Photo: Freighter on the Mekong.

Introduction

Our rating:

Picturesque Chiang Saen is our pick of Chiang Rai province’s riverside towns. Take our word for it, it is worth at least a night.



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Why should you go to Chiang Saen?

Chiang Saen punches well above its weight for markets, sights, hotels and places to eat. Come for its laid back, small town vibe, pleasant riverside setting and little touristed scene.

The views from Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao are not shabby. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

The views from Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao are not shabby. Photo: Mark Ord

The town will appeal to travellers with an interest in Thai history and temples—this is not a party town. If you’re on an open-ended trip, you could easily lose a few days hanging out here.

When to go to Chiang Saen

We’d say it doesn’t matter what time of year you choose for your visit. The hot and dry season runs from late February until late April followed by rains from May until October. November to February are dry and cool. Low-lying, it avoids nippy evenings and the misty rainy season of a higher spot like Doi Mae Salong.

Strike a pose. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Strike a pose. Photo: Mark Ord

The only site that is seasonal is Chiang Saen Lake for its birdwatching potential. Many birds migrate here during the northern winter and it is busier November to March.

Orientation

Archaeological finds have dated the earliest settlement here to Neolithic times. More recently, the Lawa arrived long before the arrival of Tai migrants in the 13th century. Confirmed records of the city, then known as Wiang Hiran Nakhon Ngoen Yang, date it to the 14th century. King Saen Pu established it in 1328, under the instructions of his grandfather Mengrai. In its heyday the city boasted 76 temples within, and another 63 beyond its walls.

Such a pretty setting on the water. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Such a pretty setting on the water. Photo: Mark Ord

Mengrai continued the march south, founding Chiang Rai then a new capital on the old Mon site of Chiang Mai. Through this period Chiang Saen’s influence faded. Control swung between Burma, Lanna and Siam and the city was levelled in 1803 or 1804 under Rama I’s orders. The population was then moved to Lampang and Chiang Mai to deprive the Burmese of a tempting target. It wasn’t until Rama V’s reign in the late 19th-century that the town was re-populated.

Chiang Saen today features sleepy residential lanes and a ruined temple on many a corner. All this is contained within ancient brick ramparts which are in quite good shape. Note that many of the temples are in not such great condition. Often they are little more than truncated chedis, piles of bricks and headless Buddhas. We think this actually adds to their appeal. Chiang Saen is no Sukhothai, but that need not be bad.

Every decent market needs a bouncing castle right? Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Every decent market needs a bouncing castle right? Photo: Mark Ord

Keep yourself busy with a day in town taking in the markets (best on the weekend), museum and ruined temples. A trip to Sob Ruak to visit the opium museums and Golden Triangle makes for a good daytrip. Spend another day outside town including at Chiang Saen Lake and the hilltop temples. Most points are within bicycle distance (motorbikes are also available).

The star of the show is the riverside promenade where evening beer and barbecue vendors set up shop. This is also the venue for the Saturday walking street market.

Plenty of scope for wandering. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Plenty of scope for wandering. Photo: Mark Ord

Rimkhong and Phaholyothin roads form a T-junction at the riverside by the old port. The former runs along the bank of the Mekong between the south and north gates. The latter leads from the river to the main gate in the western wall before running off towards Chiang Rai. The police station, post office, banks, market and bus stop are all along this road. Also along here you’ll find Chiang Saen National Museum and Wat Chedi Luang.

Low hills to the south and northwest feature Phrathat Chom Kiti and Phrathat Pha Ngao. The small but busy port is at the foot of Phaholyothin to the south as is immigration. Note though, that foreigners have to cross at either Mae Sai for Burma or Chiang Khong for Laos.

