Photo: Freighter on the Mekong.

Chiang Saen National Museum

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The 1957-founded Chiang Saen National Museum was originally constructed to safely house the multitude of local archaeological finds.

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Photo of Chiang Saen National Museum

More recently, it has been developed into a purpose built, well lai- out, two-floor exhibition building. Since the area has been inhabited for some 15,000 years there’s no lack of subject matter and exhibits cover the entire time frame.

Other than Chiang Saen, four other ancient towns were once located in the immediate vicinity, some considered much older than Phaya Saen Pu’s 14th century city (which was already an upgrade on Mengrai’s 13th century version). The eighth century ruins on Sob Ruak’s Phu Kao as well as the rumoured town lying under Chiang Saen Lake either represent early forays into the region by Tai chieftains from Yunnan or settlements of the local Lawa people. (We’re not sure how much truth there is in these rumoured early Tai settlements and it is of course highly advantageous for Thai historians to push back Tai/Thai occupation 500 years earlier.)

Chiang Saen Noi, a few kilometres south, and the remains of a town on the opposite Lao bank, are contemporaneous with Chiang Saen itself. Exhibits in the museum then cover early habitation of the area; Neolithic, bronze and iron ages through the heyday of the Mengrai dynasty period, the town’s chequered later history and up to the present day, on which there are displays of local hill-tribe culture as well as that of other ethnic groups such as Tai Yuan, Tai Lue and Shan. There are a lot of mediaeval period artefacts recovered from local ruins but it’s not only a load of old Buddhas. We’d allow 30 minutes to an hour, though they did say once we’d purchased a ticket we could pop in and out anytime.

Across the road, opposite the museum, is a small exhibition centre with more photos of before and after the restoration of various temples and general historical info on the town. Both spots are very good sources of maps and brochures. In fact, we’ve rarely seen a town with so many brochures on offer. There’s a museum guide, a temple guide, ones on walking tours, cycling tours and Chiang Saen history -- this pile of glossy pamphlets alone is worth the 100 baht, but even if you don’t wish to visit the museum and you ask nicely, they’ll give you some info anyway -- or just see what they have in the free exhibition centre.


Chiang Saen National Museum
Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Saen
Wed-Sun 08:30-16:30
T: (053) 777 103 
Admission: 100 baht

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chiang Saen.
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 Read up on where to eat on Chiang Saen.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Chiang Saen.
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