Day One: Wide Open Spaces, Sample Myanmar and a Night Bazaar
Drive north from Chiang Mai (or fly directly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai airport) and enjoy the lush green carpet of mountain forests, emerald valleys, and electric green rice fields. Big sky and clean air invigorate the senses. There are several beautiful National Parks here and if you enjoy hiking and wildlife, we can help weave them into your itinerary.
Just on the outskirts of Chiang Rai pay a visit to one of Thailand's most extraordinary modern temples, Wat Rongkhun, an ongoing project of artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Decorated entirely in pure white with mirror accents, it is designed to be viewed best by moonlight. This is a unique chance to witness the birth of an entirely unique style of temple.
This afternoon, explore the border town of Mae Sai where you may cross over into Myanmar (bring your passport) to wander around the market in Tachieleik where cheap goods from China and gems, jade and lacquerware from Burma are on offer. If you fancy a climb, there's a great view to be had from Wat Phra Tat Doi Wao. Spelunkers may also like to visit the limestone caves of Tham Luang, Tham Pum and Tham Pla (rent or bring a lantern).
Spend the rest of the afternoon at the famous Golden Triangle, the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ruak rivers where Laos meets Myanmar and Thailand. Nearby is charming town of Chiang Saen, a former 14th century capital, where boats from China dock to unload goods. This quiet little town has grown up around the ancient city walls and red brick ruins, many in excellent shape. The ruins of Wat Pa Sak are in an impressive park setting of huge trees and moats. The chedi (stupa) at Wat Athi Ton Kaew has broken open to reveal a smaller, older stupa inside with its white stucco decoration preserved. The Chiang Saen Museum is open Wed to Sun. Head back to Chiang Rai in the late afternoon.
This evening, check out Chiang Rai's night bazaar, with a large outdoor food court and live entertainment. Our guide will be happy to point out the local gay hang-outs nearby.
Day Two: Mountains, Gardens and Hill Tribes
Today you may choose between two different programs. The first option is a beautiful and easy drive up into the mountains to the Chinese-settled border town of Mae Salong (it can get chilly here November through February, so bring a light jacket or pullover). Here, tea plantations and farms perch dramatically on steep mountain faces. Take a walk through the winding town and try some of the local honey-flavored oolong teas at a shop. Hill tribes people (Hmong, Ahka, Lisu, Mien) wander past in colorful traditional costume. Home fronts are decorated with Chinese calligraphic banners and exotic flowers. From December to January you may see cherry trees in bloom.
Alternatively, take a trip up to to Doi Tung to visit the former royal villa of the Princess Mother (mother of the current King), now a museum, and the Mae Fah Luang Botanical Garden. This royal project was introduced to encourage opium growers to switch to other crops including flowers. At the top of the mountain is Wat Phra Tat Doi Tung, housing important Buddha relics and offering a panoramic view of the Thai/Myanmar border. You may also visit The Hall of Opium, run by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, for an informative exhibition on the history of poppy cultivation.
Time to stay longer? If you are not in a hurry to see the highlights of this remarkable region, why not spend a second night? Your car, driver and driver will remain with you to enjoy the places mentioned above at a more leisurely pace. And why not? It's your holiday, isn't it? We also have a two-night visit to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle.