A Trove Of Temples With Personality: 10 Things To Do In Chiang Saen

things to do in chiang saen

With its ornate history as the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom before Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen has plenty of stories to tell, through its moving landscapes, temples and people. Take a look at this article of the 10 best things to do in Chiang Saen, and take in everything from amazing temples and opium museums to mind-blowing local food.

1. Meet three countries at the Golden Triangle

things to do in chiang saen | meet three countries at the golden triangle
Source: fibblesg on Instagram

Deemed as one of the must-see attractions in Thailand, the Golden Triangle is revered for good reasons. Known as the Sop Ruak to the Thai people, the meeting of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers has an extensive history and continues to function culturally in the tourist economy, today. Previously well-known as an opium-growing site, the Golden Triangle has now ceased this trade and flourishes for its natural landscape, instead.

As the intersection between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, many tourists hire tour boats here and cruise down the Mekong River, checking out Chiang Saen’s sights along the riverbank.

Golden Triangle

Address: Sob Ruak Village, Chiang Saen 57150, Thailand

Website: Golden Triangle

2. Learn of Chiang Saen’s opium history at the Hall of Opium Museum

A post shared by Mark Wexler (@marktwexler) on Dec 10, 2017 at 3:20pm PST

Just a stone’s throw away from the Golden Triangle, a visit to the Hall of Opium Museum acts as almost a complementary partner to the former. Featuring a combination of storytelling and multimedia stations to artefacts, the museum effectively journeys through the history of the opium trade and engages through presenting different angles of the story.

The Hall of Opium Museum boasts an artificial poppy field, to teach about the various species of poppy flowers and includes a mock-up of a Chinese tea house in Yaowarat, where people came to smoke opium. It also features different exhibits and information panels, showing the science of the drug and the adverse effects it had on the society that smoked it.

Hall of Opium Museum

Address: Moo 1 Ban Sop Ruak | Wiang, Chiang Saen 57150, Thailand

Website: Hall of Opium Museum

3. Dine and stroll by the riverside food vendors

The Mekong River and the Golden Triangle are not the only attractions to be found in Chiang Saen. But while you are checking out these two fantastic attractions, you might be working up an appetite and so you should head down to visit the riverside food vendors. Lining the Mekong River and neighbouring the Golden Triangle, these riverside eateries serve local cuisine, from the famed sticky rice to the favourite spicy green papaya salad.

Fronted with an exuberant energy from the vendors and visitors alike, this area is at its most vibrant from 4-11 pm, making it the perfect dining place and location for an evening stroll, rolled into one.

Riverside Food Vendors

Address: Th Rimkhong, Chiang Saen, Thailand

4. Climb for the views at Wat Phra That Chom Kitti

พระธาตุจอมกิตติ จ.เชียงราย
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user VenusKypris used under CC BY-SA 3.0

A timeless temple coloured with gold and tradition rests atop a hill, Wat Phra That Chom Kitti overlooks the landscapes of the Khong River and hosts its treasured chedi. Home to a fragment of a Buddha relic that was split into three and divided amongst Wat Phra That Doi Chom Tong in Chiang Rai and Wat Phra That Doi Tung in Chiang Saen, this revered temple is one of the three to visit.

While it is quite a climb to reach the top – 308 steps to be exact – the unrivalled views below are well worth it. Accompanied by a variety of porticoes and statues along your way, the climb up to the top of the temple is an attraction of its own.

Wat Phra That Chom Kitti

Address: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

5. Immerse yourself in Wat Phra That Pha-Ngao’s cultural history

Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, Chiang Saen, Thailand
Source: Photo by user ronan crowley used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Perched on a hill, Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao offers sights and Thailand’s unique cultural history. Overlooking the Mekong River, the temple thrives in its absence of throngs of tourists and exudes a peaceful quality that makes for the most tranquil visit. Housing a large, white chedi, Phra Boromathat Puttha Nimit Chedi was built in the 1980s, and a restored viharn, that contains the remnants of a stuccoed Buddha image, known as the Phor Pha Ngao, was discovered in 1976 during the temple’s renovation. Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao will sustain your interest with its elaborate history and cultural treasures.

Wat Phra That Pha-Ngao

Address: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

6. Find peace at Wat Pa Sak

With a name that translates to the temple of teak forest, Wat Pa Sak lives up to its moniker as a peaceful temple within an emerald forest. With its history of King Saen Phu planting some 300 teak trees when he built the temple in 1295, the temple has grown into a local favourite for its natural landscapes and intricate construction.

Standing out amongst the tranquil landscape is the temple’s chedi. Surrounded by ornamental stucco motifs and towering at 12.5 metres (41. feet), the chedi is loved as one of the most beautiful Lanna-style structures in Northern Thailand.

Wat Pa Sak

Address: off Rte 1290, Chiang Saen, Thailand

Website: Wat Pa Sak

7. Visit a semi-derelict temple at Wat Chetawan

A remnant of a previous temple located in the district, Wat Chetawan is a semi-derelict temple. Shaded by a pavilion of trees and cordoned off by new and emerging architecture, Wat Chetawan may be hard to find but rewarding when found. While it might not make the most impressive first impression, travellers are encouraged to make a quick stop here if their itineraries allow for it.

Accented by growing greenery and miniature statues, this temple offers an uninterrupted passing of time when you are looking for a peaceful and quiet place to visit.

Wat Chetawan

Address: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

8. Journey through history at the Chiang Saen National Museum

The Chiang Saen National Museum is a trove of national history, since its birth in 1957. Home to an extensive collection of stone inscriptions collected from neighbouring Phayao and Chiang Saen, the museum is also home to sculptures and antiques of Chiang Saen natives and bronze Buddha images carved in the distinct Chiang Saen style.

Apart from ornamental artefacts, the museum additionally features the history of the local people and the region. With inclusions of the Thai Ya, Thai Lu and many hill tribes’ artefacts, that journey through opium smoking equipment to musical instruments, the Chiang Saen National Museum delights in the spectrum of the region’s history and culture.

Chiang Saen National Museum

Address: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

Website: Chiang Saen National Museum

9. Interact with nature at Chiang Saen Lake

A destination not only reserved for birders but accessible to all nature lovers, Chiang Saen Lake is the nation’s prime bird-watching spot. Located outside of town, it is a relaxing landscape of a languid lake and marsh area. Especially popular during the winter months from November to February, the lake can be inhabited by large numbers of migrating waterfowl and waders, residing ducks, geese, herons, storks, kingfishers and raptors.

Enthusiastic nature lovers or birders also flourish in the area during the colder months, in the hopes of catching views of the varied lives and species found here.

Chiang Saen Lake

Address: Chiang Saen Lake, Yonok, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

Website: Chiang Saen Lake

10. Empty your wallets on Walking Street

things to do in chiang saen | empty your wallets on walking street
Source: hilldjaya on Instagram

Sunday mornings are full of energy because of the thriving Walking Street Market, held every Sunday from 7 am on Sai 2 Road. Known to keen tourists and regular locals, the market is a definite stop-over, with its offerings of household goods, hardware and clothes. Patronised by the locals for its fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, sourced from surrounding farms, hill tribe villages and across the river, Walking Street is equally loved by tourists for its myriad of shopping opportunities and eating experiences.

Prior to the Sunday market, a good alternative is the Saturday Evening Market, down the central stretch of Rimkhong Road, that brims with food and things to buy.

Sunday Walking Street

Address: Sankhongnoi Road, Chiang Rai

Turning history into possibilities

A trip to Chiang Saen is complete when you have experienced first-hand the new and old of the city. Be it stumbling upon the remains of the old city or engaging in the bursting energy of the locals, Chiang Saen makes for a harmonious travel destination, through its shift from history into possibilities.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Megan is an ardent writer, eater and sleeper. Studying communication studies at Nanyang Technological University, she is rewarded with learning every day in school and at work. She believes...Read more

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