The iconic buildings and places in Chiang Rai are steeped in history and heritage. Once the epicentre of the Lanna Kingdom that ruled Northern Thailand, the city counts thousands of years of human past. But it's also wild and modern, meaning there's a truly eclectic range of things to see and places to be in these parts.

    This guide to the most famous landmarks of Chiang Rai runs the gamut, from twisted temples and shiny metal stupas to cave systems and unusual river beaches. It's got something for culture buffs and nature lovers, checking off some of the city's most fa buildings and places along the way.

    1

    White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

    An architectural masterpiece in Chiang Rai

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    The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun, is surely the single most iconic building in the whole of Chiang Rai. You'll find it emblazoned on postcards, in travel brochures, and on shirts. A visit is a must, so hop in a tuk-tuk and head southwest along Phahonyothin Road – the trip should take about 20 minutes in all.

    Oddly, Chiang Rai's most iconic shrine isn't all that old. It was only opened to visitors in the late 1990s after being constructed on the site of a more ancient temple. Today, it's a fusion of modernism and ancient Lanna styles. Watch out for the symbolic bridge that reaches the main building, representing the Buddhist path of overcoming desire, as well as the haunting effigies of death that stand watch before the entrance. You'll need a few hours to explore in full.

    ที่ตั้ง: 60 1 Phahonyothin Rd, Pa O Don Chai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

    เปิด: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    โทร: +66 (0)53 673 967

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    2

    Wat Phra Kaew

    Erstwhile home of the Emerald Buddha

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    The Wat Phra Kaew is hallowed ground in the world of Thai Buddhism and one of the most venerable temples in Chiang Rai. Look for it on the northwest side of the city centre, where it spikes up between the leafy paths of Trairat Road.

    Mainly, the spot is known as the place where the revered Emerald Buddha – one of the greatest religious-royal treasures in the whole country – was housed until 1552. That's since been moved to the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok, but there's now an elegant bronze-cast Buddha that's 700 years old in its place. The temple itself is wonderful, too, sporting filigreed apses splattered with gold.

    ที่ตั้ง: 19/1 Trairat Rd, Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

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    3

    Wat Phrathat Doi Chom Thong

    An ancient site of religious importance

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    Wat Phrathat Doi Chom Thong sits in a spot that was important even before the arrival of Buddhism in Thailand. People say the onetime Lanna King Mangrai came here while stalking an elephant before going on to found the city of Chiang Mai further to the south. The temple of today rises by the side of a park on the meandering Kok River on the northwest side of town.

    You won't want to miss a sighting of the gleaming golden chedi. thought to be nearly 1,000 years old, it's very much the anchor of the whole shrine. Notice its lotus flower-shaped bottom and the ritual bell dangling from the top.

    ที่ตั้ง: Wat Phrathat Doi Chom Thong, Tambon Rop Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

    เปิด: Daily from 6 am to 5 pm

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    4

    King Mangrai Monument

    Walk under the Lanna king

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    The King Mangrai Monument is one of the most-photographed landmarks in the whole of Chiang Rai. Drop by to get your shots of the proud effigy by heading across to the eastern side of the downtown. There, it rises above the intersection of Singhaclai and Uttarakit roads on a colossal plinth.

    The statue depicts the honoured 13th-century King of Lanna, Mangrai. He's not only known as the first leader of the kingdom of which Chiang Rai was a part for almost 500 years, but he also founded Chiang Rai itself back in 1262. It's an impressive work of art, too, showing the figure clad in full armour with a sword slung by his side.

    ที่ตั้ง: King Mangrai Monument, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

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    5

    Singha Park Chiang Rai

    Check out the iconic lion statue in this lush park

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    Singha Park is a beautiful park about 15 minutes southwest of downtown Chiang Rai. The grounds of this park are massive, so a great way to explore is by taking one of its farm tours or hopping on a tram.

    There are plenty of things to do in Singha Park for the whole family. Standouts include a tea plantation, lake, sports, and a recreation centre. Don’t miss the large statue in the centre of the park. Head to the park’s hilltop restaurant, Bhu Bhirom, for excellent views and local food.