Chiang Saen Post Office: 212 Moo 2, Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen T: (053) 777 016 Mo–Fr 08:30–16:30 & Sa 09:00–12:00
Chiang Saen Hospital: 104, Moo 6, Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen T: 1669; (053) 777 017
Chiang Saen Police: Junction of Rimkhong and Phaholyothin Roads, Chiang Saen T: 191; (053) 777 111;(053) 777 191
Kasemrad Chiang Saen Clinic: Phaholyothin Rd, by the roundabout on the ring road, Chiang Saen T: (053) 777 213 Emergencies, T: (053) 700 200


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Where to stay in Chiang Saen


Route 1290, just past the north gate, Chiang Saen
600B to 1,500B

Gin’s Maekhong View Resort and Spa
# Route 1290, just past the north gate, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 847 ginmaekhongview@gmail.com https://www.ginmaekhongview.com/

Set in a lush, well-tended garden with unobstructed views of the river, Gin’s Maekhong View Resort is wonderful.

Within the grounds, gardens descend the riverbank to the Mekong—which gets close in wet season. The grounds are well laid out and the vegetation is lush without being too dense. This leaves the grounds light and airy, doesn’t obscure the views and helps keep the mosquitos at bay. A good, mid-sized pool in the garden adds value.

Splish splash at Gin’s Maekhong View Resort and Spa. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Splish splash at Gin’s Maekhong View Resort and Spa. Photo: Mark Ord

At the foot of the slope, individual chalets and a couple of two-storey blocks house the rooms. Beyond, another level is a narrow riverside floodplain. In dry months this is also a garden given over to sunflowers or strawberries depending on the season.

Rooms are spacious and fitted with large, hot water bathrooms, fridges, cable TV, WiFi and balconies. Interiors are simple, with plain white walls, varnished floors and minimal decor. Superior rooms (800 baht) don’t have such good views as deluxe (1,000 baht), but the rates reflect this.

Riverside digs at Gin’s. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Riverside digs at Gin’s. Photo: Mark Ord

A row of chalets (called “Hut of Love”) are at the front with spectacular views and large verandas. Towards the rear, the “Cowboy House” is a large wood and bamboo family chalet (1,100 baht). This straw-roofed family option consists of two bedrooms separated by a common bathroom.

The restaurant (also called “Hut of Love”) affords great river views from the balcony. It offers up a few bakery items as well as Thai standards and several Western choices. Rates are reasonable.

The slightly out of town location makes for a more peaceful sleep, and the centre is just a 10- to 15 minute walk away. The entrance is on Route 1290, just before the junction with the bypass. Look for the small carpark, reception area and coffee shop.

Friendly and helpful staff round out a good deal and an excellent place to stay. Note that during high season, and weekends in particular, it would be safest to book in advance.


118/2 Moo 2, Rimkhong Rd Soi 4, Chiang Saen
Under 600B

Amphai Hotel
# 118/2 Moo 2, Rimkhong Rd Soi 4, Chiang Saen T: (092) 892 9561

Once J. Nine, the renamed and redecorated Amphai Hotel makes for a fine little hotel. Bright digs, friendly staff and a close to the river location come together in a cute package.

Without starting from scratch, the new owner has improved the look and feel of the basic offerings. Think a coat of paint, a furniture reboot and a brightening up of the yard and communal areas. Wooden partitions and pot plants shield downstairs rooms from the carpark, while the already bright upstairs rooms come with new tiles and a yellow paint scheme.

A room interior at Amphai. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

A room interior at Amphai. Photo: Mark Ord

Interiors are unusual: the bedroom and bathroom separated by a small furnished room. In the main room, furniture includes a king-size bed, wardrobe, desk and chair—only a bedside lamp was missing. Air-con, WiFi and hot shower all worked well.

Morning tea, coffee, fruit and toast come as standard. The location is just off Rimkhong Road, on Soi 4, a stone’s throw from the riverside.

We found staff to be friendly and helpful and all things considered Amphai is an excellent deal. Especially at 400 baht a night year-round.


42 Moo 2, Rimkhong Rd, Chiang Saen
600B to 1,500B

De Wiangrat Hostel
# 42 Moo 2, Rimkhong Rd, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 997 dewiangrat@gmail.com

De Wiangrat Hostel is bright and clean, well decorated and enjoys a riverfront location. All this comes together to form a commendable addition to Chiang Saen’s accommodation scene.

