Given the short amount of time for my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had to be extra picky on what to do and what to see. Chiang Mai offers a wide range of activities, from elephant tours, bike tours, cultural tours and even out of town tours such as the one I went to in Chiang Rai.
The main reason why I wanted to visit Chiang Rai was to visit the Karen Long Neck tribe, which to me was very interesting because I’ve only seen the women from this tribe in National Geographic magazines. When I started looking for tours online, there were so many different choices on cultural spots you can visit for the day trip.
First Stop: Mae Kha Jan Hot Springs
Our first stop, which was not in the itinerary was the Mae Kha Jan hot springs. This is a short pitstop to buy some snacks, go to the toilet, or dip your feet in the extra warm natural hot springs. The area is surrounded by souvenirs and food stalls, and is a good place to buy your snacks and liquids for the whole day.
Second Stop: Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
When we arrived in Wat Rong Khun, there was a sea of tourists that it was almost impossible to take a clean photo of just the temple. This one of Chiang Rai’s most visited attractions, so if you can do a private tour, try to come here in the afternoon to avoid the massive number of tourists.
This Buddhist temple, more known in English as the White Temple was designed from a mix of traditional Thai and Hindi architecture. It breaks the traditional norms of Buddhist temples as it is mostly just made of white plaster and glass. The white color signifies the purity of the Buddha, and the use of glass symbolizes wisdom.
Inside the temple are paintings of modern heroes, including the Hulk, Pikachu, Spiderman, etc. Although it is more of a tourist attraction than an actual temple, you are still not allowed to take photos inside. Currently, the temple is still under development and it will not be completed anytime soon.
Third Stop: Karen Long Neck Village & Akha Tribe
Before heading to lunch, we rerouted and visited the Karen Long Neck Village. There is a bit of controversy surrounding tours to the indigenous villages, and I’ve read forums telling tourists to not visit, but when I was there, it felt like the villagers welcomed us and were happy to have us take a photo with them.
When visiting the village, you are encouraged to observe their local traditions and lifestyle and not make too much noise which might distract their daily activities. If you plan on doing this tour, avoid Sundays as this is when they are mostly in church.
The main source of income for the tribeswomen is said to be tourism – from entrance fees, donations, and souvenirs they make and sell. Below is a photo of one of the Karen Longneck ladies weaving a shawl scarf.
The rings (which is actually a continuous spiral) around their neck weigh an average of 4-5kg, and they are not allowed to take it off even when they take a shower or sleep. The only time they remove the rings is when it gets replaced to make it longer. The longer the neck, the more beautiful they are seen to be.
Several of the younger generations are not required to wear the neck rings anymore, but some still do as they feel a sense of identity with the rings, as it is linked with their culture, heritage, and family.
Just beside the Karen Longneck Village is the Akha Hill Tribe. Just like their neighbors, the Karen Long Neck tribe, the Akha come from other parts of Asia, either from Tibet or Myanmar. There are around 80,000 Akha immigrants living in Chiang Rai, which makes it the biggest tribe in the area.
The obvious differentiator from the two tribes are the way they dress. The Akha have very colorful beaded head gear and costumes. The Akha Hill Tribe are known to be financially poor, so I shopped for a souvenir items to help.
Fourth Stop: Golden Triangle – Thailand, Myanmar & Laos
We took a boat tour on the Mekhong River so we can be in the area of the convergence of three countries – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. This is where the “Golden Triangle” name has been derived from. There is a much darker connection to the name, and that dates back to history when it was known to be the trading center for opium.
It was quite a sight seeing three countries at once. During the boat tour, you get to go down the river close to an island called “No Man’s Land”, and it belongs to none of the three countries, and became the center for black market trade in the past. According to the tour guide, we cannot sail further than the island because there are some pirates downstream who do not welcome tourists.
The boat turned around and we had a quick pitstop in Laos. We got to spend around 45 minutes in Laos for a bit of market shopping and refreshments. Here, the tour guide was offering a taste of tiger penis whiskey, opium whiskey, snake whiskey and even turtle scorpion combo whiskey. I found it very unethical and decided to not have a taste. After our short stop in Laos, we made our way to the overlooking deck to get a higher view of the Golden Triangle.
The overlooking deck gives you a sight of Myanmar on the west and Laos on the east. There is also a temple nearby called Wat Phra That Pu Khao. When you walk up the stairs, you’ll notice crumbles and temple remains. The remains still give a charming sight and are worth dropping by, even for a little while.
Should You Do This Tour?
If you really want to visit Chiang Mai, I suggest you go on a private tour by yourself and not join any of these tour groups. The tour is great if you just want to add a check to your bucket list, but if you wanted to immerse in the culture, this is not one you should do. There is too much driving time and only have enough time for a few photos, a short spiel by the tour guide on the culture and history, and then you have to get going to the next destination.
I wouldn’t even consider this a fun photography tour, because you are racing against thousands of other tourists for the most picturesque spots. If you want to visit all the wonders of Chiang Rai, I suggest to spend a little more time in the area, or hire a private vehicle and go there yourself so you can spend more time in the places you enjoy more.
Below is a more visual version of my experience:
Did you enjoy this article? Leave a comment below! Don’t forget to check our other discoveries here.
Follow my Instagram for my updated travel feed! @coco.natty
Below are the links to The Travelling Foxes other social media accounts.