Photo: Freighter on the Mekong.

Chiang Saen Lake

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Nong Beung Kai, or Chiang Saen Lake, is a natural lake and marsh area just outside town and one of the country’s prime bird-watching spots, particularly in the winter months from November to February, when large numbers of waterfowl and waders migrate here from cold, northern climes. It is worth visiting throughout the year though, as the lake is home to various resident species of duck, geese, herons, storks, kingfishers and so on, as well as raptors and smaller reed and scrub species on the lake’s perimeters.



A flock of resident, not migratory, Asian open-billed storks

A flock of resident Asian open-billed storks.

Several “firsts” and unique sightings have been made here and the lake’s far northern location makes further new finds likely; this is of course what makes it such an exciting spot for Thai twitchers and which elevates it above other famous waterbird sites further south such as Nakon Sawan’s Bueng Boraphet or Phattalung’s Thale Noi.

Unlike many of the north’s large artificial reservoirs, which are unsuitable for nesting, Chiang Saen Lake is not steep sided, so the shallow waters morph gently into extensive reed beds and marshes which in turn merge with shoreline woodlands. It is this variety of habitats that makes the lake such an avian hot spot. Furthermore during the dry season uncovered sandbanks in the nearby Mekong River are a big draw, confirming the area’s overall top status. (See these checklists of Lake and Mekong species.)

Common pond heron

Common pond heron. Yeah, she’s looking right at you.

Chiang Saen Lake is conveniently located, its turn off just five kilometres outside town off Route 1016, from where a couple more clicks of country lane takes you to the lakeside.The lake and surrounds are very scenic, so even if you have no interest in bird-life whatsoever, it is still well worth a visit. There’s no hiking for hours through jungle to get there and no need to rely on sub-standard national park accommodation. Indeed if the five kilometres are too far for you, there are a couple of resorts on the lakeside too, such as the very good Viang Yonok.

Sky looked threatening but didn’t rain all afternoon. Never let a few clouds put you off.

Looked threatening but didn’t rain all afternoon. Never let a few clouds put you off.

The lane, passing through a small village just off the highway, reaches the northeast corner of the lake, where you’ll find the resort, and continues the length of the east side before running out of macadam. This eastern rim is bordered by woodland and has a series of small, shallow inlets so it’s a very good birding location already.

Southeast corner looking towards the small hill-top temple

Southeast corner looking towards a small hilltop temple.

It is possible, by a combination of dirt tracks and sealed roads, to circumnavigate the lake if you skirt around the hills on the south side. These hills feature a small temple providing great views across the lake and you can use this as a marker for the first stretch. Continue past the temple and the Chiang Saen Lake Hill Resort, then take the first sealed road on your right which leads you through a large and very pretty village lying at the western end of the lake. After the village — which does include noodle shops if you’re feeling a bit peckish — you’ll need to take a sharp right down an unsealed, but okay, track. This keeps the lake, hidden at this point by trees, to your right and passes a wide expanse of marshland to your left. This is another prime birding spot.

Marshlands at the lake’s western edge

Marshlands at the lake’s western edge. Reckon that’s Doi Tung on the horizon.

You’re now on the north side of the lake, so if you see any other right turns, try them. It does get a bit tricky around here but if you keep heading in the correct general direction (that is, east), you should end up back at your starting point by Viang Yonok Resort. This took us about 40 minutes by motorbike. It would be feasible by bicycle but a very long slog on foot.

The north side

The north side.

Chiang Saen Lake is officially a non-hunting area, though not a national park. Its 4.5 square kilometres are listed under the Ramsar convention as a wetland of international importance. It is highly picturesque and should be of interest to anyone who enjoys scenery, while to birders it’s a real treat!

Travel info: Take the Chiang Rai road, Route 1016, west out of town until you reach Yonok village, where a turning on the left takes you a further two kilometres to the lake. The lake is indicated by an English sign but the bright yellow resort one is more prominent.


How to get there
Take the Chiang Rai road, Route 1016, west out of town until you reach Yonok village, where a turning on the left takes you a further two kilometres to the lake. The lake is indicated by an English sign but the bright yellow resort one is more prominent.

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Location map for Chiang Saen Lake


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chiang Saen.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Chiang Saen.
 Check out our listings of other things to do in and around Chiang Saen.
 Read up on how to get to Chiang Saen, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 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.
 Browse tours in Thailand with Tourradar.




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