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Chiang Rai

The city of Chiang Rai is sprawling, yet with its tree-lined riverbanks has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. Its elevation at 390 metres above sea-level ensures a refreshing climate, particularly between December and February. This makes a welcome change from the hot plains of central and southern Thailand.

Chiang Rai is also a province and is the northern-most in Thailand, the majority of which is remote, rural and mountainous, and it is this part of Chiang Rai that undoubtedly draws most visitors to the region. The area that borders Myanmar to the west and Laos to the east, with China not so far north, is known as the Golden Triangle, and is infamously associated with opium cultivation.

These days, largely thanks to the Royal Project established by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1969 to help local farmers find an income away from opium production, most of the poppy fields have given way to edible crops. The museum dedicated to explaining the social and economic significance of opium through the ages is one of the highlights of a visit to the area and should not be missed out.

The region is ethnically very diverse: hill tribes that typically live in the highlands of Southeast Asia and China, adorned in colourful clothing distinctive to their particular ethnic group, live throughout rural Chiang Rai. This makes the area culturally and linguistically distinctive from central and southern Thailand. This, coupled with breathtakingly stunning mountain scenery, Chiang Rai province is truly a magnificent addition to a tailor-made holiday to Thailand. Visit the area and you will find incredibly picturesque jade-green rice paddy terraces that almost glow under the tropical sky, surrounded by imposing mountains, and lush tropical vegetation, with hamlets of pretty traditional wooden village houses. The pace of life is gentle, and it is a place any visitor can truly relax, or embark on exciting guided treks through the stunning countryside.

Even though the area is remote, there is an abundance of excellent accommodation to be found from luxury tents at the Four Seasons Tented Camp, to bamboo villas set in the lush mountains. The Anantara Golden Triangle is the perfect place for those that would like to get up and close with elephants: the resort has its own elephant camp, housing elephants rescued from a life of work and captivity. Here guests can observe and help feed and bathe these beautiful and graceful animals.

If combining Thailand with Laos, there is a border crossing over to Huay Xai, where a traditional boat can be taken over two days along the Mekong to the beautiful town of Luang Prabang – a suitably serene way to start a journey in this very laid-back country. Chiang Rai is the perfect destination for a tailor-made holiday in Thailand and the wider region.

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