In this case, “hostel” is a deceptive title. With the room quality and flashpacker rates, De Wiangrat is more a boutique hotel than hostel. The ground floor hosts a furnished streetside terrace, and behind, the lobby and reception. There are a few smaller rooms off a rear corridor but the best are spacious, riverview digs on the upper floors. The former go for 700 baht but the latter, with wide French doors and tempting balconies are just 100 baht more.

Smart flashpacker digs. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Smart flashpacker digs. Photo: Mark Ord

Interiors have off-white walls with original artwork, parquet floors and minimal but pleasant furniture. The effect is airy and uncluttered. Facilities include air-con, spotless hot water bathrooms, wide-screen TV, fridge and tea and coffee. A well-placed terrace provides a social setting for when business is humming.

The location is ideal with a central plot on riverside Rimkhong Road. Close to cafes and the promenade and a short walk to the market and bus stop, it is hard to do better in Chiang Saen. Recommended.


Moo 2, 484 Rimkhong Rd Chiang Saen
600B to 1,500B

Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong
# Moo 2, 484 Rimkhong Rd Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 151 pakpingrimknong@hotmail.com https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong-Chiang-Saen/378177908899797

With a tiny English sign by a small, walled garden it is easy to miss the discreet Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong. Persist though as it offers some charming and excellent value rooms.

The location just north of the clutch of cafes and guesthouses around Soi 4 is quiet but central central. The property is a pair of two-storey, white-painted buildings in a modern, tasteful style. Between them is a tiny al fresco cafe area for drinks and the complimentary breakfast. Reception is in the farthest building and reached through a cute garden area. A clever, staggered design means all rooms come with balconies affording Mekong views. The upper floor rooms do enjoy the more impressive views.

Bright and newish. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Bright and newish. Photo: Mark Ord

Rooms in the front block are brighter and have wide French doors, as rates are the same for all rooms, aim for these. Interiors are spacious and clean, with cream-coloured walls, beige floor tiles and dark furniture. There’s a desk and chair, fridge, TV, ensuite bathroom and choice of king-size or twin bed rooms. All rooms are air-con and come inclusive of breakfast.

Friendly staff, convenient location and good rates make Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong a cracking Chiang Saen deal. Recommended.


24 Sai 2, Chiang Saen
Under 600B

Tata Homestay
# 24 Sai 2, Chiang Saen T: (096) 251 5564

Tata Hostel had seen an overhaul since our last visit, from a quirky, basic hostel to a smart, modern hostel.

Character and atmosphere have remained the same so it remains an intimate, family-style establishment. Reception and the communal room downstairs seem to double as the owners’ living room.

Smart very clean rooms at Tata. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Smart very clean rooms at Tata. Photo: Mark Ord

The old building has been rebuilt and the basic digs are gone to make way for bright spacious rooms. Shared bathroom options (200 baht), although on the small size, are clean and bargain priced. Ensuite rooms (500 baht) are larger those on the upper floors offer views across town though not to the river. Set just off the central stretch of Phaholyothin the riverfront is just a short walk away.

The communal area is well-lived in and comes with wooden furniture, B&W photos and a collection of bric-a-brac. Think stag horns and old wireless sets. There are hot and cold drinks on offer and even a guitar available for guests’ use.

The cheaper rooms represent the best deal in town for the price range. The family are particularly friendly and chatty and speak good English. If you’re a fan of this intimate style then this compensates for the off-river location.


45/2 Rimkhong Rd, Chiang Saen
Under 600B

Chiang Saen Guesthouse
# 45/2 Rimkhong Rd, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 196

Chiang Saen Guesthouse is something of an institution in these parts. It still comes with an enviable garden setting opposite the riverside, but is looking a bit tired these days.

Fewer backpackers seem to make it to to Chiang Saen and over time it has slid downhill from its 1990s heyday. Although it had had a fresh coat of paint since our last visit the garden and exterior could do with a bit more TLC. You can’t enter the former communal area as it is now an enclosure for the owner’s motley hounds. Much as we like dogs this pack of loud and aggressive mutts doesn’t add to the welcome.

