wanted to do are visit the above, I would not recommend spending the money on our group tour as I think it would limit your flexibility and a group tour doesn't provide much more than transportation to these places.

Safe Travels,

Broder

Kuala Lumpur...
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9. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Hi Broder,

Thank you so much for the advice. In that case, I will probably just take a taxi / tuk-tuk to the White Temple and the Black Artists House. Due to the time constraints, I do only want to pay a visit to these two places. :)

Regards,

Blue

Toronto, Canada
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10. Re: JBR - Chiang Rai is different - loved it!

Do you think that 4 nights in Chiang Rai is too much. At the moment we're booked in a hotel in town. We will be coming from Luang Prabang via the Mekong River trip, and wonder if CR has too little going on. Perhaps a hotel that's more of a resort where we can kick back and relax, and take day trips when we want? We always choose to stay in town so we can wander around, but wondering if this is the wrong thing to do in this case.