Astonishing Chiang Rai – exploring the golden triangle in a cheaper and hassle-free way

This is part of my 7 days trip to Thailand last December. Even though Chiang Mai was the main destination back there, Chiang Rai which was the supplemental destination successfully exceeding my expectation. Make sure you do not miss the golden triangle region of northern Thailand. During my trip in both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I chose motorbike as the main transportation choice. Read through on my post on how you can afford cheaper and less hassle transportation to explore the region.

Accommodation

Pan Kled Eco Hill Villa – 8.4 rated in Booking.com

Plus: Quiet and homey environment, motorcycle parking, including proper breakfast (choice of Thai or Western style), good value for money, very responsive staffs.

Minus: Hot water heater not working (however, they offered a room switch due to the inconvenience), location is far from the city center so a private transportation mode is a must.

Pan Kled Villa Room
First Day

We arrived in Chiang Rai quite late enough on a several hours bus drive from Chiang Mai. From the bus station, we took a grab car service directly to the Pan Kled hostel. Upon arriving, we checked in, had a late supper of Thai fried rice, and get a rest for tomorrow.

Renting a Bike

First thing first on the morning, renting a motorbike for the journey. Near the clock tower, there were lots of choice for Motorcycle rental. Our choice fell to the ST Motorcycle Rental.

ST Motorcycle Rental – near the clock tower – Jetyod Road

The cheapest alternative was the 125cc scooter with a cost of 250 baht per day. The deposit is a must but you can leave your passport as a substitute, which I strongly do not recommend because you need to keep your passport on your side every time wherever you go. The deposit was around 2000-3000 baht.

Fuels – for the second day full trip:
Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle (72 km)

Golden Triangle – Mae Sai (25 km)

Mae Sai – Chiang Rai (62 km)

Chiang Rai – White Temple – Singha Park – BANDAAM – Blue Temple (60 km)

Total journey was around 219 + intra city = 225 km

Bike journey from Mae Sai to Chiang Rai

We refueled 2 times of 91 RON gasoline on a total amount of around 7 litres (170 baht) . An average of 32 km/litre consumption, not bad eh? The total cost of transportation all over Chiang Rai per person:

170 baht + 250 baht = 420 baht / 2 person = 210 baht per person

IT IS FREAKING CHEAP! I strongly recommend you guys to use motorbike, and if you have more budget you can go for a higher cc bike to have faster journey. The maximum speed of the scooter was 80 km/hour, while the limit of the highway was 100 km/hour.

The long 1061 road

My route was Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle – Mae Sai. The other alternative was Chiang Rai  – Mae Sai – Golden Triangle. Just take the long 1061 road from Chiang Rai to reach Golden Triangle, the road was really smooth with only few of cars or local motorbike passing by. Upon reaching the Mae Sai from Golden Triangle, we were stopped by the local police for a passport and licence check. After showing my international driving licence, they let us go.

*There were some articles and blogs that telling the story on Thai police stopping and asking money from some tourists, but I do not think that is really the case. If you are wearing a helmet, having your licence, and behaving courteous then you are good to go.

the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle was the largest opium producer area in the world alongside the Golden Crescent in Afghanistan.  It is the junction of the Mekong and Ruak river which is also a border of the Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. The things to offer here are the view of the junction, the big sitting Buddha statue, and the House of Opium. There are two places that shows the opium related things: Hall of Opium and House of Opium. I did not go to the former one, since already visited the House of Opium.

Interesting things on the House of Opium: a story on how the drug addiction habit was actually started as a recreational activity on the early years, how they found out the opium turned out to produce the opium from the poppy, and on the end of the museum they show the effect of opium consumption. A recreational activity turned out to be a commodity business that powering the nations’ economy in the world war’s era.

There is a legend of the Mekong giant catfish as well. It is the Pangasianodon gigas which is known as Patin in Indonesia. It is also observed in the Kalimantan river as their habitat and local people consumed it as a source of protein.

Opium Museum
Mae Sai

Mae Sai is a city in the north of Chiang Rai, it is a border city between Burma and Thailand. The city is small but lively. We visited Mae Sai on the way back from the Golden Triangle using the west side road. Must visit places here are:

  1. The border market
  2. Wat Phra That Doi Wao
  3. The Big Buddha statue

All of the three are close nearby, but make sure you ride a motorbike for a convenient commuting. You can basically park your bike and get off for a place, then get in the bike to move to another places.

While exploring the market, I found an interesting traditional cardigan-like clothing. The lady owner was a Thai and the store assistant was a Burmese. You can identify the Burmese with a gold colored paint smear in their face. The clothes was so comfy and had an nice color combination, made me having bought the thing for 600 baht. I know it could be more cheaper but I like the shop owner and the assistant, and more importantly the clothes itself. We left at around 5 PM from Mae Sai, just before the sun set. On the way back, we passed by the famous Tham Luang cave where in 2018 twelve Thai boys trapped in.