No need to pack a teddy in staying at Chiang Saen Guesthouse. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

No need to pack a teddy in staying at Chiang Saen Guesthouse. Photo: Mark Ord

Although small, the guesthouse manages to be ramshackle with sections being added over time. No two rooms are much alike. To be fair the interiors are in better condition than the exterior would have you believe. Rooms are generally clean and acceptably maintained. While we’d avoid the dingy, small rooms the larger ones are okay for the price.

Decor isn’t a strong point, with floor to ceiling tiling delivering a bathroom ambience. That said, the 500 baht riverview, air-con rooms are bright and do come with fridge and a tiny TV. The best room is in the small and newer looking garden chalet, also at 500 a night, but there is only one.

The guesthouse does have communal seating that aren’t occupied by dogs but no drink or food was on offer. No bicycle or motorbike rental either. Rates are fair for what you get plus the central riverside location is good.

For alternatives, around the corner Amphai has better rooms for the same price while Tata has an amiable family vibe. We’d try either of these first.


Map of where to stay in Chiang Saen

Map of where to stay in Chiang Saen

Map legend

Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Where to eat

Chiang Saen doesn’t have the food scene of say Chiang Rai, but you certainly will not go hungry.


Starting with coffee, Tiny Taxi has friendly staff, good coffees, teas and fresh juices. Likewise Wiang Kao Coffee has a shady garden setting and an attached Thai-style bakery.

Start your day at Mongdoonam. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Start your day at Mongdoonam. Photo: Mark Ord

Rom Mai Coffee sits on a terrace under a massive ficus tree by the police station on Rimkhong Rd. They’re also the earliest risers, opening at 07:00. Also on the riverfront is Mongdoonam (roughly “staring at the water”) situated next door to 2 Be 1.

For local specialities, head to the Mekong-side promenade. There, carts equipped with grills, woks and ice boxes set up from late afternoon onwards. These carts sell barbecued pork, chicken or whole fish accompanied by spicy dipping sauce, som tam and sticky rice. Wash it all down with lashings of cold beer. Most stalls have English menus and include standards like fried rice, laap and tom yam. Cook-your-own, sukiyaki-style hotpots are also on offer.

Hit the riverside promenade for afternoon grazing. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Hit the riverside promenade for afternoon grazing. Photo: Mark Ord

If you’re looking for more variety, walk south along the waterfront past the old port till you reach Krua Sri-sai. Their wood roofed eating area looks out onto the moored boats and Mekong River beyond. Servings are generous and the range of Thai and northern Thai dishes well-prepared. It’s popular with locals, so flavours are as authentic as the chilli levels are generous. Their spicy chicken curry with coconut milk, fresh peppercorns and lime leaves is delicious. If you’re more adventurous, try their local speciality—north-style laap. This is a version of the Lao/I-san favourite which includes pig’s blood cooked into the sauce creating a black-pudding flavour. There is an English menu and go early to get a riverside table.

The small and friendly 2 Be 1, facing the river by the corner of Soi 4, is worth a try. It has a well-placed terrace and offers many Thai standards and some vegetarian options. Mains go from 70 to 100 baht and it opens later than most in these parts.

Thai fare at Krua Sri-sai. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Thai fare at Krua Sri-sai. Photo: Mark Ord

To the north on Rimkhong you’ll find friendly Famai. It has an English language menu covering popular Thai dishes, as well as a few Chinese and Western alternatives. For more river views but in a classier setting Hut of Love at Gin’s Maekhong Resort has a good choice of Thai cuisine.

A local-style unnamed Chinese/Yunnanese cafe is on Rimkhong Rd, back in the town centre. it serves up noodle soups, dumplings and stewed pork with a few Thai standards to boot. It’s cheap, cheerful, authentic and even has an English menu.

<i>Laap muang</i>? Yes please. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Laap muang? Yes please. Photo: Mark Ord

For international fare, Steak Sudkhet, on the main street, offers a Thai takes. Prices are in the 90 to 100 baht range or up to 160 baht for a rib-eye.

