Chiang Rai calling
Exploring the quieter, sleepier sister of Chiang Mai from Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort.
You could, of course, opt to fly to Chiang Rai, but where’s the fun in that? So some finagling with songthaews— red trucks plying the streets as cheap, shared taxis that will drop you off anywhere—and navigating the bus schedules with backpacks on are the rules of the game. Pick the Green Bus, pay for the highest class (the price of a souped-up Starbucks frappé) and you’ll get there in three hours, safe, comfy and fast with a side of Thai horror films playing loudly in the background. Then be sure to have arranged for a swish chauffeur-driven ride from the sweltering bus depot.
A quick hop from either airport or station, Le Méridien Chiang Rai sits tranquilly on a four-hectare site and is the perfect base to explore the city from. The Kok River, a tributary of the Mekong, laps one side of the resort—a late afternoon aperitif to watch the boats sail by sets the tone for whiling away the post-swim, pre-dinner golden hour.
Two ancient rain trees form the centrepieces around which the property is built. According to local folklore, they represent the doomed love story between a Thai king and his Burmese lover, one that ended with a tragic alcohol-induced death (him) and a life spent in a nunnery (her). While one lantern-festooned tree shades an area close to the river, its partner sits 50m or so away in a courtyard surrounded by the hotel rooms, their roots forever entwined underground.
Once you’re done with the sob stories, feast on the excellent syncretic Italian fare at Favola. The gourmet pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven are the pièces de résistance for a scrumptious dinner where virtually every dish hits the spot. And boy, did we scarf it all down. Then take your drinking further at the Latitude 19 Bar. For a Thai touch, we had a Tom Yum cocktail, which turned out to be a pretty damn good idea.
As the night creeps in, it’s time to get thee to a bazaar. Compared to the Chiang Rai Night Market that’s 3km from Le Méridien Chiang Rai, the Sunday Night Walking Street (as recommended by the hotel) has far more interesting stuff than the usual gaudy tat catered to the singlet-and-fisherman pants-wearing backpacker. Food stalls brimming with Northern Thai classics are crammed between vendors selling clothes that cool, local hipsters wear. Myriads of childhood snacks jostle for space on tables filled with everyday necessities, while family-manned set-ups offer handmade trinkets made from upcycled trash. From an orchestra of pensioners playing traditional tunes to a four-piece acoustic set belting out Thai pop songs, the best street musicians can also be found here. Think pasar malam, but with better food, “live” performances and foot massages. Meanwhile, a short walk down quiet, dimly lit streets leads you to the Golden Clock Tower and its musical colour light show.
But, overall, evenings in Chiang Rai are sedate, with few cars on the roads, and even fewer shops and restaurants open. Think of it as a respite between Chiang Mai and further travels up to Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle. It’s a breather of a jaunt with some museums and temples thrown in, but what better place to set off from than a contemporary art-filled abode like Le Méridien Chiang Rai? For reservations, visit
Words by Lestari Hairul