    ที่ตั้ง: Mae Kon, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

    เปิด: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

    โทร: +66 (0)91 576 0374

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    6

    Chiang Rai Beach

    Splash around in the Kok River

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    Chiang Rai Beach bucks the trend of the north to offer travellers a spit of sand to cool off on – whoever said the isles of the Thai Gulf and the Andaman were the only options? When the weather's hot, go searching for it along the bends of the Kok River to the west of the centre.

    Don't come expecting a vision of a tropical paradise with coconut husks and cocktail bars. Come for the wildness of it. Here, you get strangely shaped sandbanks that shift with the movement of the waterway from dry season to wet. There are jungle-tufted hills behind and shacks selling noodle stir-fries. It's certainly a good break from the hubbub of the city's core.

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    7

    Wat Phra Sing

    Thai religious architecture in full flow

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    Wat Phra Sing stands out from the crowd of religious buildings just north of Wat Phra Alley, in the middle of Chiang Rai's culture quarter. You can’t miss the temple, thanks to its golden friezes and twisting models of dragons.

    If that sounds like a work of art, then just wait until you go inside. The main room is a glorious show of columns gilded in meticulous metalwork, leading you through a wood-floored shrine towards an altar that's always filled with incense. Wat Phra Sing was built in the late 19th century, on the site of an older Lanna shrine.

    ที่ตั้ง: Wat Phra Sing, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

    เปิด: Daily from 6 am to 6.30 pm

    โทร: +66 (0)53 711 735

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    8

    Golden Triangle

    A trio of countries in 1 view

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    The Golden Triangle is a truly remarkable location in Northern Thailand. You'll need to venture almost 1.5 hours north of Chiang Rai to get there. The reason for the expedition? It's the point where 3 nations converge. Burma is to the north, while Laos is to the east. Thailand itself spreads out to the south and the west.

    You can stand at a lookout point to enjoy 360-degree views of the 3 countries. There's also an intriguing park with a colossal statue of a sitting Buddha. Plus, this is a fine place to glimpse the mighty Mekong River, which forms the Laotian border with its tea-tinted stream.

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    9

    Clock Tower Chiang Rai

    The city's meeting point

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    The Clock Tower of Chiang Rai is one of the defining architectural features of the city. For many, it's the main meeting point and anchor of the downtown core, sitting swirled in beeping tuk-tuks and purring scooters amid Phaholyothin Road, the busiest thoroughfare in the town.

    The monument was only unveiled in 2008 to honour the Thai King. Any veteran of the iconic White Temple might recognise the style – it was designed by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The clock tower even has the same bold spikes and metalwork. There's a laser and music show that illuminates the Clock Tower at 7 pm.

    ที่ตั้ง: Clock Tower Chiang Rai, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

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    10

    Mueang Chiang Rai Park

    Come to relax with blooming flowers

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    The Mueang Chiang Rai Park is one of the only designated green spaces in the buzzy downtown of Chiang Rai. It occupies a single block south of Thanalai Road, close to the fascinating Hill Tribe Museum.

    It's all about the flowerbeds at Mueang Chiang Rai Park. They're awash with pink rhododendrons, waxy orchids, dancing daisies – you name it. Things really get into full swing at the park during the annual flower show, which usually takes place in December and January. Even if that's not on, this is a top spot for a picnic or a chill-out session in the shade.

    ที่ตั้ง: Mueang Chiang Rai Park, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand

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    11

    Lion Hill Cave

    Buddha temples and strange caves

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    The Lion Hill Cave is a bit more of an off-the-beaten-track option for those who want to share their time between underground chambers and lush parklands. It's to the west of the city, spread over a hill on the meanders of the Kok River – a tuk-tuk here takes less than 20 minutes in normal traffic.

    The main attraction is the cave itself. It opens into a trio of caverns that are each lit by natural skylights that have been carved into the rocks above. Talking of above, head back to ground level and you can see one of the country's oldest fig trees, or join several marked hiking trails that cross the hill to the river beaches.

    Joseph Francis | นักเขียนประจำ

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