Requiring a bit of a hike, authentic thin-base pizzas are on offer at Chiang Saen Pizza, to the south of town. We had an excellent sun-dried tomato, anchovy and olive pizza here for a bargain 129 baht. There are plenty of other tempting dishes on the menu.

Map of where to eat in Chiang Saen

Map of where to eat in Chiang Saen

Map legend

Click on the restaurant name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.


Restaurant contact details and addresses

2 Be 1 Rimkhong Rd, near the corner of Soi 4, Chiang Saen Mo–Su: 10:00-00:30
Chiang Saen Pizza Rimkhong Rd first soi after south gate, Chiang Saen T: (086) 195 3685 Mo–Su: 10:00-20:00
Chinese Cafe Rimkhong Rd, near Soi 4, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 983, (094) 718 2462 Mo–Su: 06:00-20:00
Famai Rimkhong Rd, just north of Soi 3, Chiang Saen T: (088) 252 3158 Mo–Su: 08:00-20:00
Hut of Love c/o Gin’s Maekhong View Resort, Rimkhong Rd, (Highway 1290), just past the north gate, Chiang Saen. T: (053) 650 847, (096) 964 9491 Fr-We: 11:00-15:30 & 17:00-21:00 Th: 17:00-20:00
Krua Sri-sai 500 Moo 1, Rimkhong Rd, just after the old port Chiang Saen T: (080) 498 4580, (089) 855 5171 Mo–Su: 08:00-00:00
Mongdoonam Rimkhong Rd, near the corner of Soi 4, Chiang Sean. T: (053) 650 777, (083) 516 4763 Mo–Su: 08:30-17:00
Promenade cafes Rimkhong from Soi 4 to Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. Mo–Su: 16:00-21:00
Rommai Coffee Rimkhong Rd, next to police station, Chiang Saen. Mo–Su: 07:00-17:30
Steak Sudkhet Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. T: (089) 661 9911 Mo–Su: 09:00-21:00
Taxi Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. T: (096) 513 8696, (087) 180 2003 Mo–Su: 08:00-18:30

2 Be 1
Rimkhong Rd, near the corner of Soi 4, Chiang Saen Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Chiang Saen Pizza
Rimkhong Rd first soi after south gate, Chiang Saen Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (086) 195 3685 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Chinese Cafe
Rimkhong Rd, near Soi 4, Chiang Saen Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (053) 650 983, (094) 718 2462 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Famai
Rimkhong Rd, just north of Soi 3, Chiang Saen Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (088) 252 3158 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Hut of Love
c/o Gin’s Maekhong View Resort, Rimkhong Rd, (Highway 1290), just past the north gate, Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (053) 650 847, (096) 964 9491 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Krua Sri-sai
500 Moo 1, Rimkhong Rd, just after the old port Chiang Saen Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (080) 498 4580, (089) 855 5171 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Mongdoonam
Rimkhong Rd, near the corner of Soi 4, Chiang Sean. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (053) 650 777, (083) 516 4763 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Promenade cafes
Rimkhong from Soi 4 to Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Rommai Coffee
Rimkhong Rd, next to police station, Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Steak Sudkhet
Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (089) 661 9911 Almost free - most dishes under 50B
Taxi
Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen, Northern Thailand
T: (096) 513 8696, (087) 180 2003 Almost free - most dishes under 50B

What to see and do

Highlights of Chiang Saen

Little visited, historic Chiang Saen has plenty to fill a day or so of sightseeing. Here are some of the highlights.

An atmospheric temple and spectacular chedi, both amid a grove of mature trees, Wat Chedi Luang is a highlight. If you’re only going to see one temple, make it this one.

Hello Wat Chedi Luang. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Hello Wat Chedi Luang. Photo: Mark Ord

The wat dates back to the 14th-century. The octagonal base of the 18-metre, brick chedi is a perfect example of the classic Chiang Saen style. The site offers an appealing balance of ancient and ruined, yet active and lived-in. Some walls of the outer enclosure remain intact, and don’t miss the east gate with its sacred bodhi tree. The wooden sticks propped under branches are northern Thai-style offerings made by locals. In supporting the tree, spirits may grant a wish written on a slip of paper and placed at the crux of pole and tree.

