Over a year ago, we moved to Chiang Rai and I started this “12 things” series because I wanted to be cool like Lani at Pointes of View. I love her lists on Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
It’s been a good challenge to write about Chiang Rai because CR is a small town that often gets overlooked for bigger brighter Chiang Mai. But now that I’m days away from leaving, I can reflect and appreciate that I’ve lived in both Northern cities, and say I lived here and it’s been a great experience.
Let’s toast to CR with a last “12 things” list.
1. The White Temple or Wat Rong Kung is like what Doi Suthep is to Chiang Mai. It’s the thing that Chiang Rai is known for and rightly so. It’s unlike any of the other temples you see around Thailand. The entrance is free, but since the May 2014 earthquake, you cannot go inside the main building.
And according to the wiki, work won’t be completed until 2070 (!) and with the recent damage, I don’t think anyone knows when the inside will reopen to the public. The temple still gets a lot of visitors though.
I was told busloads of Chinese tourists decent upon the place around 11. And that seemed about right as they were everywhere. There are some shops, plenty of drinks and a restaurant/food court place, but I’d eat somewhere else.
If you use a cab to get out there, don’t pay more than 200 baht (one way). We ran into a couple that said they were told 800 baht and even if that is a round trip price, the offer is priced too high. Don’t be afraid to bargain and try to include other places on your tour, like the Black House to make it worth your time and money.
2. Heaven on Earth or Sawan bondin is a rustic tea farm and homestay by my friend Toh who sells his mother’s teas at Nangnon Coffee. I was out there when they first were getting it all going and recently to see how much their garden has grown.
Toh speaks passable English and is an all-around kind and gentle person. He has a passion for photography, tea and pottery. If you’re interested in staying with a Thai family, (you have your own room, separate entrance, but you are at their house) not in town, and don’t mind being independent, email him at: email@example.com. Prices, I remember, were reasonable.
3. 71 degrees Celsius is an AMAZING fall-off-the-bones BBQ ribs restaurant on Ratyotha where it intersects with Pratu Chiang Mai Road. They don’t have an extensive menu (thank god), but what they serve, they do well. Mainly Thais go there, although I just saw a review on Chiang Rai Ties so the expat community has discovered this gem.
Two can share a large rack of ribs. I have to go before we leave CR…
4. The next day, you should head over to Rai Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park to work off those ribs and sangrias you had at 71. Bicycle out or take a blue songtaew there with your bicycles (because the park is too big to walk around in, but perfect for a bike) and enjoy the beauty, quiet and local artifacts housed in some of the buildings. My incredible friend Rebecca started this project, among many other things. She’s a legend, really, in CR and CM.
To get there: Take Ratyotha Road away from downtown. Pass the Denha intersection where there is a large picture of the King’s Mother. At the next intersection, turn right on to Honglee. You will see Cimelo Coffee on your right. There are also some newish eateries that have cropped up along here that you might want to nosh at later. Honglee becomes Pa Ngew and Rai Mae Fah Luang will be across from the Country Homes gate on your left.
5. I suppose now you’ll be needing a spa, eh? My former students took me to a going-away lunch at Baan Chonsuwana and it was delicious. I wish I knew about sooner. It’s upscale Thai food hidden behind a very green high wall on 18 Mituna Road with the fancy spa next door. We took a tour of the spa and snapped pictures because it was so pretty. Prices start at 600 and go up from there. I have no idea how these tucked-away places are discovered, but they do.
By the way, even though it is spelled, Chonsuwana, it is pronounced Chonsuwan. Got to love transliteration. Hearty portions. Mushroom laab – yummy, yummy, spicy. The salmon salad was excellent, as were the Thai desserts and service.
6. Kuhn Joe’s was recently pointed out by a long-term Chiang Rai resident. It’s a beauty school! And you can supposedly get a free haircut there because, you know, the students cut your hair.
When I went in, they were terrified that I didn’t speak Thai (I was being lazy and hey, I’ve been practicing Khmer, if you want to know the truth), but the head-honcho spoke English and she told me it was 30 baht for me to get my hair shampooed and my bangs cut.
