Chi­ang Rai call­ing

Ex­plor­ing the qui­eter, sleepier sis­ter of Chi­ang Mai from Le Méri­dien Chi­ang Rai Re­sort.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Man At His Best -

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

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