To Long for Chiang Saen

It’s not just the ancient temples, historic ruins and the infamous Golden Triangle that make this northern town memorable – it’s also the stunning scenery and magical atmosphere of Chiang Saen.

Story & Images Courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand
Compilation Sarita Urupongsa

The more you explore the northern part of Thailand, the more you fall harder for its countless charms. Beyond the familiar path of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai lies another former kingdom and its own charm – Chiang Saen. Nowadays an active modern town, remains of stupas and Buddha images scatter throughout the area in a visual of its magnificence during the glory days. Make the trip and witness a cultural melting post since this river town served as a trading route between China and Siam and despite some name changes, the same commercial relationship continues today. Chiang Saen is not yet a well-travelled tourist path, which means it’s more quiet and relaxing pace for those who come.

Breathe in the fresh, pure air around the wetlands of Chiang Saen Lake, also referred to as the Nong Bong Khai Non-Hunting Area. The place is well recognised as a water and migratory bird sanctuary in Thailand. The area features various activities, namely nature trails, cycling routes and canoeing activities to enjoy the cool breezes off the lake. Hike up to Doi Sa Ngo and savour the breath-taking scenery when a sea of mist envelops the terrain of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. As perks, visitors can enjoy the stunning views of the mist during the rainy season, and visit experimental farms which grow chrysanthemum, chamomile flowers and other seasonal crops during wintertime.

Of course you’ll have to include the infamous Golden Triangle. Three countries mark this area: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar as they connect with the Mekong River separated by natural boundaries. Must-do activities and must-see sights include paying your respects to the Chiang Saen Si Phaendin Giant Buddha, including going on a long -tail boat trip to witness the beauty and notoriety of the Golden Triangle. Enjoy a shopping spree for souvenirs in retail spots that feature products from Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China. Meanwhile, the Chiang Saen Si Phaendin Giant Buddha or Nawa Lan Tue Giant Buddha with gold alloy and seated in the maravijaya pose on an enormous foundation. Nearby is the royal Tung (northern Thai flag) in commemoration of His Majesty the Late King’s Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 72nd birthday and of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.

At the Golden Triangle Park Hall of Opium, this is the best source for those who want to learn about everything relating to opium. Through means of interesting video presentations and exhibitions, the history of the controversial plant grown in the Golden Triangle area, its origins along with its arrival to Asia and its damaging effects on history and countries are recounted. The Golden Triangle Park Hall of Opium opens from Tuesday to Sunday, 8.30am-4pm.

It’s always good to enforce the narrative of your visit at Chiang Saen National Museum.

In the old days, Chiang Saen was the hub of commerce and a key port town given its location next to the Mekong River. Visitors can learn about the town’s inhabitants, historic footprint and its prosperity. Inside, relics, artifacts and art pieces from Chiang Saen and nearby areas are exhibited, with a focus on Lanna style and patterns, Buddha statues and stone carvings from Chiang Saen and Phayao. Highlighted artwork of lacquerware, musical instruments and accessories of Tai Yai, Tai Lue and other hill tribes abound. Furthermore, the museum presents stories of Lanna community settlements and the birth of Chiang Saen town. It is also recognised as the North’s oldest national museum. Chiang Saen National Museum opens from Wednesday to Sunday, 8.30am-4.30pm. Entry fee is 20 Baht for Thais and 100 Baht for foreigners.

Phra That Chedi Luang Temple has sat with the town of Chiang Saen for more than 670 years. Some of the significant sites inside the temple are the Lanna-style stupa Phra That Chedi Luang, the biggest in Chiang Saen, and an old vihara (monastery) restored by a covering roof to protect its original structure. Pa Sak Temple is another famous temple located not so far from Phra That Chedi Luang Temple. It was said that King Saeng Phu had ordered the temple’s construction in BE 1838 (BC 1295) and had the site surrounded by 300 pieces of teak, thus the name “Pa Sak Temple” (Temple of the Teak Forest). A famous ancient structure inside the temple serves as the main stupa with exquisite plasterwork decoration. It contains Buddha relics, and believed to be the bone of his right malleolus (part of the ankle) from Pataliputra City.

Temples remain a popular draw and pilgrimage for visitors at Phra Chao Lan Thong Temple. The name “Phra Chai Lan Thong” refers to the 500-year-old main Buddha statue located in the vihara. Made of gold alloy, it’s the weight of “Lan Thong” (a million in gold) or about 1,200kg, which earned the Buddha image its name. The temple also houses a brick stupa in the Lanna style and restored to its ultimate original form. At Phra That Chom Kitti Temple, legend has it that King Brahma the Great built the temple in celebration of independence from the Khmer. Phra That Chom Kitti as a result symbolises victory and freedom, signified up to these days with a sacrificial-style ceremony for Phra That is still held every year.

For those with a passion for Lanna art and architecture, Phra That Pha Ngao Temple is one of the must-visit sites in Chiang Saen. Located outside the town’s wall, Phra That Pha Ngao Temple houses an ubosot or ordination hall, with carvings that depict the story of Buddha in the Lanna style, and 3 ancient pagodas that went through a restoration process by having the Buddha Nimit Stupa constructed over them. Another highlight is a view from the temple, boasting of wondrous scenery that spans Chiang Saen town.

For more information, contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Chiang Rai office) at +66 (0) 53 717 433 or call TAT Contact Centre at 1672

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