My Thai friend recommended that I get the shampoo, so I did and I knew that was 20 baht – so 10 baht for bangs, why not? The original student who was going to cut my bangs backed out because (???) she was too scared to cut a foreigner’s hair? Overall, it was an entertaining experience. Will you please go in and terrify them further?
7. Wine Casa at The Legend is a posh evening eatery in a town where there is not a lot of evening restaurant options. Everyone already knows about Melt in Your Mouth (doors close at 8ish + staff gets antsy to close) and Chivit Thamma Da is sooo brunch, but Wine Casa feels like a delicious secret.
Romantic. Italian. Expensive. Beautiful grounds overlooking the river, but we opted for the A/C bug-free zone. You can make reservations and they’re open until 10pm.
*Can I just say, I love how Chiang Rai gets passed by because if you simply walk around downtown it looks like another boring Thai city. But there is so much more to this place. Lots of nice restaurants and as CM gets more and more congested, I think more hi-so Thais will opt for CR for their next vacation. They already do.
8. Toh took us to Doy Din Dang Pottery to show us where he did his ceramic apprenticeship. And you’ll be in pottery heaven here. There are a couple of shops, one for discount imperfections and the other for the “good stuff”. We had ice cream, took lots of photos and browsed.
It’s clear that the artist, Sumluk, apprenticed in Japan as the attention to detail is seen everywhere, right down to the tiled toilets. It’s a nice gallery not too far away from the Art Bridge, where local talent showcase their work. You could make it an afternoon of it.
Rent a car or taxi, both of these places are off of the Superhighway. For car rentals, try Budget near Golden Triangle Inn and the Red Taxi’s number is: 053.601.622. My friends work at Golden Triangle Restaurant and recommended them and I use the Red Taxi all the time.
9. Manorom is yet another fancy restaurant in Chiang Rai. I think because Chivit Thamma Da‘s success with Thai celebrities, similar restaurants followed suit. The grounds are expansive and almost strange, as in, is there a hotel around here? Is there anything else around here?
Interestingly, Manorom is a district in Central Thailand. And only because my b/f can read Thai have we noticed other restaurants named as Thai cities and places, too, like Sukothai noodles. Manorom is a full restaurant even though they advertise as a coffee shop. They have Thai and Western food and a good mix of foreigner and Thai customers.
10. Perhaps you have seen those perplexing signs about Chiang Rai beach? What is it? you might be wondering. Is it really a beach? No, it’s the Kok Riverfront where Thais love to go to for Songkran and hangout when it’s hot. This is also a nice area to bike around, but sometimes there are packs of stray dogs around here, too, so be careful. CR beach can be a nice alternative if you don’t want to stay poolside at your hotel and venture out.
11. Saturday and Sunday Walking Street or nighttime street markets seem to be so very Thai. Chiang Mai’s Saturday is smaller than Sundays and both are at different locations, and well, Chiang Rai has a similar set up (but this isn’t always the case, Lamphun’s walking street happens on Fridays).
Saturday’s Walking Street is on Thanalai, one of the main roads downtown. It’s tourist-oriented and farang-friendly. I say this because Sunday’s Walking Street on Sankhongnoi Road is a much more local affair. Sunday will have household plastic goods, blankets, a smaller row of prepared foods (a vegetarian’s nightmare) and consignment clothes.
Vendors start to set up around 4pm with many setting up later when the temperature goes down. I find every walking street that I have been to unique despite that they “look alike”. Maybe I’ve been here too long…
12. I feel like I’ve taken enough pictures of bowls of khao soi that it’s starting to get embarassing. But I thought I’d leave you, dear readers, with my favorite khao soi place on Thanalai Road. It’s across from the oldest bakery (that very Chinese-looking brown place). If you can read Thai, it says, “Fin food”. Yeahhh.
Whew. This is by no means a complete list. We never made it to the famous Phu Chi Fai, and I would have liked to have gone. Nor did we ever catch a boat ride on the Kok River or visit the local waterfalls. But that’s okay. I like Rick Steve’s travel philosophy, “assume you’ll be back.”
See you in Cambodia. Cheers, Chiang Rai!