Prestigious Wat Phrathat Chom Kiti is on the slopes of Doi Noi. This scenic, forested hill is a couple of kilometres to the west of town. Expect the usual hilltop temple set up, with a choice of 350 naga-lined steps, or a sealed road to the summit.

Stairway to heaven, Wat Phrathat Chom Kiti edition. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Stairway to heaven, Wat Phrathat Chom Kiti edition. Photo: Mark Ord

The building on the first level as you ascend is Wat Chom Chaeng. Here sits an ancient brick stupa and a more recent Chiang Saen-style worshipping hall. This small but attractive building has an intricate, gold-leaf covered lintel and pediment. At the summit is a larger chedi said to contain a Buddha hair. Famous for being crooked, the real attraction is the stupendous view.

In a wooden hill to the south of town you’ll find the prestigious Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao. A naga-lined staircase and access road offer the usual choice of routes to the hill-top. At the summit is an odd white, chedi as well as an ancient, truncated octagonal brick stupa. The vistas are tremendous.

Take a poke around Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Take a poke around Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao. Photo: Mark Ord

For a small town, Chiang Saen is well endowed with markets. Aside from the daily market, there’s Saturday evening and Sunday morning walking streets. A small animal market along with souvenir and handicraft stalls round out the offerings. What’s more, they’re all within a short walk of one another.

The first Chiang Saen National Museum dates back to 1957. More recently, it was re-developed with a purpose-built, well laid-out, two-storey exhibition building. Exhibits begin with early habitation of the area; Neolithic, bronze and iron ages through to the Mengrai dynasty. From there, move on to the town’s chequered later history, right up to the present day. Displays include mediaeval-period artefacts, old Buddhas, household and farming implements and weaponry. The museum is also handy for its brochures on temples, walking tours and cycling tours. Allow 30 minutes to an hour for a visit

Scenic by the river. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Scenic by the river. Photo: Mark Ord

Authorities have marked out cycle lanes throughout town, one even goes to Sob Ruak! Grab a Chiang Saen bike map from the museum to get an outline of the three primary routes on offer. Fat Free Bike have several models of bike for rent as well as offering organised tours. Their well-maintained road bikes go for between 50 and 200 baht per day and mountain bikes for 200 up to 650. Rental includes helmet, lock and puncture repair kit. A barber opposite immigration on Phaholyothin has average bicycles for 80 baht per day.

A possible boat trip is from Chiang Saen to Sob Ruak, and the trip up and back taking in a Lao market en-route. This should set you back 700 baht, including waiting time. A visit to Laos only with a temple and market costs 500 baht. Both these prices are for a four-person boat, not per person. Alternatively negotiate a fare for a short DIY sunset cruise. Boats are by the port. There is a kiosk just to your left when looking at the river from the junction of Phaholyothin and Rimkhong.

Fat Free Bicycle: Rimkhong Rd T: (086) 430 5523 Mo–Su: 09:00-18:00 Closed Saturdays in low season http://www.fatfreebike.com

Map of Highlights of Chiang Saen

Map of Highlights of Chiang Saen

Map legend

Click on the point of interest name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Chiang Saen Lake

Around 5km outside Chiang Saen.

Chiang Saen Lake is also known as Nong Beung Kai or the Yonok Wetlands. It is a natural lake and marsh area just west of town and is one of the country’s prime bird-watching spots.

Several unique sightings have occurred here. Best of all, the wetland’s far northern location, between tropical and temperate zones, makes more likely. This is an exciting spot for twitchers—moreso then other water-bird sites in Thailand.

Pretty even without the birds. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Pretty even without the birds. Photo: Mark Ord

It is worth visiting throughout the year, but November to February is best as this is when waterfowl and waders migrate to here. Year round the lake is home to resident species of duck, geese, herons, storks and kingfishers. Also common are raptors and smaller reed and scrub species around the lake’s perimeters. A checklist for species you may see is here.

