As one of the northernmost cities in Thailand, Chiang Rai is often used as a base for day trips to Burma and the Golden Triangle. It’s also home to the Hill tribes, a term used to refer to several agrarian groups that migrated from China. A popular activity is to go trekking and stay at one of the local Hill tribe villager’s home. If you’ve ever seen an image of Asian women with golden rings around their long necks, that’s an example of members of the Karen Hill tribe.
Chiang Rai itself is very small and rural, and you could probably see most of it in a day. Public transportation or taxi cabs are virtually nonexistent, so the best way to get around is to hire a driver. We used Lanna Trek, a local travel company that took us to the major sightseeing attractions in the area for about 1,500 bhat a person, or $42 USD. This also included admission to the sites as well as breakfast and lunch, so a pretty good deal, in my opinion.
We were limited to eating in the town square or at the places that our driver stopped at. As such, our food itinerary was a hodge podge of local neighborhood eateries. The night market in Chiang Rai was touted as having great street food, but to be completely honest, the platters of uncooked meat with flies on them weren’t all that appealing. There was decent grab-and-go fare and homestyle Thai cuisine at Baan Chivit, a local bakery, but the Northern Thai cuisine at Barrab, one of the highest rated restaurants on Tripadvisor, was just ok. The food in Chiang Mai in general is so much better.
On our day tour with Lanna Trek, we stopped by a local food stand that made hearty bowls of beef noodle soup for only 10 baht. That probably was our cheapest meal on the trip. And the portions were very generous. It had a lot in common with pho, which I found very interesting. After driving into Mae Sai, a town initially set up by the Taiwanese and hence inhabited by many ethnic Chinese, we had a very tasty Yunnan meal at the local restaurant near the markets.
It was solid and comforting, nothing more and nothing less. Like if you were eating a decent meal made by your friend’s mom or sitting down for lunch at church. If we had a car, we probably could have ventured out further to more interesting places, but as this was not the case, we had to make do with what was nearby. And what was nearby was good enough. But Chiang Mai was even better.