Busy Chiang Rai City doesn’t immediately appear a good candidate for walking tours but, keeping to the back streets and dodging through a few market lanes, you can do a very pleasant and interesting little half day stroll around town, taking in most of the sights and including a few good coffee and snack breaks.
We’ll start at the iconic clock tower. The highly ornate, gold painted tower you see today is a new version built to commemorate His Majesty the King’s 80th birthday replacing an older model. It now forms a traffic circle at the junction of Phaholyothin, Jedyod, Suksatit and Ban Phra Phrakan roads and whilst fancy enough in the day time really comes into its own the evening when a light show takes place highlighting the tower in every hue from lime green to outrageous pink. (Timing seems a bit erratic but generally takes place somewhere around 20:00, lasting for 20 minutes.)
Our walk is not a night hike so you’ll have to check that later, but the proliferation of excellent coffee shop/bakeries around the tower means you can start your stroll with a good caffeine and chocolate hit. Head west from the traffic circle and take the first right which leads you past the town’s large mosque. Chiang Rai has a substantial Muslim minority – mostly of Yunnanese origin – and though it may be a bit early, (or late) for lunch if you need further sustenance then cheap and cheerful Muslim Food Cafe, just down from the mosque, does a great khao soi.
At the end of this little street you’ll cross over Thanalai – home every Saturday evening to a large Walking Street Market – while on the opposite side of the road is one of the entrances to the huge municipal market. This section of covered market sells fruit, vegetables, herbs and spice plus a range of clothes and household goods and is an interesting spot to wander before you emerge on Uttarakit Road. On your right you’ll see another – more conventional – clock tower come traffic circle surrounded by noodle and snack stalls. If you head straight on though, and continue through another section of covered market, you’ll come out on bustling Ruangnakorn Street with plenty more market stalls. This is outdoor so better light if you’re of a photographic bent and a good area to spot all the Lisu and hill-tribe vendors and buyers.
Yet more aisles of this vast market continue another block north to Singhaklai Road but heading left and then first right onto Tri Rat Road will see you in front of Wat Phra Kaew which, with its excellent museum and garden setting, is well worth dedicating 30 or 40 minutes to. Soi Sangkaew, down the north side of the temple, will take you to two low, tree-covered hills housing Wat Doi Ngum Muang and Wat Doi Chom Thong notable for it’s 9th century chedi, Buddha relics and fine views as well as being the location of Chiang Rai’s founding city pillar.
If you take the back lane down the hill you’ll find your way onto leafy Kraisorrasit Road which runs parallel to the Kok River. You can take a slight detour at this point down any of the lanes leading north which will take you to the Kok for some picturesque river views. Back on Kraisorrasit walking east you need to turn left after a sharp curve and when you see the Overbrooke Hospital which will lead you onto Singhaklai Road and Wat Phra Singh one block distant.
Though you can’t visit it at present, it is worth continuing past the Wat a bit to have a peek on your right at the beautifully restored old Chiang Rai City Hall. Coming out of the Wat continue right until you hit Uttarakit where you’ll need to turn right then left to get back onto Suksatit leading back to the clock tower. If you’ve done a morning walk then Destiny on the right might be a good choice to grab some lunch or if it was an afternoon stroll then a cold beer in Jedyod awaits just beyond the fancy timepiece.
Note a Saturday afternoon wander would also mean you could finish up at the Thanalai Walking Street market. Depends on how long you linger in the markets and wats but allow at least a couple of hours and potentially a whole morning or afternoon by the time you’ve added in a few drinks breaks.
By Mark Ord.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.