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Chiang Saen

Travel Guide

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Just south of the Golden Triangle tourist hell hole is Chiang Saen, a quiet and very historic town that sits by the Mekong River and was once an independent kingdom.

Archaeological finds in the area have placed development here in prehistoric times. More recent communities have been placed in the region of the 13th to 14th Centuries when one of the sons of King Mangrai, Saen Pu, on his father's orders commenced construction of a walled city with the Mekong River being one of those borders.

In its heyday the walled-in city had an area of 2.5 sq km and contained 76 temples within its walls and another 63 outside creating what must have been a spectacular city.

Unfortunately, development and looting have taken a disastrous toll on many of these ruins and precious little remains. Following King Mangrai's unification of Northern Thailand, Chiang Saen became a frontier town of the Kingdom of Lan-na until the entire Kingdom was conquered by the Burmese. It was not until 1782 that Chiang Saen returned to the Thai fold and it became a district of Chiang Rai Province in 1957.

There are enough historic sites and wats around town to keep you busy for a couple of days (if you take it very slowly) and it is also close enough to Sop Ruak (the point where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet) that you can pop up at dawn, take your photo and get out before anyone you know sees you there.

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A historic centre, Chiang Saen's regional importance faded about, oh 600 years ago, and it seems its touristic importance is also slipping by.

While it is one of the closer points to the seriously overhyped Golden Triangle, the scattered ruins and two outlying temples are the true highlights, along with an ample supply of riverfront scenery.

If you've got time on your hands, give it a night, but otherwise a few hours will allow you to take in the highlights.

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Text and/or map last updated on 11th August, 2009.

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