Border side to Burma
Border control to Burma
Big Buddha
Scorpion Temple
Mae Fah Luang market

On the way back home to Chiang Rai, we passed by a crowded street near the Mae Fah Luang university area. Some street food vendors selling khai tot, crepes, thai tea, fried food, and waffle ball should not be missed. We took a break as well to stretch and also trying some foods.

Mae Fah Luang Food Market

the Clock Tower at 7 PM

Arriving at Chiang Rai, it was almost 7 and we proceed to the Clock Tower. At 7 PM, it showed a light show with music on the background. It was quite okay, but the traffic and crowd around slightly disturb the ambiance. I decided to come back at midnight to enjoy the clock tower.

Clock Tower at 7 PM

After that, we went to the night market just nearby to have a dinner. I devoured a portion of Pad Thai (which is I like most among all Pad Thai I tried in Thailand, I think it is the most authentic one) in the food bazaar just beside the night market. There was a live music on the food bazaar, local artist singing Thai songs. After eating, we explored a bit on the night market and had a one hour Thai massage. My first time trying the Thai massage and I liked it how they stretch our body after a long riding hours from Mae Sai. For massage, most of the parlor there will offer the same price (200 baht per hour for Thai massage, and around 300 bahts for traditional oil massage).

Jetyod Road

Even though I was exhausted, a Tottenham Premier League game could not be missed! So I searched for a nearby sports bar, and found out that the Jetyod Road where I rented my bike was full of bars at night. After looking around for the most comfy place, I chose the Cat Bar which is actually the most visited bar. After parking my motorbike on the side of the street across the bar, I sat and ordered a Singha beer. That was a good night, Tottenham trashed Everton with a 6-2 win!

Jetyod Road Bar

After the Full time whistle was blown and the bar was about to close, I rode my bike to see the Clock Tower at late night. It was nearly 1 AM so nobody was there, I could enjoyed the enthralling clock tower with no traffic on the street.

Clock Tower at Midnight
Second Day
White Temple

Wat Rong Khun is the most mainstream place in Chiang Rai. It is very crowded even in the morning. To be honest, I found this place as the most overrated. The concept of the hell depicted in the yard is quite interesting but apart from that, it is merely a touristy place. You need to pay an admission fee of 50 baht to enter the area. Moving on from here, we departed to the Singha Park.

Wat Rong Khun
Singha Park

Singha Park has lot to offer for a family. They have a restaurant, outdoor games, a mini farm, and a tea plantation sites. They also offer lots of good spot for photo-taking as well. The only thing is that the price of food is quite pricy, if you decided to go all-in backpacker style then you should bring your own food or skip the food in Singha Park to avoid the pricy restaurant there. I was tempted to try the climbing wall activity that costed me 150 baht (quite expensive right?) and my friend tried the zip line ride that she really enjoyed.

Bandaam Museum

This museum was promoted by the famous Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. I enjoyed how the artist make a concept of hell into a complex, but somehow some display’s concept was seemed forced. My favorite display was the round mini house where some chairs placed on the circumference border inside the house. In the middle was a skin of a dead crocodile. It is weird, but the lighting and acoustic was good making it enthralling to sit inside. Moreover, this place is okay to visit (very touristy as well just like the Wat Rong Khun) but do not expect much from this.

Bandaam Museum
Blue Temple

This was our last destination in Chiang Rai before catching up the evening flight to Bangkok. This temple was actually better than the white one, in my view. It was still full of tourist but the architectural is better than the white. The afternoon light spraying on the temple building made it even enjoyable.

Blue Temple

Returning the bike and getting our deposit, we then hurried to the airport which is quite far from the city. Our grab driver was pretty skillful as she knew the shortcut to the airport as well so we arrived very early. The flight was also delayed, so we spent several hours waiting inside the airport.

Total Expenditure in Chiang Rai

4,154 baht

Rent a bike 2 days                        500
Gasoline First 91                          90
House of Opium entry                       50
Coconut @golden triangle                   35
Sun hat                                   120
Snacks 7-11                                55
Lunch (sweet sour pork+rice+americano)    230
Traditional clothing Mae Sai              600
Snacks Mae Fah Luang                       30
Dinner Pad Thai                            60
Thai massage + tip                        240
Beer at Cat Bar                            80
Gasoline Second 91                         80
White temple admission                     50
Singha Park lunch                         210
Singha Park climbing                      150
Bandaam admission                          80
Snack at blue temple                       55
Dinner                                     49
Accommodation for 2 nights               1150
Bus ticket to Chiang Rai                  240

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