The lake is around 5km outside town where a turn-off on Highway 1016 takes you down to the northeast bank. There you’ll find a resort to your left and the Nong Beung Kai protected area office to the right. There is a 200 baht fee for foreigners although it only seems to apply to the compound itself rather than the lake.

Location map for Chiang Saen Lake

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Getting there and away

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Bus

Chiang Saen doesn’t have a bus station, so transport departs from points around town. At present local buses leave from the middle of town on the main street opposite Kasikorn Bank. Bangkok services leave from respective companies’ offices on, or just off, Phaholyothin Road.

Local buses and songthaews The old, green-coloured fan buses from the market cost 37 baht for a ride to Chiang Rai. Air-con minibuses from the same spot charge 50 baht. Fan buses leave every 30 to 40 minutes or so during daylight hours taking 1 hour 30 minutes to Chiang Rai’s bus terminal one. Faster minibuses run hourly, though may wait until they have enough passengers.

This is what you need. Photo taken in or around Chiang Saen, Thailand by Mark Ord.

This is what you need. Photo: Mark Ord

Occasional morning blue songthaews run to Sob Ruak from the eastern end of Phaholyothin. These cost 20 baht for the short ride and can be flagged down anywhere along Rimkhong Road. A single morning green songthaew for Chiang Khong leaves at 09:30 and costs 100 baht. This leaves from Rimkhong Road opposite the old pier, but service is sketchy so do double check .

Long distance buses
Sombat Tour runs VIP Bangkok buses every evening at 16:30 and 17:00 costing 958 baht to Mor Chit bus station. An additional 17:30 one runs on weekends and holidays. Their office is on the main street next to the Krungthai Bank, about halfway between the river and Wat Chedi Luang.

A few hundred metres down Sai 2 on the right is the government-run 999’s office. They have cheaper, standard class Bangkok bus for 592 baht departing at 17:00.

For Chiang Mai, the Green Bus Company runs regular air-con services via Chiang Rai for 205 baht. Ticket counter and bus stop are at the usual spot, on Phaholyothin by the municipal market. You can also reserve their seats online or at 7-eleven stores.

999: Sai 2, Wiang, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 822 Mo–Su: 08:00–17:30 http://home.transport.co.th
Green Bus Company: Phaholyothin Rd, by the market, Wiang, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 702 https://www.greenbusthailand.com/website/
Sombat Tour: Phaholyothin Rd, Wiang, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 788, (027) 921 444 Call centre: 1215 Mo–Su: 08:20–17:20 https://www.sombattour.com/

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Boat

The regular boat service up the Mekong between Chiang Saen and Jinghong in China’s Yunnan Province has not been running for some time. While there are occasional passenger berths on Chinese cargo boats these don’t, as far as we know, accept Western travellers.

Gin’s Maekhong View tour office seemed the best clued up as far as China trips go, so contact them for the latest. Note that even if you could find a berth, that would be dependent on you having your papers in order. This would include a Chinese visa and permission to enter by way of the Mekong. You would also need to arrange exit formalities with Thai immigration. In summary, complicated.


Getting around

The central town area is easily walked. Hired bicycles are available at Fat Free Bicycle just north of the central stretch of Rimkhong Road. They offer sales, rentals, repairs and guided cycling tours. A florist and barber shop, both on Phaholyothin Rd, hire motorbikes for 200 to 300 baht per day. Be sure to check the bikes before hiring. The florist is next door to Taxi Cafe and the barber opposite immigration.

Barber: Phaholyothin Rd, Wiang, Chiang Saen T: (089) 429 5798 Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00
Fat Free Bicycle: Rimkhong Rd T: (086) 430 5523 Mo–Su: 09:00-18:00 Closed Saturdays in low season http://www.fatfreebike.com
Florist: 121 Phaholyothin Rd. Wiang, Chiang Saen T: (053) 650 143, (080) 295 5356 Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00



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What next?

 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Chiang Saen? Please read this.
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